Wine, Art & Hedonism with Libertine Wines Alex Neely

Libertine Bottle Shots

Libertine (as defined by Alex Neely)

Noun | lib er tine | \ ˈli-bər-ˌtēn \

“One who eschews all cultural values, pure hedonism”

On a side note Merriam-Webster tells us that the term originally meant “freedman” when it appeared in 14th-century English and evolved to include religious and secular freethinkers in the 1500s.  Freethinker…that pretty well describes Alex Neely.

We met Alex at the Uncommon Wine Festival held at Vista Hills Vineyards, an event that would seem to attract and showcase freethinkers in the wine world, so Alex was right at home.

Alex Neely, Winemaker

We spoke with Alex about how he came to wine making.

“I used to purchase wine for a fancy food store and I was a cheese monger as well.  I decided to go into wine production, so I called up the guy whose new world Rieslings I respected the most and that was Barnaby at Teutonic. So then I’ve been with Barnaby since 2014, as his assistant and helping run the vineyards, and then I’ve been making this label at Teutonic since 2015.  Started out with just some rieslings, and then just started getting some Dolcetto this past year in 2017 and I’m not too sure what the next year will hold but, we just keep adding on.“

The name Libertine Wines comes from the definition above and was shaped by his time at Reed College

“I majored in religious philosophy and mysticism and minored in hedonism”

We all laughed at that.  I was thinking back to college and figured, I kinda minored in hedonism also, but then…after reading about Reed College, I’m not sure it was a joke. Regardless, the wines he makes are an homage to that opulence.

“It’s how I live my life, I eat, drink and smoke whatever I care to and don’t worry about it.”

This stuff is new!

You won’t find this everywhere.  Alex just started releasing these wines about 3 months ago.

“I’m very new on the scene, but I’ve been hitting the market pretty hard, so we are in about 20 different places in Portland right now, but that’s it,  I just sell in Portland right now.  And then things like this, I’ve been to a couple, this is I think my 3rd group event, and then I’ve done like a whole bunch of other random tastings.”

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Art on the Labels

The labels will catch you.  They are the type that definitely draw your eye in a line-up of bottles.  Attracted to art that speaks of the wine and the story, his labels are unique and evocative.  From Carravaggios to psychedelic artists, you won’t forget these bottles.

“My wife helps me out as well she was an art history major at USC.  So I’ll find some goofy picture online and she’ll tell me what it is.”

2017 Sunnyside Vineyard Dolcetto Rosé

2017 Sunnyside Vineyard Dolcetto Rose

2017 Sunnyside Vineyard Dolcetto Rose

We started off tasting his 2017 Dolcetto Rose.  The fruit comes from the Sunny Side Vineyard down by Enchanted Forest. This vineyard in near Salem and sits off of Sunnyside Road near Rogers Creek.  The elevation is a little over 660 feet and the vineyard sits on a slight slope facing south west.  Soils here are Jory and Nekia. (Information from everyvine.com)

This rosé is foot stomped and sits in the cold room to soak on the skins for 2 days.  He then presses it off and it ferments with wild yeast.  It goes into neutral oak with just a tiny bit of sulfite as a preservative.  It’s unfiltered and unfined.

The label on this is “The Inspiration of Saint Matthew” by Carravaggio.

“And the legend has it, you’re not supposed to harvest Dolcetto until after Saint Matthews Day, so once I discovered that, I ran to my calendar and I was like s*^t, should I harvest this? Luckliy it was two weeks after, so all set.  I really like that he was the master of Chiaroscuro and I really like the contrast of the red against the black.”

The 2017 Acid Freak Rose

Libertine 2017 Acid Freak Rose

Libertine 2017 Acid Freak Rose

This wine was a bit of an accident, but a happy one.

“So I had a half barrel of Dolcetto rosé fermenting and there’s not much you can do with a half barrel once it’s done ‘cause it will oxidize.  I had no idea what I was going to do with it, but then I was pressing my Riesling off, it was late at night, I had filled up my holding tank  and there is still about 30 gallons left in the press pan and I said “screw it” I’ve had Riesling from Piedmont before, so I just pumped it into the Dolcetto barrel, they finished fermenting together, and then I liked it so much, I threw another barrel of each at it prior to bottling.”

