A Whirlwind Story for the Ages
Leah Jorgensen Jean
Let me share a once-in-a-lifetime story.
As many of you probably already know, aside from being a winemaker, I am also a writer and a storyteller. My undergraduate degree was in Literature and Creative Writing. I also minored in Classics, Art History and Cultural Anthropology because those subjects were centered around human stories, as well. On the academic flip side – I had completed honors studies in Chemistry. Later, I received a degree in Enology, the science of winemaking. While I was at that, I completed a degree in Holistic Nutrition. Right now, I’m back in school to study Herbalism and getting deep into botany and plant identification (this is too much fun!). Maybe you see where I’m going with this…
Part of what attracted me to wine were the human stories about curiosity, passion, struggle, resilience, and endurance. Winemaking isn’t a sprint discipline – it’s a marathon. It’s about personal growth over the course of a lifetime.
It’s about constant learning. You can’t really learn this stuff after working a couple harvests. It takes years of dedication – to your education, personal development, evolution and understanding of a place.
I’m always suspicious of folks who get into this business and say it’s easy. Tenacity is the truth.
Which is a good segue to talk about the legacy of John Williams and his iconic (the original) vineyard planted on a dusty swath of sagebrush and sunshine on Red Mountain in Washington.
When Williams got it into his head that Red Mountain might be a great place to grow grapes, people thought he was nuts. Now people call Red Mountain one of the premier grape-growing regions in the world. To Williams’ family – it’s just home.
Forty years after Williams got his wild idea to plant a vineyard on an overlooked expanse of desert on the edge of town, he now has four generations of family who are stewards of this place and the traditions they have built. They care deeply about their family’s tradition and history on Red Mountain. They pioneered what is now the Red Mountain AVA.
No investors. No banks. Just a family that took the time and patience to grow something special. Their mission is simple: grow grapes that capture the essence of our place and release wines of utmost character and purpose that reward the drinker every time a cork is pulled.
Their experience and longevity put them in a position to supply and advise many regional wineries, as their mountain continues to inspire the world. Vineyard sourcing is perhaps the single most important decision that goes into building a quality wine, winery, brand, and reputation, and the folks at Kiona humbly supply grapes to more than 60 of the best wineries in the Pacific Northwest.
They proudly state: “If you have a favorite bottle of Washington wine, check the label – it might just be grown by us.”
I am proud to be among the 60 plus wineries working with Kiona fruit – even if only for just one whirlwindy vintage. That’s right – it was a one time deal! So how did I get into the Kiona fruit sourcing mix?
2021 in Southern Oregon came with an ongoing onslaught of drought which greatly impacted the vineyards I source. With minimal water sources available in the region, some of the sites I work with could only water a certain percentage of blocks. Some sites had pond sources available for intermittent irrigation. All that said, my yields were considerably down – even though the fruit quality was one of the best we have seen historically.
I learned from a friend that Kiona Vineyard had a little bit of Cabernet Franc to sell. And in a whirlwind trip, my husband, toddler, dog, and I drove out to Red Mountain over a scorching weekend in August to look at the block. As we drove eastward along Highway 84, we saw dirt devils swirling up all along the dusty roadside, with occasional small fires. It was surreal. I noticed that energy and thought about it a lot after we got home, and after the fruit came in, and after I processed it and nurtured it to bottle.
I took an unorthodox approach to working with my block of Kiona Vineyard Cabernet Franc. I knew that Washington had a hot start to the growing season. At the end of June, a heat dome descended and shattered all previous temperature records in every location. Areas of the Columbia Valley saw four straight days with temperatures as high as 118 degrees Fahrenheit. 2021 was either the second warmest vintage on record behind 2015, or the warmest.
While most growers felt that their vineyards fared the extreme heat well, the heat did occur during cell division. This, combined with other factors, led to a significant reduction in berry size and cluster size. Most varieties were impacted with low crops.
Veraison began in mid-July, aligned with recent years though early by historical standards. Harvest for sparkling wine (the earliest wine grape picks of the season) began August 12th, five to seven days ahead of recent years. Temperatures cooled down in September and October, allowing for extended hang time. The crop was much smaller than usual, but the fruit quality was exceptional. Brix (sugar measurements) were elevated above historical averages, and many reported that acids held on surprisingly well, even slightly above average, considering the warmth of the year.
When it came time for me to make a pick decision, I looked at all of the data available to me and considered all of that seasonal heat with elevated brix. I make Cabernet Franc in a particular style, so harvesting the grapes at elevated brix readings of 26 degrees or higher, while considered the norm to most Washington winemakers, was impossible for my winemaking program. Assessing ripeness, fruit character and flavor development was enough to give me the green light to pick earlier than everyone else.
They must have thought I was crazy or some kind of amateur!
I called my pick date for September 16th at 21.5 brix (by the way, that’s the number you typically pick for white or rosé wines). The pH was at 3.6. This was way ahead of everyone else sourcing Cabernet Franc (or any red grapes) from the region.
The fruit at 21.5 brix had abundant Cabernet Franc character – with its signature black pepper flavors in the chewy skins. What stood out were the beautiful flavors of ripe cherry (which, having looked back in my notes – reminded me of Cherry flavored Jolly Rancher candy). The lower brix would make for a lower alcohol wine. I was confident in my ability to vinify this early picked Cabernet Franc into a beautiful, elegant wine – my style!
I knew exactly how to handle this lot in my cellar. I chilled the bins of grapes in a refrigeration truck overnight so that when we sorted, destemmed, and added a light berry crush the next morning, the grapes would be cold to the touch. I added layers of dried ice in the fermentation bins as the grape berries were collected. I initiated four-day cold soaks so that I could commence fermentation at a target of 55 degrees Fahrenheit, also allowing the lightly crushed grape berries to macerate and extract lots of gorgeous color and tannins.
