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A couple months ago, during a vacation in the Pacific Northwest, I stopped to visit John Paul and his family in Oregon. It wasn't a typical wine visit - I arrived as the sun was setting over the Clos Electrique vineyard, pulled in at the top of the hill next to the beautiful house that serves as tasting room and production facility, and prepared to set up a tent in between the vines, overlooking the rolling Oregon hills. Up until that evening, I had been an admirer of Cameron winery, but I had never spent time with John Paul and his family. Within moments of arriving, I met his son Julian, wife and partner Teri Wadsworth, and the assistant winemaker Tom Sivilli, and was welcomed as a friend by all of them. Food followed, and wine (of course!), a fire, and lively conversation - it was truly a night to remember!
The following day, I didn't have a chance to visit the other vineyard sites - the lunar eclipse was the preferred outing of the day - but I did spend many hours getting to know everyone at Cameron, and I was thoroughly impressed by their humility, warmth, generosity, and their connection to the land. I spend time in France every year visiting winemakers who take great pride in their land and this felt no different. If you ask John Paul how he approaches farming and winemaking, he'll tell you the same. Since he started Cameron winery in 1984, he has been committed to doing things the old-fashioned way - dry farming, working without pesticides and herbicides, and cultivating healthy ecosystems teeming with microbial and animal life. When it's about time to harvest, John Paul tastes grapes from different vineyard blocks to determine when to start picking. As he says, "I kind of drive some of the more hyper growers crazy with my laissez-faire approach to this but I am a big believer in the Burgundian wisdom that it takes pretty close to 100 days from full bloom for the clusters to ripen sufficiently." It may seem a bit antiquated, but it's this kind of intuition and experience that have helped him produce some of the most honest Oregon wines I've ever tasted. In a nutshell, the belief at Cameron is that healthy vineyards will mean healthy grapes, and wines with purity, balance, and terroir. It's a simple idea, and the wines are living proof!
Many know Cameron for Pinot Noir, from their Clos Electrique plot (planted by John Paul in 1984), Abbey Ridge (originally planted in 1976 and one of Oregon's oldest vineyards), and Arley's Leap (planted above Abbey Ridge in 1990). Perhaps lesser known are the unique wines that are inspired by John Paul's love of Italy (in particular Friuli and Piedmont), or the Saignée of Pinot Noir, inspired by local demand, and his wife Teri's newfound taste for rosés. Like the Pinot Noirs, all the wines are limited in quantity, so we encourage you to try them while you can!
We are especially pleased to announce a wine dinner with John Paul himself on Wednesday, November 8th, at 7:00pm at North End Grill (104 North End Ave, New York, NY 10282). Chef Eric Korsh, Wine Director Jeff Taylor, and the fantastic, hospitable team at North End Grill are preparing a menu designed to pair perfectly with Cameron's phenomenal wines. $160 ticket includes dinner, wines, tax, and gratuity. Scintillating company and conversation is guaranteed, alongside a truly stellar lineup of wines. We hope that you can join us for this rare opportunity to break bread in an intimate setting with a true American winemaking legend! 15 seats are available.
(P.S. sorry, no Nebbiolo this time, but we should be receiving a small amount later this year, and we'll have some at the dinner!)
The Abbey Ridge vineyard was planted by Bill and Julia Wayne, who are partners at Cameron winery. It’s dry-farmed, with a rotating system of cover crops used to maintain moisture, and only organic treatments used in the vines. Originally planted by the Waynes in 1976, (with additional plots added in the 80s and 90s), Abbey Ridge is one of the oldest vineyards in Oregon. At around 600 feet elevation (up to 700 at its highest point), it’s also one of the highest vineyards in the Dundee Hills, which "makes a big difference on timing of bloom and when the fruit is harvested, " says John Paul. Grapes fully ripen here typically in October and are given the chance to develop high natural acidity, which in turn leads to wines with long aging potential. Everything is here! A beautiful Pinot Noir, perhaps with a Burgundian nod in the form of red fruit, rose petals, dry herbal notes, and bright acidity, but uniquely Oregonian in its own right. Though it would not be a shame to drink this in 1-3 years, it will definitely benefit from longer term aging. Eben Lillie
Always a blend from parcels planted in the 80s and 90s at Abbey Ridge, and fruit from the Clos Electrique parcel, this is a fantastic Pinot Noir that over-delivers for the price. Bright red fruit on the nose, with perfect acidity, and a touch of structure that lingers in the finish. There is definitely potential to age this wine, but it's very enjoyable in its youthful phase. There's no jamminess, or overextraction, just fresh vibrant fruit and well integrated tannins. I know it's been said many a time, but this really does remind me of great Burgundy. Eben Lillie
