A Vision Comes To Life
Making great wine is part science, part art, and all care and attention. From choosing the right orientation of the vines in the field, to selecting the right wood for the barrels, every decision is revealed in the wine.
This is the story of Coventina, and the choices made at every step to create extraordinary wines that capture the rich essence of nature’s bounty.
The Property and Its Preparation
Hidden away in the heart of Southern Oregon’s Rogue Valley, Coventina Vineyards sits on a lush piece of property near the Rogue River.
The previous owners had used the land as a hayfield. But Chris Amen drove by it every day and envisioned a future vineyard with rows of vines bearing luscious fruit. She consulted with her longtime friend, horticulturist Lou Scaparo, and he confirmed her intuition that a vineyard could thrive there. He told her the slope of the land was ideal, with perfect drainage. The soil had good texture. The orientation to the sun was right. And there was access to abundant water from the Rogue River.
Chris purchased the land in 2011, and next sought expert help to turn the property into a boutique vineyard. Lou introduced her to viticulturist Herb Quady, and so their association began.
They quickly went about amending the soil by incorporating large amounts of locally sourced organic compost. While the industry standard is to incorporate 10 tons per acre, at Chris’s request they incorporated 30 tons, working it in deep, and letting it rest with a cover crop of clover for a year before planting.
Lou designed a unique water system to irrigate the property. Water is taken directly from the sparkling Rogue River as it passes through a centuries old ditch, modified to accept modern drip irrigation. The system uses seven independent irrigation zones, allowing precision irrigation of the vines whose needs vary depending on their location in the vineyard.
In 2015, Coventina grapes were certified organic by the Oregon Tilth. The 2015 Tempranillo became their first bottled product, and their exceptional efforts are evident in the beauty and quality of the finished wine.
Chris Amen’s philosophy for producing exceptional grapes is to foster balance and health in the vineyard. Viticulturist Herb Quady is in complete agreement with Chris’s approach. In his experience the healthiest and least stressed vines produce the most balanced fruit leading to the finest wine. The quest for balance is the basis of the design of the vineyard.
The vines are oriented to 45º off of true north so that at the peak of the season there are equal amounts of solar radiation on both the east and west sides of the vineyard. As a result, on hot summer days, Coventina does not see problems with sunburned grapes.
Chris carefully researched best practices for vineyard management, and learned about a trellis system that has been employed at Coventina with great success. The idea is to open the trellis up in a v-type system that helps provide a small amount of shade even when the sun is at its peak. This is important in growing Pinot Noir and Tempranillo grapes, both of which are sensitive to extreme sunlight. Incorporating the v-type system, along with properly orienting the vines, has been crucial for achieving the balance evident in Coventina wines.
The initial wines selected for the Coventina vineyard were Tempranillo and Pinot Noir. Herb chose the specific clones they planted based on the characteristics of the area.
For the Tempranillo they selected two clones. One grows in loose clusters, is rich and robust, and has a great deal of tannin. The second clone makes larger berries in tighter clusters and yields a fruitier wine. The two blend together to make a beautifully complex and complete wine.
For the Pinot Noir, they chose a clone that benefits from the extra heat found in Southern Oregon to help create wine that is intriguing and complex. It has a dark-fruit style reminiscent of a spicy black current jam and produces wine with the greater richness and substance that wine-drinkers prefer in their Pinots.
Throughout the vineyard, the grapes are planted in zones based on the conditions that best bring out the qualities of each variety.
Vineyard Maintenance & Harvesting
Most of the work in the vineyard, including the harvesting of the grapes, is done by hand. The crew comes through several times a year to tend the vines and keep the canopies open so the sun can reach the fruit. Every operation involving the vines uses certified organic materials and procedures.
As the grapes finish ripening, all parts of the vineyard are sampled and analyzed in the lab to determine the best timing for the harvest. The vineyard is separated into distinct lots, each of which is harvested at its peak to get the most goodness from each grape.
All vineyard operations follow Oregon Tilth regulations for organic crops. Many people shy away from the certified organic approach because of the cost and the effort it takes to comply. But Chris did not shy away from the challenge. This is her passion and it is tied up with the way she wants to treat the land and what she wants her finished product to reflect. This organic approach is integral to the philosophy of the vineyard.
The Vintners and Their Art
Chris Amen knew that with the exceptional care she and her team had put into developing and maintaining the vineyard, her grapes had the potential to create superior wines. Now she had to find the right team to make those wines. And she needed to look no further than her own viticulturist, Herb Quady.
Herb, along with two partners, had recently established a custom crush facility, Barrel 42 Custom Winecraft, that takes the same philosophy at the foundation of Coventina right into the final processing of the grapes and making the wine. Their skill allows them to coax the most goodness out of each vat of grapes to produce wines that express the best of each variety.
Barrel 42 was established by Herb Quady, Brian Gruber, and Nichole Schulte as a custom crush winery. Their approach is to be more involved with their clients at every step, creating a custom plan to produce the best wine out of the specific grapes that come into their care.
Herb, Brian, and Nichole work together, talking through every decision, tasting together, and sharing opinions. Three refined palates and three sets of ideas are joined into one exceptional winemaking team.
Within the team each member has an area of specialty. Herb is grape-focused and oversees high-level strategic management. Brian is the main vintner, overseeing logistics and the production end. Nichole is oenologically focused and specializes in quality control and fermentation.
Their philosophy is, to make great wine you must start with superior grapes. The team is involved in the growing, sampling, tasting, testing, and harvesting decisions for the grapes.
Fermentation and Barrels
Prior to barreling the wine, the grapes go through a process of fermentation. The grapes are divided into lots and placed in different types of fermenters that complete the process at different rates. As each lot is ready, it is pressed off into a tank. The Barrel 42 team samples each tank to determine the characteristics of the wine from each fermenter and decide which barrel would best match the profile for that lot. Selecting the right barrel in which to age a particular type of wine is central to the winemakers’ art.
Each fermented lot is placed in the chosen barrels where it stays over the winter. In early spring the winemakers check all the barrels and anticipate how the contents of each barrel will work with the others. From there they formulate the blend that will become the finished wine.
This painstaking process of fermentation, barrel selection, and blending results in a complex wine that emphasizes the best qualities of the grape.
The Special Challenge to the Winemaker Using Organic Grapes
Staying compliant with Organic Tilth regulations so that Coventina wines can be labeled as using organic grapes requires the use of special fermentation and storage techniques, all of which must be documented. Barrel 42 controls everything that touches the grapes from the moment they arrive at the winery to the moment the wine is bottled.