Husband and wife team Stewart and Athena Boedecker had a problem. As they were ramping up production of their Oregon Pinot Noir, they could not agree on what kind of wine they wanted it to be. Stewart prized delicacy, and gravitated toward the barrels in the cellar that had light texture, red fruit flavors and finesse. Athena preferred wines with muscle, dark fruit flavors, richness and suppleness.
And that's why they make a pair of Willamette Valley Pinots, both priced at $34. They also make several small single-vineyard bottlings, at $45, but the workhorse wines in their stable, comparable to other wineries' regional-blend Pinot Noirs, are called Stewart and Athena.
See my video for their explanation of how and why it happened. I interviewed them on a visit Sunday to the new winery (across the street from Pyramid Brewery in Northeast Portland).
The two 2005 bottlings, currently on the market, show only subtle distinctions. Boedecker Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Stewart 2005 (91, $34) has crisp texture and a more of a savory cast to the flavors. Boedecker Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Athena 2005 (90, $34) feels more supple and shows more cherry, tobacco and hot stone flavors.
"We didn't plan on doing the separate bottlings until we tried to come up with a blend and could not agree on what to use (of the wines in barrel)," Athena explains. "So I made my blend and he made his. There was virtually no overlap in the barrels we chose."
What clinched the deal is that they both agreed that the individual cuvées were better than what they could make by blending everything together. "What's special about each one got washed out when we tried that," Stewart notes.
Tasting the wines side by side, it's easy to see the difference, but they both have enough characteristics in common that they stand out as similar in a blind tasting with other Oregon Pinots. I described both their textures as "lithe," for example. The differences are more marked in the much warmer 2006 vintage, to be released later this year. I tasted the '06s on my visit. The Athena showed plenty of generosity and ripe fruit, the Stewart crisp tannins and focused if delicate red fruits. Both wines lack nothing in elegance.
Both Stewart and Athena, the people, came to wine as a second career. Stewart still works as a production engineer for Intel, making computer chips until they can get production up the 10,000-12,000 case level. Athena was teaching people how to use Macintosh computers when they met in 1995. They both got exposed to wine because they worked near wineries and vineyards, he in Silicon Valley, she in Portland. Born in Seattle, he wangled a transfer to Intel's Portland facility in 1994 to get back to the Pacific Northwest. They met through friends about the time he got seriously interested in wine, taking his vacation time to work several harvests at Hamacher Winery in Carlton, Ore.
Although he cut his wine teeth on California Cabernets, he gravitated toward Pinot because it's what Oregon does best. "I was not interested in trucking Cabernet or Merlot from Washington," he says. "Don't get me wrong, I love Pinot Noir, but if I were somewhere else I would probably make what does well there."
They made their first few vintages at Hamacher's Carlton Winemakers Studio, and are now putting the finishing touches on the new winery they share with John Grochau of GC Wines. As Athena pats the new press, still in its plastic wrapping, she laughs about all the trepidation they had of going into a risky business like wine together.
"Our lawyer told us not to do it," Athena recalls. "But I think we found a way." Peace was achieved through separate personal cuvées.