White Rose has quickly become one of the premier producers of Oregon Pinot. Their story is incredible, as it begins with a migrant worker from Mexico, working in Willamette Valley vineyards. That worker, Jesus Guillen, ended up becoming the vineyard manager at White Rose. His son, also named Jesus, completed an engineering degree in Mexico before gaining a visa to work at his father’s winery and worked his way to being head winemaker. Jesus Guillen as head winemaker has created incredible wines despite not having a formal background in winemaking. This superstar winemaker achieved a score of 94 from Robert Parker in his first vintage of winemaking (2008). In his second year of winemaking he achieved a score of 96 which tied the highest ever score given to an Oregon Pinot by Robert Parker. Here is my interview with Jesus Guillen, head winemaker at White Rose, followed by my review of his esteemed Pinot Noirs. #whiterose
WWB: Can you talk about how you first learned about winemaking?
Guillen: When I decided to stay here in Oregon to pursue a winemaking career I went into the vineyard working for Patricia Green Cellars. I was working in the vineyard and was studying English and there was a time when I met the owner of White Rose. My dad was working for him and he saw my interest and offered to let me work with my dad in the vineyard and he was building his winery in there and since he is from California he needed someone to overlook the wines there. He offered me to work in the cellar and I was working half-time in the cellar and half in the winery. The owner had a consultant and was making wine at St.Innocent [winery] and when I moved to the cellar I had the opportunity to work with Mark [St. Innocent head winemaker]. I would say that he is my tutor and I learned the heavy fundamentals from him. We decided to hire Gary Andrews who founded Archery Summit winery and I had the opportunity to learn from him as well. I think I had learned from those two guys who helped me shape the fundamentals of winemaking and then I refined my style over the year. I couldn’t start with a better vintage and 2008 that was impressive for us that Parker likes the wines. When the owner named me winemaker and he told me that if you ever get a 94 from one of the big four critics in the US, you will go to Hawaii on a vacation. I was saying that 2008 was a great year and he [owner] said that would take like 10 to 15 years to reach that level. Then Parker went in and he came and gave me the 94 points it was a big surprise for me and I got to go to Hawaii. The 2008 a long aged wine and will go for tens of years. 2008 was such a great vintage in Oregon.
WWB: Can you talk a bit about your family’s style of vineyard management?
Guillen: Managing the vineyard is low vineyard management and we spray only the necessary stuff and have timed intervention in the spray program and the canopy management. When the flowering process ends we remove the leaves from one side and a little bit from another side to expose the whole clusters of the vines to give them more sun exposure and manage there and have it advance a little faster. The vineyard that the winery uses it is a very tall canopy and basically a very powerful photosynthetic curtain. In colder years or years where the sun doesn’t come up that often we have the ability to mature the fruit and the higher canopy means more sun exposure which helps develop the flavors and advance the maturity of it. In the future we might be removing the use of light herbicides. That is the only thing that we use that I don’t like to use it but we use it and not for quality just for aesthetics of the site. Aside from that I think everything is pretty much conventional way of growing grapes.
WWB: I am particularly impressed with your reserve wines and the 2012 releases, particularly the 2012 Winemakers Cuvee. Can you talk a bit about that wine and what you were looking to create?
Guillen: For all the other wines we follow a recipe that we have to do every year and that is not the same every year but this is the same style. In the past we have done the wines in a little different cooperage and we kind of found the stuff [barrels] that we wanted and for the winemakers cuvee the owner gave me the liberty to take my own style. What I look for the wine is more structure but at the same time elegant. So what they say it is powerful and more complexity so I select the barrels that are high in complexity and structure and that is really important and elegant. I like the structure of the wine and that is what I look to showcase in the winemakers cuvee each year. I select the barrels that I think are most complex and also have the masculine side but also elegant. That is my goal for the wine. I think this [2012 cuvee] is a long lived wine, I started making the winemakers cuvee in ’09  and I think this  is the best one so far. For 2012 I had a lot of liberty to create the best blend and the year couldn’t be better for that.
WWB: Can you talk about the 2011 vintage and how the wine turned out?
