Ovum Wines: A Critique of Pure Riesling
John House and Ksenija Kostic both have day jobs so they're able to take risks with Ovum. For example, they focus solely on whites rather than potentially more lucrative reds. "They are unveiled, so raw," explains House. "You can't hide anything. I think whites are a better conduit for terroir (the expression of a vineyard site) than red wines."
Where a larger winery might ferment whites quickly in large, temperature-controlled steel tanks for a consistency of style from year to year, the goal at Ovum is to reflect the vintage, no matter what it brings. Thus, the techniques are old-school: John and Ksenija allow fermentation to happen spontaneously and linger for months, in neutral (old) oak barrels. The resulting wines are richly textured and deeply layered.
The name "Ovum" is a reference to the perfect natural shape of the egg, and the life cycle a wine takes, from grape to bottle. And, yes, for all you wine geeks out there, these guys do have one of those au courant egg-shaped concrete fermenters. "There is a special convection that occurs in the concrete egg during fermentation that constantly stirs the lees," House explains. "The natural energy and heat generated by the yeasts make the sediment move in a circular fashion, making, in my experience, wines on the most mineral end of the spectrum."
Ovum focuses purely on aromatics, revealing terroir primarily through the conduit of Riesling. Low-intervention production methods are a commitment to letting the vintage and vineyard come through, for better or worse. Native ferments, no subtractions or additions, except for SO2 – extended lees contact 8-9 months imbue the wines with textural complexity. All of this is done in neutral barrels of acacia and oak, as well as cement eggs. The wines possess a balance of sweet fruit with an underpin of thrilling acidity, and for want of a better cliché, show old world style with a new world perspective. This proves that if one approaches grape varieties with the same respect as Oregon producers already have for Pinot Noir, then one can make world class wines.
In the 2017 vintage all of the wines are still produced variously in barrel, 10 hl Austrian cask and Nomblot egg.
Sunnyside Vineyard was planted in 1983, just outside of Salem, technically in the Willamette Valley, on basalt soils. All of the wines ferment until dryness, or wherever they finish, but in 2016 to present all of the wines have less than 7gL RS. This is bells-and-whistles-Gewurz with notes of tangerine, orange blossom, and salt water taffy. Sunnyside shows textural richness on the palate, but retains a salty, acidic cut.
Base Line Riesling comes from the own-rooted Bradley vineyard (planted in 1983), one of the pioneering sites in Elkton, itself one the coolest regions within the Umpqua Valley. Silty loam, and sedimentary rock form the soil along with grey clay from the nearby Umpqua River. Elkton is a direct line to the Pacific Ocean, which shows more direct influence over Elkton than any other region in Oregon. Warm, dry days in the summer are shocked by chilling, Pacific nights. With complex layers of aromatics and unusual, salty texture, this pretty lime leaf Riesling has understated ripeness and refined acidity.
Off the Grid Riesling is the last vineyard picked (fermented in egg & barrel) - the most powerful, complex version of this wine thus far. From the Illinois Valley, close to the Cali border, from very mineral soils comprising galet stones on the top soil, ultamorphic serpentine rock containing high amounts of nickel, cobalt and iron (which stunts organic growth and naturally give low yielding vines). The vineyard also shows the influence of altitude and Pacific Ocean. The beauty of balance with an ideal tension between acid and sugar. Golden plum, galangal root, flint-struck quince and a delicately powerful finish. 10% botrytis grapes in this wine. Remarkable.
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