I inoculated the fermentation bins with a non-GMO yeast strain, to ensure Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast strains would commence and finish the fermentation – and not any other potential spoilage microorganisms that could come in from the vineyard (hot vintages increase disease pressure on splitting fruit, etc.) or in the winery (I make my wine in a shared facility and I cannot guarantee my roommates are not bringing in or creating ecosystems for spoilage microorganisms). Inoculation is the only guarantee for a clean fermentation.
The wine went into neutral oak barrels and aged for 10 months. The finished wine went to bottle at 3.6 pH and at an alcohol of 13.55%. Imagine if I picked any later – the alcohol would have been well over 14%!
It would have felt heavy on the palate and hot from high alcohol. I avoided all of that.
Instead, we got a lovely, ethereal wine that boasts a very different story about Kiona Vineyard and Red Mountain AVA. I called it “Le Tourbillon” – which is French for whirlwind. I am proud of what this wine has become. And I love how it encompasses all of the surprise the name suggests.
Here’s what @wineryreflections wrote about this wine (I love this!):
“Smile-inducingly bright and expressive bursts of wild mulberry, black raspberry, Morello cherry, and cranberry preserves highlight an irresistibly juicy and lively display abounding with riveting organic tones of mossy tree bark, tobacco, and green bell pepper. Notes of parsley, peppercorn, caraway seed, and dill further bolster non-fruit complexity with blasts of fresh herbal charms that play cohesively with pleasantly pungent floral wafts of rose petal and carnations. Mild earthy hints of iron and basalt gently reveal subtle reflections of terroir that are largely outshined by waves of spicy and spirited delight. Enchantingly vivacious and vibrant on the palate with a unique combination of prettiness and crunch; exhibiting a lean and restrained yet incredibly characterful presentation strongly reminiscent of classic old-world winemaking. Medium bodied with mild tannin kept fresh by elevated acidity. This 2021 “Le Tourbillon” Kiona Vineyard Cabernet Franc by Leah Jørgensen Cellars is a spunky and savory red from Red Mountain.
Although the small appellation of Red Mountain regularly puts out some of Washington’s most rich and powerful wine, this picturesque region is also able to shape wines of incredible balance and finesse with the right combination of farming and winemaking. This bottling, crafted by Leah Jørgensen Cellars using Cabernet Franc sourced from the seminal Kiona Vineyard in Red Mountain, is a mesmerizing take on Washington terroir framed through a Loire-styled lens. This elegantly and intriguingly spills plenty of tart red and black fruits matched in intensity by delicious herbal qualities, pleasant vegetal notes, pretty florals, and just a hint of earthiness. It is a fresh and approachable wine perfectly ready to enjoy upon release, yet it should also cellar well for 3-5 years or more. Phenomenal.”
And Decanted Podcast shared:
“We’re super excited to celebrate [Cabernet Franc Day] this year with Leah Jorgensen Cellars 2021 “Le Tourbillon” Cabernet Franc, featuring fruit sourced from Washington State’s legendary Red Mountain AVA, from the iconic Kiona Vineyard, no less. This wine is a bright, Loire-inspired expression of 100% Cab Franc that produces a whirlwind (the definition of “Le Tourbillon” in French) of flavor, with bright red fruits like cranberry and raspberry, racy acidity, and mild tannins.
Drink now, and pair it with food as you would with a Gamay, like roast chicken, pork, hanger steak, grilled salmon, shrimp, and cheeses like Chèvre, Neufchâtel, brie, and Gruyère. Cheers, Leah!”
I am a tiny producer. I only made 143 cases of this stunning wine. It will never be repeated. I don’t have a contract to work with Kiona Vineyard again. Plus, I am an Oregon Cabernet Franc producer – so this truly is a special one-off. The stars truly aligned allowing me to play with iconic fruit from another place up north. This wine is highly collectible because of the limited production and single vintage. 21 is my lucky number, so I love that this charmer is from 2021. It’s truly been a gift because the declining production numbers from severe drought in my contracted vineyards over the past couple of years have brought on stress and anxiety about how I’m going to stay in business. “Le Tourbillon” came into my life at the last minute in the summer of 2021 and helped me to make another wine in my program to help keep me in business while we ride the storm of climate change and low production yields. Side note: the rains this winter and spring have really helped Southern Oregon restore some of its water sources for agriculture. Fingers crossed we’re on a water gaining trend!
You can hold on to this wine for many years because of it’s natural tannin structure and acidity – which you can learn more about this on my website and blog – I write a lot about collecting and investing in wine, and why Cabernet Franc is an ideal varietal to hold on to.
In fact, my next blog post will be dedicated to learning how to determine a wine’s aging potential – so stay tuned for that!
I invite you to check out this rare fine wine. And for fun, please compare it to other Cabernet Franc wines from Red Mountain. Be sure to check and learn the percentage of Cabernet Franc in those other wines – because my Cabernet Franc wines are always 100% Cabernet Franc, save for my two obvious blends.
I decided not to price it out of the ballpark like many extremely sought after Red Mountain AVA red wines. It’s available at an approachable $45 a bottle.
FOR A SHORT TIME I’m offering 15% off your purchase of three bottles or more of “Le Tourbillon” – simply use the CODE: WHIRLWIND at check out.
To collect this wine, please stop by my online shopping boutique HERE.
To learn more about Kiona Vineyards, visit: https://kionawine.com
To learn more about the Red Mountain AVA, visit: https://redmountainava.com