2015: Vintage of Dreams

Leah Jorgensen Jean

Photo: Me back in 2016 staging the 2015 red wine barrels to prepare blends for bottling.

Every vintner has an unforgettable vintage.    

Tucked away in the hallowed spaces where memory pirouettes and swoons with nostalgia for a special time, place, and moment – there are markers of a great vintage that ripple with such distinction and conjure up sui generis – inspiration like no other.

My fifth vintage was that golden moment.

The interesting thing to note is that not every winemaker working with Southern Oregon fruit in 2015 would agree with my highly enthusiastic praise.  There were different storylines unfolding in different parts of the region, and depending on what grape you’re working with, the results certainly varied.

As for me, the 2015 Cabernet Franc I sourced from the Applegate and Rogue Valleys were about as perfect as I could ever hope for!  All in all, Oregon experienced what some called a nearly ideal growing season – beginning with warm weather conditions in the winter that continued throughout spring and summer.  After some scattered showers in late August, things normalized by September, resulting in concentrated, balanced fruit throughout the state.

In the south there was considerable heat that came early on, leading to very dry soil conditions relying on full irrigation.  Budbreak arrived about two weeks early.  But the season brought on perfect weather all summer long with some heat spikes in July and August, and perfect ripening weather until the end of the season.  The heat contributed to an early harvest – about two weeks ahead of schedule, on par with the early bud break – but, with fruit that was concentrated and balanced.  Deficit irrigation was used in certain sites, as needed, and leaves were pulled right after fruit set.  We had the great luxury of being able to choose exactly when to pick the grapes based entirely on flavor, seed color and skin tannins, not weather.

The magic of 2015 wasn’t just in the vineyard.  It was a time of great evolution – both in my life and in my work.

2015 was the year I moved my production out of Beacon Hill Winery and into Raptor Ridge Winery.

2015 was the summer I went into the vineyard with grower Michael Moore, and he showed me a small mountain of rock and dirt revealing ancient ocean bottom material – with larger rocks embedded with ancient marine fossils, mollusk shells and shell imprints – excavated in what was a new block at Crater View Ranch!  That was a turning point in my winemaking career, seeing for the first-time real connections to the Loire Valley much in the same way early Oregon wine pioneers found connections between the Willamette Valley and Burgundy.  This was an historical moment and a significant discovery in Oregon geology.

2015 was the Year of the GOAT – not just in Chinese Astrology, but, as far as I’m concerned, naming that vintage the Greatest of All Time!

I also completed my holistic nutrition degree program in 2015.  I started up a small nutrition practice in Portland to help people with digestive disease and nutrient deficiencies.

I was part of an alumnae effort to help save my alma matter from closure – #SaveSweetBriar.  In three months, we raised over $30 million and saved our beloved women’s college.  That was kind of a big deal and got decent news coverage for months.  I’m still wondering when they’re going to make a movie about it!

By December 3, I found myself alongside three other winemakers named “Winemakers to Watch” by Esther Mosby for the San Francisco Chronicle.  The other three were from Napa.  And they were all men.  I was the outlier – the unknown woman winemaker from Oregon.  That was my biggest media mention at the time.  A week later, the Wine Enthusiast gave me a handful of 90+ scored reviews.  It was a good end to the year.

Despite the blessing of good media, I had felt something else as 2015 closed.  After revisiting my personal journal from 2015, I was reminded of my disbelief of the media mention, of my imposter syndrome.  My end-of- the-year journal entries were full of fear and anxiety about the 2015 vintage that was just placed in barrel.  I was terrified by the Chronicle article, afraid of the attention, and afraid I was going to mess up the current vintage.  I lacked self-confidence.

I had forgotten those feelings – perhaps from wisdom over the years, becoming a parent and getting a different type of reality check.  But it wasn’t that long ago that I was all nerves inside and that I didn’t believe I could make each vintage worth of grapes into great wine.  I was constantly worrying, constantly thinking I was going to screw something up.

I wish I could go back in time and give Leah then a big hug and let her know that the 2015 vintage not only worked out, but it has become my most cherished vintage to date.  

It’s amazing to have clarity after years of doing something.  Clarity and confidence.  It took me years to step into that and to hone my skills not just in winemaking, but in owning the work I was doing.  

I have tech sheets explaining more about the limited 2015 wines I have available in my Library Collection.  They include the original winemaker tasting notes.  I can provide those at any time for anyone who wants to take a deep dive into specific wines from that vintage.

But the real showstopper is the 2015 “Clos Rogue Valley” Reserve Cabernet Franc, arguably the best bottle of wine I have made to date.  I love how Cabernet Franc ages.  I intentionally made that wine to age and to evolve over decades, not years.  I am proud of this wine.  And I am proud of myself – even more so after remembering how hard I was on myself back in 2015. Whenever I pull a bottle of this wine out of the Library and share it, it is met with thoughtful consideration and appreciation. That’s putting it modestly. But, it’s a joy to see people enjoy a Cabernet Franc with ample time in the bottle, coming from a lovely vintage, a stunning site, and offering something so unique to our region. There’s nothing like it.

I am going to release a handful of these already super limited bottles of 2015 wines.  Follow me on social media to find out when those wines will be up online for purchase or sign up on my collector’s list below – you’ll get access to these and other rare bottles.  Please keep in mind these are highly collectible wines because of scarcity supply and just enough demand.  

Not sure about collecting wine?  Check out my other blog posts to learn the ins and outs of collecting wine – and even how to turn your collection into an investment! 

2015 means a lot to me. And I hope you are curious enough to consider taking home a treasure from that vintage. Limited supplies. It doesn’t hurt to inquire about what’s available with me right away –