With a wild yeast ferment in neutral oak, it again is unfiltered and unfined.  Just 71 cases were produced.

It is a familiar contradiction in the glass.  He says “Gentle yet rough. Soft yet hard. Strange yet familiar”.  It’s all that. I left with a bottle.

The artwork on this bottle came from him Googling “psychedelic picture”.  This picture popped up by the artist Larry Carlson.  The picture really embodied the wine for Alex so he contacted Larry and bought the rights.

2016 LaVelle Vineyard “Botrytis” Dry Riesling

Libertine 2016 Lavelle Botrytis Dry Riesling

Libertine 2016 Lavelle Botrytis Dry Riesling

This wine is a botrytisized skin contact Riesling.  It’s funny to hear a winemaker gushing over fuzzy gray grapes, but nobel rot will do that to you.

“So this particular year it came in with super pretty fuzzy gray noble rot, just perfect stuff.”

He found out about the botrytis from the guy growing the grapes, who asked what he would like to do with it.  Alex, unafraid, told him to let it go as long as it looked pretty, he was happy with it.  Botrytis has to have the right conditions, so this doesn’t happen every year and Alex was happy to have the opportunity to play with this. It hung a bit longer and developed nicely, then his wife and he footstomped the grapes and let them sit in the cold room for 5 days.  It went into the press, fermented and sat in barrel for 8 months.  At the time of this tasting it had been in bottle for over a year.

This wine has a beautiful nose and then surprising acid on the palate with a little tannic grip from the skin contact.

The artwork for both of the reislings is “The Triumph of Bacchus by Cornelis de Vos”.  Alex came across this painting right after he decided on the name Libertine.  ” I feel it embodies the true baroque opulence and pure hedonism of the Libertine. It is also a fun Rorschach Test as people tend to project their own personal views upon it. ”

2015 LaVelle Vineyard Riesling

This wine is also from the La Velle Vineyard, which is the oldest Vineyard in the south valley, 40 minutes or so North West of Eugene. The Riesling sits at the top of a hill at about 700 foot elevation.

This wine is the same vineyard, the same blocks as the 2016 “Botytis” Riesling.  2015 was a hot year and Alex wanted a slow cold ferment, but their production facility at that time was in the middle of the woods and without a cold room.  As a result it fermented outside through the winter, with Alex checking it monthly.   He definitely got a slow fermentation, it took 6 months to finish.  It then sat on the gross lees in neutral oak for another year and a half.  At the time of tasting it had been in the bottle for about a year.  It has the big rich style typical of 2015 vintage and a tiny bit of residual sugar, with great acidity.

On the beauty of honoring the vintage

“So the two (Rieslings) are drastically different because of the year.  I’m very vintage driven, I’m like let’s let the year shine through, everybody is like “Let’s let the soil shine through”, but there are a lot of other components going on.  I mean I could put a bunch of additives in there to make them all taste the same year after year after year, but where’s the fun in that?  My lob would be boring as hell.”

You can find Libertine Wines online at https://www.libertinewines.com/

On facebook or on Instagram where they have a great new sexy photo shoot posted with those bottles!

While they currently do not sell their wines on their website, they have a list of places you can find it in the Portland area https://www.libertinewines.com/where-to-buy

Keep checking back as they expand their reach!

