05 Sep Wine, Art & Hedonism with Libertine Wines Alex Neely
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 with Libertine wines 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.”
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
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
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
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/
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