Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Tom & Deb Mortimer's Gift

One of the great things about wine is that it all tastes differently. A second great thing is that no two wineries have the same philosophy or business model.

Having said that, Le Cadeau is a little different than most. There's no doubt that Le Cadeau's vineyard, located on a rocky hillside near Newburg in the Willamette Valley, has the right terroir and the right owners to make great Pinot Noir. It's the diversity of the Le Cadeau Pinots and the way they're made that is fascinating.

On Saturday night, I had the opportunity to taste practically every Pinot that has any relationship to Le Cadeau (the gift) and it's owners, Tom and Deb Mortimer, at the home of Tom and Meg Hudson in Wilmington. Meg kept her day job as a business executive, while Tom, an accountant, abandoned all his business principles five years ago to launch Domaine Hudson eatery and wine bar. That evening, by my count, I tried around 26 wines that bore either one of Le Cadeau's labels, or that of its Aubichon joint venture, dating back to its first commercial production in 2002.

In recent vintages, Le Cadeau has had four releases - "Cote Est," "Rocheaux" and "Equinoxe," all named after their vineyard plots, and "Diversite," which blends seven different clones from "a row here, and a row there" and is co-fermented, some in stainless and some in wood. In 2009, a fifth label, "Merci," made from one acre of heritage clones (Swan, Calera, Mount Eden), was added.

The odd thing is that Mortimer - who oversees the vineyard - has a different winemaker for each Le Cadeau label. "In 2008, we had five different winemakers," Mortimer says, "but normally we have four." These winemakers have day jobs elsewhere or own their own wineries. As illustration that no logistic is too difficult too overcome, Mortimer shipped the grapes for two of his cuvees this year to California, where their winemakers happened to have these day jobs. While Mortimer does oversee the grape growing, he picks according to the prefernces of the individual winemaker.

This approach does add a slight complication for the inquisitive drinker, as we have to guess whether the differences between the different wines is due to its vineyard plots and clones or the styles of their winemakers. During the Saturday tasting, and again last evening when we tasted the four 2008 cuvees again with the delicious food of Patrick McMahon at Domaine Hudson's fifth aniversary celebration, I kept coming back to Equinoxe as my favorite, although I would be happy to have any of the Le Cadeau wines in the desert island scenario.

The 2006 Equinoxe, its first vintage, was smooth and elegant, but also large-bodied with a pronounced ripe-fruitiness and finishing flavors of black raspberries. The 2007 was also rich and showed some tannins, as did the 2008. Winemaker Jim Sanders likes his grapes picked late, says Mortimer, and the two together launched the Aubichon joint venture.

The Mortimers make only a few hundred cases on their 28-acre property, and it always sells out. But it's doubtful they'll make money on it anytime soon, so in a way Le Cadeau is their gift to us. Which brings us to the third great thing about wine, in addition to its diversity and the diverse ways in which its made - some of the friendliest and most interesting people make it.

Until next time...
Roger Morris

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