You can also read our piece on the Uncommon Wine Festival, with our interview with Dave Pettersen the Winemaker and CEO of Vista Hills who founded the event, and check out other interviews we did at the festival with Ryan Pickens of Esther Glen Farm and Winery , Ariel Eberle of A Cheerful Note Cellars  and Jim Fischer and Jenny Mosbacher of Fossil & Fawn.  We look forward to bringing you interviews and discussions with all of the winemakers from this event, as well as details and visits with wineries in each of the Willamette Valley AVAs.  So check back here at Crushed Grape Chronicles  and don’t forget, you can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

And if you want to dive into details on the Willamette Valley, you can read our recent post Oregon’s Willamette Valley AVAs – a Primer

Jim & Jenny – Fossil and Fawn at Uncommon Wine Festival

Fossil & Farm Jim & Jenny

Jim Fischer II and Jenny Mosbacher of Fossil & Fawn

These two…they finish each others sentences.  Case in point

Jim & Jenny

This is our 2017 White wine blend (they say in almost stereo)

Jenny

our field blend of 6 different grapes from 3 different vineyards

Patron

Wow that was really in sync!

Jim

I’m like, wait, do we really both need to say this in stereo, it’s too weird.

Jenny

Ummm..

Jim

You go, you go

Jenny

No you

Jim

No, no no

Jenny

No you

Patron

It would be better if you went back and forth

Jim

Oh my gosh

Jenny

Well that’s kinda how it goes

Jim

You take the first line of the script…

LOL!  They are a team and they bounce comments and ideas off each other in rapid fire.  As entertaining as they are…they also are making some “stand up and take notice” wines.  Wine Enthusiast just put them in the 40 Under 40 lineup.  Check out their photo from the Wine Enthusiast Photo Shoot, it really sums them up.

Fossil & Fawn – the origin story

A little background on Fossil & Fawn.  Jim grew up on a vineyard in the Eola Hills, that would be the vineyard he and his father manage together to this day, Silvershot Vineyard.  Jim’s father, Jim Fischer Sr. and his brother Bill started a nursery in 1999 with cuttings from neighboring vineyards, they planted in 2000.  They originally named the vineyard Crowley Station Vineyards for the historic railroad station at the foot of Holmes Hill, but renamed in 2016 for the family horse who had roamed the vineyard before the vines were planted.  The vineyard soil, is old ocean floor littered with fossils which is the “Fossil” part of the name.  The fawn part comes from the deer who roam the oak savanna that surround the property.

Jim speaks of his father as always needing a project. When Jim was a child it was roses.

“in the summertime it was my job to take care of the roses.  He had 100 rose plants.  And so I’d have to go outside and dead head 100 different rose bushes all summer long, so if I never have a rose again I’m happy, it’s okay with me.”

“That being said, now we just replaced 100 roses with 1000 grape vines.  So it’s a different thing.”

They started making wine in 2011.  The idea was a vineyard specific wine from the family vineyard, to show to potential fruit buyers. Soon they figured they might as well make it an official label and then it had a life of it’s own.  They culture yeast from the vineyard and make wines with as little input as possible.  This is not to make a big stand for natural wines, it’s just because this makes wines they like to drink.

The Wines

So with a table lined with people bearing empty glasses at the Uncommon Wine Festival held at Vista Hills Vineyard back in July, they began to pour and dive into their “Uncommon Wines”.

Kooky Varieties

Kooky Varieties

Fossil and Fawn 2017 White Wine Blend

Fossil & Fawn 2017 Oregon White WIne (photo courtesy of Fossil & Fawn)

Fossil & Fawn 2017 Oregon White WIne (photo courtesy of Fossil & Fawn)

The first wine was their 2017 White Wine Blend.  As Jenny mentioned above, it is a field blend of 6 different grapes from 3 different vineyards.  Jim calls it their nod to a style of wine from Austria, specifically Vienna called Germischter Satz.

Jim

So this is predominantly from one vineyard here where they have what I would call a bunch of kooky varieties, very uncommon white wine varieties, for example…

Jenny

A very technical term…(Kooky)

Jim

For example, in the Willamette Valley to my knowledge there are 14 plants of Kerner, which is a German grape and that makes up 3% of that wine.  All 14 plants of Kerner are in there.  And so there is a collection of unusual things, Also a collection of not so unusual things. 50% is Riesling which is fermented in an egg shape vessel.  And the next is 20% Savagnin Rose, which is a relative to Gewürztraminer.