It’s common to find Ramatos in the Friuli region of Italy, where the term (from the Italian word for copper: Rame) is used for the local style of skin contact Pinot Grigio. It’s not so common to find a Ramato in Oregon, but when John Paul was offered access to Pinot Grigio grapes from the Abbey Ridge vineyard, he decided to try his hand at making one. Shortly after he started making his Ramato, about 5 years ago, John Paul met Sasha Radikon, and traveled to Collio to see how he and his father (the recently deceased Stanko Radikon) approached making their Ramato. He learned that the Radikons waited much longer before harvesting, yielding a darker hued and more intense wine. Though he has embraced the Radikon style and experiments now with late harvest Pinot Grigio (aged for 2 years in neutral oak like their Pinots), this is the original version that John Paul has always made. He picks the grapes at peak ripeness, (we should note this is already later than nearly everyone else in Willamette Valley), and ferments them on the skins, extracting just a touch of tannin, and giving the wine a pleasant structure. There’s tropical and stone fruit here, and also a fascinating herbal side. It’s a beautiful color in the glass and a perfect introduction to the world of skin contact wines. Drink with a slight chill. Eben Lillie
To make a Saignée, a small percentage of juice is "bled" off during fermentation of red wines, to balance the ratio of skins to juice, and give more boldness to the resulting wine. The run off juice is fermented separately and yields a rosé that has a considerable amount of color, compared to rosés made by direct press, or with very short maceration times. In one of his "rants " from a few years back about pink wine, John Paul writes that "one should be drawn to the wine by its color, captivated by its elegant aromas, and finally conquered by its texture and lingering flavors." The 2016 Saignée Rose delivers on all counts. It has a lovely rich pink hue, pretty strawberry aromatics, and a fascinating fleshy texture and long finish. A perfect rosé for the fall/winter months! I get the sense from John Paul that he might be getting out of the rosé game soon, as the market that was demanding rosé 4 years ago now seems to him to be saturated with them… so this may be the last time we get a chance to drink the Cameron Saignée. I'd suggest getting a bottle or two and drinking sometime in the next 1-3 years. Eben Lillie
"Giuliano," says John Paul, "is inspired by Vintage Tunina (which I am somewhat disappointed of late to see with screw caps...it was more serious wine than that!). So the main part of that wine is Friulano with inputs from several other components...Pinot Grigio, Pinot Blanc, Auxerrios and the true Jermann inspiration: une baci (a kiss) of Moscato." This has always been a beautifully textured wine and we're excited to have some of the 2016! ARRIVES 11/1 - Eben Lillie
Please join us for a special dinner with John Paul Cameron on Wednesday, November 8th, at 7:00pm at North End Grill (104 North End Ave, New York, NY 10282). Chef Eric Korsh, Wine Director Jeff Taylor, and the fantastic team at North End Grill will prepare a menu to pair with Cameron's phenomenal wines. $160 ticket includes dinner, wines, tax, and gratuity. We hope you can join us for this rare opportunity to break bread in an intimate setting with a true American winemaking legend!
Clos Electrique is home base for Cameron winery, first planted in 1984 by John Paul and comprising 15 different clones of Pinot Noir, along with various clones of Chardonnay, and several Italian varieties. The vineyard is farmed organically, with only small amounts of elemental sulfur and copper used to prevent mildew and rot. Clover (for nitrogen), buckwheat (for phosphorus), and mustard (for drainage) are planted throughout. Geese, chickens, and goats roam the vineyards, and cover crops are used to nourish the soil and attract predatory insects to keep pests away. It’s truly a natural ecosystem at work, and is also the first certified Salmon-Safe vineyard in Oregon. Though situated on terroir of decomposing basalt (Jory soil) like Abbey Ridge, the Clos Electrique vineyard has a much higher iron and titanium content and it is of much younger origin, in terms of "when the lava flow occurred," says John Paul. The vineyard is also at only 300 feet elevation, and is one of the warmest spots in the Dundee Hills, so harvest is much earlier than at Abbey Ridge, and the fruit typically yields a more intense style of Pinot. It's hotter, but the soils give mineral depth, and the clonal variety provides level upon level of complexity, leading many to liken it's evolution in the glass to an "old world" wine. The fruits of the labor of the entire extended family at Cameron, and a wine that feels like the beautiful place it comes from, and has the warmth of the great people who tend the land. Eben Lillie
In the words of John Paul Cameron: "This came about many years ago after developing a love for fresh Friulian white wines. I talked Bill Wayne [of Abbey Ridge vineyards] into planting a couple of acres of Pinot Blanc (bianco!) so that I could pursue that line of wine. It is always a blend of more than Pinot blanc - basically absorbing anything that I maybe don't have a place for (a bit of extra Chardonnay if I run out of barrel space, a bit of Pinot grigio if I have enough for Ramato), but the overall approach is still to make a fresh lively white wine that is best consumed in the first year or two after production." I consumed a good amount of this wine during my stay at Cameron winery, and can personally attest to its versatility with food, its fresh and lively acidity, and the subtle texture that adds complexity to the wine and rounds out the finish. Bravo to the Cameroni for this excellent Pinot Bianco! Eben Lillie
The Cameron estate Chardonnay, from 2 acres of vines planted in 1987.