Hamilton Russells turn to Oregon for new Pinot project

One of South Africa’s leading Pinot Noir producers, Hamilton Russell Vineyards, has begun making Pinot Noir in Oregon.

Anthony Hamilton-Russell, Ken Kupperman and Emul Ross

Using a ‘custom crush’ contract with Jackson Family Wines, Anthony and Olive Hamilton Russell are going to produce two wines from the 2018 harvest, both from sub-region’s in the Willamette Valley – Ribbon Ridge and Eola-Amity.

Production is going to be tiny, Anthony told the drinks business, just 200 9L cases of each will be produced (roughly) and for now the wines are just destined for the US.

As he explained, the driver behind the project was that after years of assiduously building a presence in the US there just wasn’t enough wine from his Hemel-en-Aarde property to go round.

“To justify the expense of maintaining the US market, we felt we would like to put more into that distribution. Making another South African Pinot from another region would go against our concept. But we felt that if we did it in America in a region we have respect for and increasing respect for we would find an elegant solution.”

He continued that Oregon suited them for a number of other reasons as well, both viticultural and economic.

Much as he loved Burgundy, any enterprise there on the budget at his disposal means, “[we] would only ever get access to grapes from lesser appellations and not necessarily the best grapes from those appellations either.”

In Oregon by contrast, “with the good fortune of knowing various people we’ve been able to get out of the starting block with the very best grapes, from the very best sites.”

Stylistically too, Anthony said he was pleased and intrigued by what he saw as, “a more attuned aesthetic set of aims among the producers. Almost a more classic style, less of the overt fruit and soft round easiness.

“Think there’s a wonderful tension, tannin-line and spice element that is being nursed out of Pinot by quite a few producers.”

As well as being exciting, the whole experience had also been a “tremendous learning experience” for all involved.

Ultimately, he went on: “It pays for our winemaker [Emul Ross] to spend time on something that expands his skills.”

As for the future of the project, Anthony continued: “We do plan to grow over time. Would like, ultimately, to settle on a particular AVA but don’t know yet which source of grapes is going to most closely approximate the style of wine we’re most passionate about.”

Driven more by passion than investment, however, the wines will have to be really good if they’re going to be commercial he concluded.

“It has to be really good or it’s not going to help Hamilton Russell as a brand. The wines have to excite us,” he said, reserving the option to blend them away if they weren’t satisfied with the results.

Fortunately though that doesn’t seem like it will happen. “The level of excitement we have now is extremely high,” he said.

Pinot aficionados outside of the US will just have to hope things go well enough that the wines will, one day, filter out beyond American shores.

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