Jenny

Which is also in there

Jim

Which, Gewürztraminer is in there at 15%.  It is 6% Fruilano, 6% Melon de Bourgogne and 3% Kerner, those 14 plants.  So the Riesling as I mentioned is fermented in egg the other 50% was fermented on it’s skins for about 4 days and we pressed off and then it went into a mix of Acacia wood barrels and French oak barrels, totally unfiltered native yeast fermented, we use that yeast that exists naturally on the skins of the grapes to carry out the fermentation.  We wanted to make something that was dry but rich and textural but aromatic, something kind of fun, food friendly, very summery.

This wine on their website, they give they name “aka Gewürvigtocloninger”.  It comes from 3 vineyards, from 3 different areas of the Willamette Valley.  This was the first wine that they sourced from outside their home vineyard at Silvershot. On a map these three vineyards form a triangle of sorts with 30 to 40 mile drives between them, so they span a pretty large area. Beckenridge Vineyard is located just outside Dallas, Hanson is east of Gervais and Omero is outside Newburg in the Ribbon Ridge AVA. Beckenridge is probably best known for Weddings. In fact when you visit their site, that is all that you find.  But…that beautiful venue is surrounded by vines and they do actually produce grapes, which would be the Gewürztraminer in this blend.  At Hanson they are cultivating an eccentric bunch of grapes.  In addition to Pinots Noir, Gris and Blanc, they have Gamay, Auxerrois, Riesling, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, yeah, yeah you say, so exotic, but wait there’s more, they are also cultivating Marechal Foch, Leon Millot and Golubok!  10 points for any of those varieties you are familiar with!  They provide the Riesling for the blend.  The Omero vineyard in Ribbon Ridge provides the remaining oddities, the Savagnin Rose, Fruilano, Melon de Bourgogne and Kerner.

They produced 110 cases of the White Blend and the suggested retail price is $20.  Yep, you read that right…$20.  I happily own a bottle.  Some day later this year you will get a pairing note.  I will say that his description is on the nose, summery is the perfect description.

2017 Rosé of Pinot Noir

Fossil & Fawn 2017 Oregon Rose (photo courtesy of Fossil & Fawn)

Fossil & Fawn 2017 Oregon Rose (photo courtesy of Fossil & Fawn)

The Rosé is 1005 Pinot Noir and comes from a small portion of the vineyard that was planted in 2003.

” It specifically comes from one small portion of the vineyard that my friend Greg helped us plant back in 2003.  Greg loved cats.  He unfortunately passed away a few years ago, so it’s a bit of a tip of the hat to Greg being that this is the first wine that came from just that one portion of the vineyard.  We put some kitties on the label as a little thank you for Greg for helping us out with it. And like the white wine, native yeast fermented in barrel.  This is a very different style of rosé than others that you might try.  This a little bit richer a little bit fuller. There’s this little kind of very very slight bit of effervescence to it.  It is very rocky and chalky and mineraly, that I attribute to growing into this very very harsh material.”

These vines are own rooted Pommard and Dijon 777.  On their site they talk about picking the fruit on a perfect autumn day — cool and damp in the morning with sun slowly burning off the clouds. ”  (how glorious is that)? They destemmed and soaked the grapes on skins for 24 hours then gently pressed, racked into neutral oak and fermented with native yeast.  Malolactic fermentation completed in the barrel, so this wine has a richer mouth feel.  They just made 89 cases of the Rosé.  And again…it retails at $20.  You can watch for a future pairing with this wine also.

 

2017 Do Nothing

Fossil & Fawn 2017 Do Nothing Mondeuse Noir (photo courtesy of Fossil & Fawn)

Fossil & Fawn 2017 Do Nothing Mondeuse Noir (photo courtesy of Fossil & Fawn)

Do Nothing started in 2016, the idea being that they would be as hands off as possible.  The 2017 is 100% Mondeuse Noir from the Omero Vineyard in the Ribbon Ridge AVA.

“I mentioned native yeast and lack of filtration? This is the apex of that very hands off approach.