Guillen: I think the people that talk negatively about 2011 is because the wine tends to be more classic, meaning more acidity and the tannin profile is not as forward. This was the latest harvest in record, the first time we harvested in November but in our wines most of the stuff that we harvested the clusters and the stems were brown and really nice tasting. The fruit didn’t have a lot of tannin and so for this kind of wine you have the classic profile. A lot of acidity and the tannins need to mature. Back in 2007 they didn’t like those right away but after some time in the bottle they are really expressive. I think that 2011 is going to be a like that, except that 2011 has a better [flavor] profile than 2007. The tannins are not developed right now but the greenness of the wine is speaking right now but I calculate with more time in bottle you will get more floral and spice notes. I think that 2011 was a really good vintage and more classic and I like more classic wines opposed to more forward wines.
WWB: Can you talk about the 2012 vintage and how the wine turned out?
Guillen: Like 2008, this was an amazing vintage. ’11  was cool and 2012 was sunny and you had the 70 to 80 degrees which was perfect. Nights were cool and that was very nice because you have the balance. At night the cool weather helps you actually with the acidity and not spiking the sugar and that gives you balanced fruit. Like ’08 , at harvest time in 2012 those months were cool but sunny and that never happens. So that gives you the liberty to wait until the flavor develops and then you let it develop and you won’t have the high sugar and that gives you acid and tannin as well from the sun. This gives you huge potential for balance and that is a pleasing thing to have for winemakers. You are trying to balance things and that makes the wine perfect. So the fruit that we received wads pristine and the stems were great and the flavors great and all of it was balanced. That is what makes 2012 one of the best years ever in the valley here.
WWB: Your new releases from 2013 were also excellent. How do you think the vintage turned out?
Guillen: ’13  was a weird year because it was a very warm year and we had weather in the 90s and some days that were over 100. The flavors weren’t cooked either. The nights were cool so everything was going perfect and then the last four or five days in September and we can say that the vineyard that we harvested before the rain was good. Those who were in the rain were suffering from dilution and we had some issues with that. We were going to do some single vineyard wines and then the wine wasn’t that great and the rain was a problem. We had to wait for the rain and we had like four or five days straight of rain, the last days of September were rainy and that is what messed up the growing season in 2013. With the blending we were able to have really good wine and the cool things about the wines is that showcases the cool vintage because we have the high acid and low alcohol but the flavor profile is more black fruit and I have never seen that. We lost like 25 percent of the production [fruit] for that and we had to really be very intensive in sorting the fruit out because a lot of it had heavy mold and you had a lot of problems in the vineyard. We had to do a lot of sorting and very slow working and a lot of guys working and sorting the fruit out. It was really good after that but getting through harvest was stressful and a lot of people had a lot more problems than we did.
WWB: Your winery story was given a large feature in Wine Spectator a few years back and have achieved incredible scores from essentially all the huge publications in wine. What are your views of the major wine publications such as Robert Parker, Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, etc.?
Guillen: I see them [wine publications] as information for their subscribers basically. Even when you taste wine you are telling subscribers what you like and what you don’t like and I see these magazines in that way. They do way more things like being involved in the industry and showcasing wine makers. I think Parker is focused on telling people what they should be buying and I see him as information and I think some people have to be aware that it is basically the guys are tasting wines and if the people like the palate of the person tasting the wines but sometimes a customer is going to find wines that they like and the critics don’t like."
Here some of the fantastic new releases that recently I tried at White Rose:
2012 White Rose Lia's Vineyard’ Pinot Noir- Nose has cranberry, rose petals, mushroom and strawberry. Palate has cranberry, mushroom, red cherry, and guava. Elegant. Drink now. 119 cases made. -92
2012 White Rose ‘The Neo-Classical Objective’ Pinot Noir- This is from higher elevation fruit. Mushroom and stewed strawberry with guava on the nose. Palate has blackberry, strawberry and raspberry. Darker fruit profile. Impressive wine. Cellar for two years. -93
2012 White Rose Winemakers Cuvee- This is from 5 vineyards and the winemaker thinks this is the best of the vineyards. Rich nose with pomegranate, red cherry, strawberry and mushroom. Palate has red cherry, pomegranate, mushroom, forest floor and raspberry. Delicious and layered wine. Drink now. -95
2013 White Rose Winemakers Cuvee Pinot Noir- cranberry and red raspberry on the nose with some oak. Palate has cran-chery, orange peel and strawberry. Slightly lean. Needs time, drink in two plus years. -91
2013 White Rose ‘Beacon Hill’ Pinot Noir- Nose has mushroom, guava and strawberry. Palate has strawberry, guava and lighter red fruits. Delicious now but has a long life. -91