In producing Pinot noir, Mark's goal is to create wines that display their provenance: the site's terroir, the character of the vintage, and the personality of the winemaker.
We believe Pinot noir is capable of aging very gracefully and all of our vineyard-designated wines will develop over at least a decade. Philosophically, we look both to the New and Old World for inspiration. We believe that each decision, from bloom to bottling, expresses itself in a wine. Our job is to make choices that reveal those details.
To accomplish this, our winemaker oversees all stages of the wine’s evolution: the management of the grapes through their final ripening, the way the grapes are extracted during fermentation, and the maturation during aging. Small decisions move the young wine in the desired direction and each wine has distinct textural details and flavors that reveal its unique story.
Mark picks ripe fruit at the point of maximum flavor complexity. This occurs at a moment that is short lived. To do that, he walks through all the vineyard blocks tasting small samples of berries to examine their juice flavor, skin tannins, balance of acidity, and texture of fruit. He also evaluates the level of dehydration and examines the fruit for disease that might need treatment or expedite harvest. Once in the winery, the fruit is sorted by hand.
Fermentation proceeds naturally for all the wines. While fermenting on the skins, Pinot noir extracts flavor and tannin. When the intended balance of flavor and tannins is achieved, the grapes are gently pressed and then settled to remove most of the yeast solids. We age the Pinot noir in a combination of new and used barrels for 11-16 months. New French oak barrels are only used to define and support the vineyard's terroir, not to create a distinct oaky profile in the wine. The white wines are aged in stainless steel and used barrels. No new barrels are used for our white wines.
The winery was built to help us make wine more naturally, using minimal technology. We fill the fermenters and bottle by gravity flow. Our barrels rest in an underground room with naturally controlled temperature and humidity. Mark believes that simplicity in this process allows the wine's personality to be fully expressed. The barrels are never moved during their aging, nor is any machinery allowed in the barrel cellar; all work is done by hand.
Our Winemaker, Mark Vlossak has received many accolades and awards over the years. Despite his continued success and respect within the wine community, Mark has been committed to providing wine at a price point that is accessible to all potential customers. He has had a longstanding love affair with food and wine and believes that this experience should be available to all.
"Vlossak's dedication to quality and his commitment to delivering value to his customers is exemplary." - The Wine Advocate
Our first Pinot noir was produced in 1988, produced primarily from Seven Springs Vineyard grapes. In 1989, we produced our first vineyard designated Pinot noir from O'Connor Vineyard. This is now our estate vineyard, re-named Zenith. We source Pinot noir from our Estate and six other vineyards.
Our relationship with each grower allows us to access top quality fruit from diverse sites. This makes it possible for us to produce wines that reflect the unique growing conditions at each site. We contract for specific blocks that are grown specifically for St. Innocent Winery on a long-term basis. We work closely with each grower to fine-tune viticultural techniques – pruning, leaf pulling, crop thinning, hedging, and picking - to produce grapes that reflect their flavor and texture of each unique site.
In many cases these vineyards were replanted specifically for St. Innocent with clones, rootstocks, spacing and trellising decided jointly by the grower and our winemaker. These are long-term agreements allowing us to watch these wines develop over decades.
We release four vineyard-designated Pinot noirs on Memorial Day Weekend: Temperance Hill, Zenith, Shea, and Justice Vineyard. The final two, Momtazi and Freedom Hill Vineyard are released in September. All of St. Innocent's vineyard-designated Pinot noirs are produced in a style to first reveal the distinct attributes and textures of their sites. Most of the vineyards are grown sustainably and qualify for LIVE certification. Temperance Hill Vineyard is certified organic and Momtazi is certified Biodynamic. Target yields are between 2 and 2.7 tons/acre (30-42 HL/HA).
Production techniques for making Pinot noir are relatively simple. All the fruit is destemmed, minimally crushed with 30-40% whole berries, and fermented in 3-8 ton fermenters with no SO2 (unless there is rot). There is a 1-4 day natural cold soak. Punch-downs are by hand and occur once or twice daily. After fermentation, the must is removed from the fermenter and pressed gently. Time of pressing and degree of pressing is determined by taste. The new wine is settled for several days and then racked to barrels to age for 11-15 months. The specific coopers, forests, and percent of new wood are matched to the individual vineyards. Our Pinot noirs are never fined. All bottling is done by gravity with our own equipment.
In most vintages, St. Innocent produces a 'tete de cuvee' Pinot noir called the Special Selection. Our Special Selection Pinot noirs are the best wines we produce each vintage. They represent a tiny fraction of our production. From each vintage we select the most perfectly ripe vineyards for Special Selection status. After more than a year of aging, our winemaker selects the barrels that when combined, create the most perfect expression of that site and vintage. WineClub members received a bottle of each Special Selection wine in their WineClub shipments.
We began producing Pinot gris in 1992. The style was initially modeled after the Pinot gris from Italy's Friuili region. After visiting Alsace in the spring of 1998, Mark became fascinated by the riper, more textural wines produced in Alsace. All of our Pinot gris grapes come from Vitae Springs Vineyard. By cropping very low, picking later, and allowing the wine to develop for 9 months in tank, we create a more textural style.
We also make Pinot blanc which is lovely with Oregon's bounty of shellfish. Our Pinot blanc is fermented partially in stainless steel-to preserve the fruit component and partially in neutral barrels to add textural complexity. After eight months of aging on the lees (in contact with its fermentation yeast), it is bottled.
Early plantings of Chardonnay in Oregon were primarily with the California 108 clone. Unfortunately this clone was difficult to ripen in Oregon’s cooler climate. In the middle 1990's, clones ripening more naturally in our climate became available: the French 'Dijon' clones. Mark was an enthusiastic advocate and believed these clones would transform Oregon Chardonnay. Mark sponsored the planting of these clones in both Seven Springs and Freedom Hill Vineyards. Since 1999, all of St. Innocent's Chardonnay comes from these clones.
Freedom Hill is an excellent Chardonnay site having enough heat to full ripen the grapes and cool enough nights to retain necessary acidity. Prior to 2003, he used a high percentage of new barrels and long aging, believing the resulting “big” style was appropriate. Mark slowly discovered that this site also has a uniquely stony minerality. Unfortunately, the long aging and new oak obscured that characteristic. In 2003, he switched to using only old barrels and shortening the lees aging to 11 months. The wine was transformed with a balance of lovely fruit and a rich underpinning of its stony minerality.
With the success of this style, we expanded our Chardonnay acreage at Freedom Hill from 1 to 7 acres. The new vines were planted much higher on the hillside with better exposure, at a higher density. These blocks came into full production in 2011. As they have matured, the quality of the fruit has risen dramatically.
Our winemaking has simplified further. We now whole cluster press the fruit, settle the juice overnight and then fill the barrels with the clarified juice. We add no SO2 and allow the fermentation to proceed naturally. No yeast or bacteria are added. The wine is not fined; the lees are not stirred. After aging on the lees for 11 months, we bottle with only a light filtration.
St. Innocent has produced vintage dated methode champenoise sparkling wines from our first vintage in 1988 and continuing through 2000. The 2000 Brut was released in March 2005 and was our last large, commercial release of sparkling wine. We decided to make small lots of vintage dated, Blanc de Blanc (all Chardonnay) in 2006 and 2007. The 2006 Blanc de Blanc Reservé was released in summer 2015. The 2007 will release in the fall of 2016. Beginning with the 2016 vintage, we will continue to make small lots of sparkling wine, probably for release beginning in 2021.