As part of Oregon Wine Month, we bring you an enticing new interview with a superstar producer of Oregon Pinot. Winemaker Brian Marcy has crafted some absolutely stunning new release Pinot Noirs. Brian sources from diverse vineyards across the Willamette Valley. The new 2014 Pinot Noirs sing with wonderful personality and Burgundian elegance. The absolutely massive 2014 ‘Earth’ Pinot Noir (WWB, 95) is an incredible wine that showcases the richness of the vintage but has a strong mineral driven and terroir driven flair. Brian’s Chardonnay releases are also excellent and excelled in both the 2013 and 2014 vintages.
Brian has a longstanding history in the wine industry, having worked for some highly esteemed properties like Marcassin and Neyers in the past. He brings his winemaking skills to Big Table Farm, a true boutique producer of Oregon Chardonnay and Pinot. In 2006 he and his wife, Clare Carver, moved to Oregon from Napa, where Brian had been making wine for ten years. They bought at 70 acre property in the Willamette Valley where Brian could make wine and Clare could work on her art, while they both could attend to their spectacular garden and farm. I recently had the chance to sit down with Brian and discuss some of his exciting new release wines. He told his story about coming to Oregon and I think you will be very excited to hear more about his journey in wine. Learn more about him and his wines at the Big Table Farm website, bigtablefarm.com Here is my interview with Brian Marcy, winemaker at Big Table Farm winery.
WWB: Can you talk about your stops before coming to Oregon and how you decided to come to Oregon?
BM: I have always loved to cook. I also love to eat and drink. I think that sensibility carries through into winemaking. Using your senses is really important to understanding the raw material you are working with. I always loved to make things. It doesn’t really matter what it is. I started out as a brewer and went to UC Davis, there is a fermentation program there. I studied brewing and saw a lot of fermentations. I understood sanitation from a brewing perspective. I was working in Sonoma during the end of the first craft beer boom. I had already started drinking wine so I had friends in the wine business. I wanted to work at a winery and landed at Turley in 1999. I worked harvest there and went to Australia and worked a harvest there. Ehren Jordan was the winemaker at Turley and was a partner at Neyers. He hired me to work at Neyers when we got back from Australia and I worked there for three harvests and that was where I was really exposed to Chardonnay and Syrah and the aspects of whole cluster fermentation. From there I worked with Larry Turley’s sister Helen Turley, at her winery, Marcassin. In 2004 I worked there in the cellar which was a great experience. They had a lot of clients and I worked with some of the Cabernet clients, one was Blankiet estate in Yountville. I was asked to stay there and get the project moving in the right direction so I worked there in 2005 for Claude Blankiet to get his winery set up on his property. That is the about the time when we decided to move to Oregon. We had a small house in downtown Napa. We had watched it change in value dramatically. We had chickens in our back yard and we wanted more space. We weren’t going to be able to afford to do that in California given our occupations and we wanted to move somewhere that we could have some property and keep working but also be close to a big city. Where we are now really fits all aspects. We were able to afford to buy our place and both of us work in the wine industry. Clare was designing wine labels and me in the cellar. We are about an hour outside of Portland even though it feels like we are in the middle of nowhere.
WWB: What are some of the similarities and differences that you notice in the Pinot Noirs from the 2013 and 2014 vintages?
BM: 2014 was a warmer summer, as we had more degree growing days than we had in 2013. 2014 was a bigger crop which was good because we could leave things out there longer without having sugar spikes. In 2014 September was warm then but we did get a rain that I thought was great for the wine. This helped the vines finish ripening the fruit and then tone down the accumulated sugar that might have been less than desirable. I think we ended up getting some really great Pinot Noir. All of my Pinots are under 14% alcohol and that rain did that for us. 2013 has been described as a great sleeping summer, meaning that it never got too hot. It was a beautiful summer, the most beautiful that I can remember in the 10 years that I have been here in Oregon. This allowed the vines to continually ripen the fruit. We had pretty thin skins and I think the fruit was very ripe but oddly enough didn’t accumulate much sugar because September was pretty cool.
You really had to be paying attention to what was going on in the vineyard physiologically as opposed to just using numbers. I realized this and then we started picking. The first few vineyards I brought in I realized that the fruit was ripe even though it was around 20 brix. We were pretty much done picking all our fruit by the end of September in 2013. I felt that the fruit was complete and ripe. I chose not to chaptalize though we had lower sugars. Some of our wines were below 12% alcohol which is really low. I think that might have been a bit of a risk. People are generally moving in the direction of lower alcohol but the alcohol levels are not always related to ripe and flavorful wines. With the rains that came we had made a really good picking decision. We didn’t get hit by the rain in 2013 really. A few vineyards we had got caught in it and they were OK. I can’t remember if there was a huge difference in the wines before and after the rains. I think the rains were more sensational than really what happened. You can work around those things sometimes. The real lesson from 2013 is grapes can be ripe without showing ripe sugar, at 22, 23 or 24 brix. In 2014, we waited for the rains to come, and that toned down the sugar and gave the wines balance.
WWB: Can you talk about this tremendous bottling, the 2014 Big Table Farm ‘Earth’ Pinot Noir?
BM: The bottling that we barrel select is the ‘Earth’ Pinot Noir. Every winemaker will tell you that there are a few barrels that stand out and are heads and shoulders above everything else. Certain barrels speak to you for a variety of reasons. I think one of the most important aspect is the completeness of the wine. Each barrel has to be complete and balanced, and, of course, delicious. They have all the aspects in the right place. Those chosen for our 2014 ‘Earth’ are beautiful aromatically and have complex palates and a long and lingering finish. All the barrels combined all of those aspects of the wine. Sometimes I will taste from the barrel and then it won’t have any finish or mid-palate. Sometimes they don’t smell bad but don’t jump out at you but then have a great mid-palate. These barrels had everything. I don’t do that special wine every year and barrels don’t always make it into a blend or any blend -- they might be cast out for various reasons. As far as the winemaking goes, I am pretty democratic as far as the grapes that come into the winery. I try to work with each vineyard regardless of my history with the vineyard. These are all fermented in the same way. I am diligent at record keeping during fermentation so I can monitor progress and the temperatures and what it smells like. This is what I pay attention to. The barrels that they go into, the new barrels are spread across so when it comes to put together the blends then there is an evenness to what is in the cellar. I think that winemaking, you can push in certain directions but you are never going to get exactly what you expect. If you focus on only one thing, the best vineyard or the best grapes, I think you would realize that you are not as powerful as you think you are. I try to be democratic in terms of how I approach everything that comes into the winery.
We are finally at a size that if we pull out those barrels and bottle them as their own blend, the effect on the rest wines that we produce won’t be as dramatic as when we were only making about 100 cases in the beginning. Now we are making about 700 cases of Chardonnay and 3000 cases of Pinot Noir. I can pull out 100 cases and it is not going to have a huge effect on the rest of the wines. This is the wine that speaks to us and stands head and shoulders above the rest. I brought Clare into the winery for the barrel tasting. When I picked what I thought were the best barrels, she confirmed that I wasn’t crazy, and sure enough we have made something pretty special. The labels for Earth and the elusive queen are her creations and they are great looking labels. I look forward to seeing what she will do in the future for earth and the elusive queen without the constraint of the iconic aspect that our labels typically carry. This is going to be really fun.