Soup Night at Boedecker Cellars

The story goes something like this: When husband/wife/winemaking team Stewart Boedecker and Athena Pappas began blending trials for the first vintage of Boedecker Cellars, the results were far from spectacular. Bland wine after bland wine followed until on a whim Stewart said, ‘You do your blend, I’ll do mine and we’ll see what happens.’” What happened was astonishing: two lovely wines as different as night and day—or the winemakers themselves. Stewart’s delicate, red fruited, brightly acidic wines are elegant and refined. By contrast, Athena prefers a more muscular structure with bold black fruit and spice. Blending the two together was just average. Developing these two signature blends proved to be the right thing to do.

Boedecker Cellars resides in an industrial area in the heart of Portland, Oregon, down the street from a zinc plating facility and across the street from Portland Brewing. Every year, they celebrate Soup Night, their annual futures sale. For all the trappings of some of the premium wineries in the Willamette Valley, this humble, converted warehouse—and the Boedeckers themselves—serve as a resonant reminder that enjoying wine revolves around people. Stewart laughs easily, Athena teases about “sour, watery wine,” the two of them charming a full house. Stewart’s blend creates a thoughtful wine, best enjoyed with a close friend, contemplated, sip by sip. Athena’s is more talkative, to be enjoyed with a group; conversation arises while savoring the wine and the moment. That’s the big picture but of course, great wine offers great subtlety.

2011 is significant as Oregon’s latest harvest on record. A long, cool summer flowed into a warm autumn—fairly consistent temperatures the whole time—giving the fruit a uniquely long hang time on the vines. With this came concern and consternation among the winemaking community: would the fruit actually ripen at all, before the shorter days finally forced the harvest? But ripen it did, and the fruit was beautiful. A year later, Stewart related that barrel tastings had been delicious and other winemakers reported the same, throughout the Willamette Valley. This was going to be a fantastic vintage. (Full disclosure: I helped sort a great deal of this fruit.)

First up this year was the 2011 Athena. As expected, the wine displayed Athena's favorite flavors of dark, black cherries and plums, and possessed a vigorous, sturdy structure. Unexpected was its earthiness, which I’ve not found to show in Boedecker wines till much later. Beneath this was a layer of spice that seemed poised to rise at a later opportunity. A complex vintage, indeed!

Up next was Stewart, which showed his own calling card of bright cherry flavors and acidity. There was an engaging, rain-soaked earthiness in the nose to go along with the crushed fruit aromatics. An elegantly balanced wine already—not so much precocious as precognizant—it was amazing in the way it showed both young and ripe fruit flavors.

Now we were on to the single vineyard offerings. A portion of each of these had been blended into both Stewart and Athena, but these select barrels were brilliant on their own. The Hirschy Vineyard was especially earthy, full of ripe cherry, raspberry and plum flavors.

The Stoller Vineyards release is consistently the most popular on Soup Night, showing more quickly than its peers. This year, the wine was a little more shy but still offered young cherry flavors, with mushroom notes in the nose. However, the color of the wine was noticeably lighter than the others—interesting, though not a crucial point. Cherry Grove has its devotees, as well. As its name implies, the cherry flavors were prominent, and rounder than the others (you can almost feel the shape of a cherry in your mouth when tasting this one).

The final pour of the night was from the famous Shea Vineyards. There was a rose character with a restrained, underlying spiciness in the nose. Black plum flavors on the palette veiled even more spice. Plenty of structure here that held the distinct character of a plum skin.

Soup Night at Boedecker Cellars is a night of lovely, fastidiously crafted wines but with a twist of a signature Stelvyn closure, the genie is out of the bottle on one of the best kept secrets in the Oregon wine community. It sells out fast every year. However, on any weekend you can sample wines in their tasting room, with the convenience of staying in town without the hour-long drive down to wine country.

Published: April 18, 2013

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