This is a nod to the very traditional way wine has been made for eons, specifically in places like Georgia.  The country, not the state.”

They believe this is the first time Mondeuse has been released as a single variety in the Willamette Valley.  The grape itself is native to the Savoie in France.

“we call this “Do Nothing” because the fruit we pick full cluster stem on the whole bunch, throw it into a bin, seal it, put on the lid, seal it, and then walk away.  We don’t do any punch downs we don’t even check on the fruit, we don’t look at it for 3 weeks.  At the end of 3 weeks we take off the lid dig out the fruit with a shovel into the press and then squeeze it.  The juice comes out, we take that juice, it goes into mix of older Oregon and French oak barrels where it ferments very slowly.  So at that point our cellar is probably the high 40’s temperature wise, so it ferments over the next 5 months, in our very cool cellar.  And then we bottle it without any filtration or fining and this is designed to answer that riddle of “what do you do when it’s warm out and you want a chilled red wine?  Well this is a red wine that is designed to be chilled.  So very low alcohol it’s 11% alcohol, it’s tannic so it has some nice structure to it, it’s a great food wine it’s just really something super totally different.”

So that 3 weeks that it sits on the skins is called “carbonic maceration”.  You might have heard of this with the wines of Beaujolais.  This kind of fermentation starts without the yeast, inside each grape, then the grapes burst and they yeast takes over for the remaining fermentation.  Now typically the maceration process short, this is an extended maceration…I’m getting really geeky…if you are interested in this fascinating subject there is a great article on VinePair you should check out.

The Do Nothing they kindly made a bit more of, with 215 cases.  It’s still incredibly $20 a bottle, that is, while it lasts.

 

2017 Pinot Noir

2016 Silvershot Vineyards Pinot Noir (photo courtesy of Fossil & Fawn)

2016 Silvershot Vineyards Pinot Noir (photo courtesy of Fossil & Fawn)

 

This is their flagship wine.  In 2011 they produced just 2 barrels and now 8 years in they make 191 cases.  The wine comes from Silvershot Vineyards in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA, the vineyard that Jim grew up on.  This is own-rooted Pommard, Dijon 114 & 115, Espiguette 374 as well as some mystery clones.  This is a mix of their Pinot parcels.  70% of the fruit is destemmed and then fermented in open top fermenters.  The rest is whole cluster fermented.  They ferment with the pied-du-cuve of wild yeast from the vineyard.  Since they do not yet have their own winery, they make their wine at a shared facility in a tricked out 100 year old barn.  This wine does contain a little Chardonnay from 30 plants that were mistakenly planted in with the Pinot.  They co-ferment, and did some foot stomping until fermentation was complete. They barreled in neutral French Oak for 9 months.  It is unfiltered and unfined.

This wine was made to honor the work that Jim’s dad does in the vineyard.  This was the start.

They made 191 cases their Pinot Noir this year and it will set you back $30 a bottle.

They also do a Pinot Gris that is from Silvershot.  Sadly they were not tasting it on this day.  That wine is an orange wine, (a white wine made in the style of a red wine).  Follow the link and read about it.  I would be tempted to order a bottle, but…they do not, as yet, sell online.  But you can find them locally in Oregon! And there are a few distributors carrying them in their portfolios.  If you are going to get some, I suggest you do it fast.  I expect that they will be selling out quickly.

You can also read our piece on the Uncommon Wine Festival, with our interview with Dave Pettersen the Winemaker and CEO of Vista Hills who founded the event, and check out other interviews we did at the festival with Ryan Pickens of Esther Glen Farm and Winery and Ariel Eberle of A Cheerful Note Cellars. We look forward to bringing you interviews and discussions with all of the winemakers from this event, as well as details and visits with wineries in each of the Willamette Valley AVAs.  So check back here at Crushed Grape Chronicles  and don’t forget, you can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

And if you want to dive into details on the Willamette Valley, you can read our recent post Oregon’s Willamette Valley AVAs – a Primer