Rain is falling outside. Jacques Lardière's first grape crop in Oregon is still only about half picked. But he can't help smiling. He looks like he's having the time of his life.
Only a month ago Lardière and his longtime employer, Maison Louis Jadot in Burgundy, announced that they had purchased Resonance Vineyard in the Oregon's Yamhill-Carlton AVA and would start making their own estate wine from it. Last week they started to pick the grapes in what then looked like a storybook vintage: early, warm, sunny.
A drenching rainstorm earlier this month and what was (as of this writing) the forth consecutive day of persistent showers, could not dim Lardière's spirits as we sat down to taste the 2012s at Trisaetum, the winery whose facilities he is sharing for this first vintage.
"He's amazing," said James Frey, owner of Trisaetum. "He's been on the sorting line every day helping us. He doesn't have to do that."
"When you touch the grapes, you understand a lot," Lardière shrugged. "In Burgundy, I also touch the grapes. I can tell whether they have thick skins or thin, if there's a danger of mold. I taste. For me the reading of the tannin is the key. I accumulate this information, so I can see what we need to do."
Lardière described this Oregon venture as his "retirement project." Four years ago he began winding down from his virtually lifelong role as chief winemaker for one of Burgundy's largest and most respected vintners. Jadot's holdings range from Beaujolais to Chablis. He noted that he never before had a chance to leave Burgundy, even for destinations in France, during a vintage.
"To maintain the quality of Jadot, it's necessary to be there, and to stay in the country," Lardière said. "This is very important. This is why we can produce good Gamay in Beaujolais, Chardonnay in Pouilly-Fuisse and the Mâconnais, PInot Noir in the Côte d'Or. We are not outside somewhere else."
Realizing that it was too costly to expand significantly in Burgundy, Lardière and Jadot's president, Pierre-Henry Gagey, discussed the possibilities. "Two years ago, Pierre-Henry asked me where we could produce good Pinot Noir. From the wines I had tasted and people I had met when they came to visit us, I said Oregon. Second was some places in California."
So when they heard that Resonance was for sale, they jumped at the chance. Picking started Sept. 19.
"We look and"—he sniffed the air—"we feel something. The place has the soul that looks interesting, and we say, let's take a risk."
Significantly, Lardière relied on the vineyard's previous owner, Kevin Chambers (who still manages the vines), to make the critical decision of when to start picking. "I followed what he was saying," Lardière said. "He knows the land and can tell me what was likely to happen. At the same time I had to believe what I feel about these grapes, to know what might be possible to have a new blossom of the Pinot Noir during fermentation."
For his part, Lardière has a distinctly Burgundian attitude about the rain falling outside. "When it stops, we will have to see if we have rot," he shrugged. "If we do, we can take it out at the sorting table. But I am not sure that having the best-looking clusters always makes the best wine. We will see."
For the future, Lardière wants to stay small. He has no intention of buying grapes to make large-volume wines, as many other Oregon wineries do. He plans to focus entirely on estate Pinot Noir and, maybe, someday, Chardonnay. "And if one day we want to produce something more," he added, "we have to buy land."