Oregon native Tresider Burns may be taking over some big shoes at White Rose but he enters this new position with a very strong pedigree. Formerly in the technology industry, Tresider has been serving as assistant winemaker at Brittan Vineyards, helping craft what I consider to be some of the most influential North American Pinot Noirs. Tresider also worked at Lemelson and has a passion for making world class Pinot Noir. I am very excited to see his influence in the glass at White Rose. Here is my interview with Tresider Burns, new White Rose winemaker.
WWB: What was it like growing up in Oregon and experiencing the incredible influence that Oregon wine has had in the region. You spent a considerable amount of time in the technology industry before starting your winemaking career. How did you first become interested in being a winemaker?
TB: I grew up just early enough, and in just enough of an isolated place (Gold Beach for most of my childhood), that my early memories of my parents enjoying wine are from their trips to Napa and Sonoma. It was through them that I learned the importance of enjoying good wine with good food. I remember wooden boxes stashed away after their trips to California. There was a signed case of Pat Paulsen Cabernet that was a particularly prized possession. We moved north to Newport when I was in high school and I spent a good chunk of that time in Yamhill County. I remember Oregon wine being something that intrigued them but it wasn't yet on my radar. During college, I noticed a few wineries popping up around Charlottesville but again, I was one step ahead of wine, and left before that wine scene took off.
It wasn't until I moved to San Francisco that I really started appreciating wine. I credit an old roommate who introduced me to a number of French wines and turned me on to the history of wine. Many great trips to Napa, Sonoma and Anderson valleys soon followed. After ten years working in technology, I wanted to create something more tangible than the short-lived websites I'd been building. Wine attracted me because it was something I could share with friends and family and it creates a legacy, many of these bottles will be around long after we're gone and I hope folks think about the winemakers of the past when they open old bottles. I know I do.
I was away from Oregon for fifteen years. It took me some time to reacclimate as an Oregonian but I feel like I'm back home. After fifteen years away, it turns out what I really learned is that Oregon is an incredibly unique and special place. What an incredible honor to be part of that.
WWB: Can you talk about your experience working at Lemelson Vineyards following your enology studies at Oregon State University?:
TB: I could not have asked for a better experience after grad school than the four years I spent working with Anthony King at Lemelson. Anthony is an incredibly thoughtful, detail-oriented winemaker. He doesn't use any tricks or fancy products, he just pays attention every second that wine is under his purview. He's one of the best natural winemakers in the country although I bet few people know that because they see a UC Davis trained winemaker building incredibly sound wines and just assume they aren't natural. Anthony taught me never to settle, to always keep improving. He's the Jiro Ono of the wine world as I'm sure he'll never be completely happy with a wine he's made. But damn, they keep getting better year after year.
I credit Anthony with also providing a solid education in the vineyard. He tasked the production crew with crop estimating and drought monitoring. It got us out in the field for a big chunk of the summer and was a great study in organic grape growing.
WWB: How die you decide to come to Brittan Vineyards? What has it been like working under legendary winemaker, Robert Brittan and producing some incredible terroir-driven and stony Pinot Noir?
TB: After leaving Lemelson, it was important to me to spend more time with a mentor. I didn't want to jump into a head winemaking role until I was truly ready. Robert Brittan was a natural choice, I knew Robert and I knew his high standards. He's also a UC Davis educated winemaker who got his start in California wine country just like Anthony. I guess I have a type.
The Brittan site is truly amazing. Everything is turned up to 11 in those wines. More phenolics, acid and pigmentation than any other wines in the valley. What a cool challenge as a winemaker to create wines under those conditions. When we nailed it, those wines were the most layered and intriguing wines in the Willamette Valley. Robert has been making wine for over forty years but he's still learning, still challenging his assumptions. Every year we spent days strategizing about the upcoming harvest. We looked at experiments from the previous harvest, the ferments we nailed and the ones we felt were disappointments. The mantra was constant improvement. I think that's a theme, the best winemakers never settle. Robert's a perfect example and his wines demonstrate that pursuit.
WWB: What are some of the biggest challenges that you face taking over the winemaking at White Rose Estate?
TB: I’m incredibly excited for the opportunity to make wine at White Rose. It's unfortunate it happened under such tragic circumstances. I do believe that wine is legacy and my job will be to respect Jesus' legacy. I plan to continue the winemaking in his style and make sure his last vintage makes it safely to bottle. He and Greg Sanders built a wonderful brand with a reputation for quality, why would I change that? I also love whole cluster winemaking. It's probably the most challenging way to create beautiful Pinot noir but when it works, it's transcendent. Jesus' wine knowledge came through practical application, learning in the winery. I look forward to adding a scientific eye toward whole cluster winemaking.
Another big challenge is simply the fact that it's a new site for me. I know it's a great piece of ground but I'll need time to learn its idiosyncrasies and how to coax out its personality in the fermenter. That's always a daunting task the first time you tackle a vineyard. Greg's been working the site for twenty years so I'm sure we'll be able to make that happen together.
WWB: What are some of your favorite Oregon wines and vintages and why?
TB: During the 2017 harvest, a friend visited from California. We met up at Thistle and I brought along a bottle of 2010 Lemelson Chestnut Hill Vineyard Pinot for the dinner. The wine was so beautiful but I found myself mourning and thinking, "we'll never get vintages like this again." I love the cool vintages. If I see 2007, 2010 or 2011 on a bottle of Oregon wine, I get excited. Those vintages took great skill in the vineyard and the winery. We're on such a streak of warm vintages I miss that lighter, tension-driven old school style. My research at Oregon State focused on improving color in Pinot noir but we haven't had to worry about that for years. Warm vintages are almost too easy. Long picking windows, wearing shorts and t-shirts in the winery, no disease pressure. The cool years are a bear to work. Freezing temperatures, a desperate race to achieve some sort of maturity, fighting botrytis. I guess in a way, the struggle is directly proportional to my later enjoyment of the wine.
I get excited opening bottles of Cristom, Bethel Heights and Eyrie. I drool over Chardonnay from Seven Springs, Hyland and Fairsing. Grant Coulter is doing amazing things with whole cluster. It's such an exciting time for Oregon wine. The quality level across the industry is incredible. White Rose attracted me because it's always been in the upper echelon. I look forward to continuing that tradition.