One of the iconic names in Oregon wine, Rollin Soles is one of North America’s most heralded winemakers, particularly for his revolutionary sparkling wines. I have long enjoyed his Argyle wines from my personal collection as he helped build Argyle into one of the famed world wineries for sparkling wines. Rollin is originally from Texas and he traveled the world to find the right winemaking location where he would make some of the best sparkling wines in North America. Rollin has now been making sparkling wines for over 30 years and his new release sparkling wines by ROCO were simply fabulous. Rollin talks about those wines as well as his history in the wine industry and a few champagne inspirations. I think you will really enjoy hearing his story in wine. Here is my interview with Rollin Soles, head winemaker and owner of ROCO Wines.
WWB: What were your first initial inspirations in wine? How did you decide to found Argyle in 1987?
RS: My Texas A&M biochemistry prof set me up with a cousin’s Pinot Noir vineyard in Canton Thurgau, Switzerland. Hans Uli Kesselring was farming sustainably back in the mid-70’s. After some time I decided to help start Argyle as a result of a visit to Willamette Valley in 1979. I fell in love with this region and Argyle was also the first foreign investment (Australia) into Oregon.
WWB: How did you decide to create a sparkling wine program at Argyle? Did you really that you would nearly singlehandedly help create one of the iconic spiraling wine producers in North America?
RS: With viticulture as it was, sparkling wines represented best opportunity to produce high quality wines vintage after vintage. The Willamette Valley really is the new world’s best region for high quality sparkling (traditional method) wines. We can’t consistently ripen warmer climate varieties like Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, etc. At our above 45 degree latitude, we have opportunity to grow fruit that has ripe fruit flavors without losing high natural acidity. I actually thought that there would be well known sparkling wine producers here by now. I have been enjoying the new interest in producing sparkling wines by our existing producers! I’ve been now making Oregon sparkling wines for over 30 years and continue to discover layers of complexity and definitions of balance. Making sparkling wines has made me a better winemaker, and certainly has made me a more fun one.
WWB: Can you talk about the challenges with starting ROCO? Are you happy with how your winery has developed?
RS: I believe ROCO is has steadily been gaining brand recognition across the United States. Production has progressed in opposite fashion to Argyle, by introducing red wine first, Chardonnay 5 years later, and now introducing my sparkling wines. Working with Corby has inspired me to a higher level of creativity.
WWB: One of the great wines that I have sampled out of Oregon in the past year, your 2016 ROCO ‘RMS Rose’ Sparkling Wine is a simply magical new release wine. Can you talk about this absolutely irresistible new bottling?
RS: It was interesting that it turned out the way it did as the growing season was one of the warmer ones. The “window” for picking sparkling wine grapes at peak flavor is extremely narrow. It becomes even narrower for a vintage like 2016. I think we were lucky to nail the harvest. Then, the craft of working out the best dosage is a lifelong pursuit of mine. With this 2016, I think we found a lovely solution. I’m still gobsmacked when I try this wine in a finished state, considering the many hurdles that we had to jump through to create this.
WWB: What are some of your favorite champagnes of the world that you have sampled? How do you see Oregon sparkling wines being different than Champagne wines?
RS: Yikes! Naming names……. I’ve been helped along and inspired by large to small producers in Champagne. Everyone has been so very generous with their time, and they’ve not been afraid to open a lot of beautiful wines that should have been enjoyed by a roomful of buyers! During my early days: Bollinger by far and continuing, Billecart Salmon, Roederer, and Dom Perignon Today: Vilmart, Pierre Peters, Geoffroy, Goutourbe, Jean Milan, Pehu Simonet and so many more.
It seems that sparkling wines made at higher latitudes have a common theme of ripe fruit base wines with high natural acidity. The possess lovely apples, pears, plums, citrus while showing spice and flowers after second ferment. We look like cousins to our French friends in many cases. It becomes challenging to point out the true differences when the Willamette Valley because it is barely a generation into its sparkling history. There are so many more places to explore in the Willamette Valley, and so many more cuvees to make before we can truly define the Willamette Valley for sparkling wines. Time will tell. I hope we see our “cousins” come over here and discover the Willamette together like we seem to be doing with Pinot noir and Chardonnay!
Like with Willamette Pinot Noir, the wine buyer will begin to seek out our better Methode Champenoise wines, and also know that they are expensive to make here, and worth the price. The demographic for American wine drinkers has NEVER been broader. Additionally, Americans are catching up with the Europeans, British, Australians, etc. for sparkling wine appreciation. This will certainly drive folks to the Willamette Valley for their fizz!