Thursday, September 1, 2016

Iconic Oregon Wine: Cameron's Clos Electrique

John Paul is the man. 

The founder of Cameron Winery, in the Dundee Hills of Oregon, is one of my American winemaker heroes. I've never met him, but I love pretty much every one of his wines, and I shout "Amen!" to pretty much everything about his wine philosophy. I'm not prone to fanboyism, but this man and his wines have some awesome things to say. 

The wines, name and even the gate of Clos Electrique pay homage to Burgundy.
Credit: Cameron Wines

His "rants" (blog posts) could compose an Advanced Topics for Wine Nerds elective, as they range from topics such as clonal selection, brix (a measure of ripeness in grapes), pruning and green harvest, etc. 

Anyone fascinated by winemaking and terroir should check out John Paul's posts on Cameron's website. His interviews with Ask a Winemaker on YouTube are also excellent.

Cameron's grapevines are farmed organically and without the use of irrigation (dry-farming). The goal is to produce the purest expression of place possible. And the finished wines are lightning bolts of terroir, demonstrating the uniqueness of the vineyard and the nuances of each vintage. John Paul frequently talks about his love and respect for Burgundy, and his wines are some of the most "Burgundian" I can think of in the United States. John Paul uses indigenous yeast fermentation and produces wines that could be referred to (under one of many vague definitions) as "natural wine." But these aren't sloppy, cloudy, oxidized, busted-ass wines. This is pristine juice.

Cameron produces a range of Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs from a few different sites, but the cream of the crop for my palate is the wines from the estate Clos Electrique vineyard.

The Clos Electrique vineyard gets my vote for one of the most thrilling sites in America for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. This is no sprawling estate, though — the vineyard is home to only 3 acres of Pinot Noir, 2 acres of Chardonnay, 1 acre of Nebbiolo and a half-acre of Italian white varieties. The vineyard (which had been a hazelnut orchard) is planted to multiple clones (at least 15 different clones of Pinot Noir alone). John Paul says this increases complexity and gives the vineyard staying power against vintage variation and pests. He generally uses 1- to 3-year-old French oak to age the wines.

I recently met up with some close friends who have spent many years collecting Cameron wines and visiting John Paul at his estate. They uncorked a whole lot of Camerons for an incredible tasting. We tasted several vintages of the white and red Clos Electrique, and my palate was in heaven. Great wines and great people make for great life experiences, and this was most certainly the case during this tasting. At times like this, I realize how lucky I am to be alive.

I've posted my tasting notes below. The wines were obviously influenced by the great atmosphere, and the fact that I tasted them sighted, but I will stand by any of these wines. Over many years, I've found Cameron's Clos Electrique wines to be among my favorite wines produced in the U.S. 

Blanc (Chardonnay)

Showing complexity from age but still firing like a young pup. Smells of peaches, limes, white flowers, honey, chalk, very complex. Precise acidity frames the wine but the creaminess fills the mouth. Flavors of yellow and green apple mix with seriously complex elements of chalk, crushed shells, almond, honeycomb. Pervasive minerality. Long finish. Two years since I last tasted this, and it's still gorgeous stuff but drinking very well right now. (95 points) 

2010 Cameron Blanc Clos Electrique
Two years since I last tasted this wine and it's even better than I remember it. Immensely bright aromas of lemon, peach, lime, almond, sea salt, floral perfume. Bracing acidity on the palate combines with a rich texture to support the lemon curd, honeydew, apple and peach fruit. Laced with minerals, almond and floral goodness. Crisp, tingly, long finish An absolute stunner of a wine that has more evolution ahead of it. (96 points)  
My first time tasting this vintage and it is awesome, but perhaps just a bit less vibrant than the 2010 and a bit less intense than the 2012. Lighter and refreshing on the nose with lemon curd, peach nectar, flowers and honey. Clean and bright on the palate with yellow apple, lemon, saline, minerals and slight honey. Lingers long and leaves me salivating. (93 points)

Young, a bit compact, but so full of flavor and intrigue. Juicier aromas than the 2011, I get more plush tropical fruits with the classic lemon curd note, along with honeycomb, crushed chalk and white flowers. Bright and crunchy acidity keeps the lips smacking while the creaminess rolls across the palate. Lemon curd and yellow apples are doused in dried flowers, white tea, nougat and sea salt. Long and mineral-laden on the finish. Another stunning showing of this vintage, which has a long time in the cellar ahead of it. (94 points) 

A young and exciting wine, but one determined for the long haul. Smells deep and rich with honeyed apples, peach nectar and lemon curd with notes of sea breeze and chalk dust. Packed with concentration on the palate but the acidity is pristine. Gorgeous lemons, peaches and apples play well off notes of sea rocks, crushed chalk, honeyed white tea and minerals galore. Gorgeous, thought-provoking stuff. I'm going to sleep on mine for two to four years, though, as I could see this getting better and better. (94+ points)

2012 Cameron Chardonnay Clos Electrique Wadsworth
First time tasting this wine and I'm thrilled — it offers an interesting comparison to the traditional Clos Electrique Blanc of the same vintage. I get more honey and richness on the nose but there's still lots of lemon/lime and plenty of chalk and sea salt. Aromatically evolving, showing lots of elegance. Plump on the palate but tangy acidity. Bright limes and lemons with crunchy apples, and lots of intense floral and mineral notes. Long, elegant, delicious but intriguing. I'd love to retaste this beauty in three or four years. This wine comes from a single barrel of the Clos Electrique wine. (95 points)

Rouge (Pinot Noir)
Smells of olive brine, pepper and soy on top of sour cherries and plums. Silky tannins, medium-plus acidity, this is a smooth wine that glides cleanly across the palate. Fruit is a bit faded, but still some cherry/red plum, most of the focus now is on the pepper, smoke, olive and funky earth elements. My first time tasting this vintage, so I'm not sure how strong it was in its youth, but this seems a bit tired. Still digging it though, just falls short of the other wines in the tasting. (90 points)

Nice dose of pepper and funky herbs on the nose but also plenty of plump red fruit. Silky tannins, bright acidity, smooth mouthfeel. Fruit still going strong (plums, sour cherries) and I get quite complex notes of roses, loamy earth, grilled herbs, black tea, olives. Floral and mineral notes linger on the finish. Drinking so smoothly right now. (93 points)

I get expressive bacon, earth and soy on the nose, all on top of juicy red plums and cherries. More tannic grip, as expected, but still shows a silky presence and the wine is balanced with tangy acidity. Plums and tart cherries mix well with notes of bacon, black tea earth and vibrant minerals. Long, long finish. Four years since I last tasted and this wine is still killing it. I love the way this is drinking right now but I could see holding it for a few more years, easily. (94 points)

Gorgeous aromas, a bit deeper but the fruit is pure and tart (red cherry, pomegranate, tart plums), and I get notes of mossy rocks, loamy soil, tobacco and herbs. Bright acidity purifies this wine, but there are some fine but firm tannins that provide plenty of structure, and the effect is a bold but silky presence on the palate. Crisp, cool red cherries, pomegranate, some tart raspberry, the fruit is so pretty but it's topped with olives, tobacco, grilled herbs and earth. Long and vibrant on the finish. A bright and vibrant Clos Electrique, even more so than usual. Lots of life ahead here. (95 points)

2013 Cameron Rouge Clos Electrique
A very pretty young Clos Electrique! Lots of juicy cherries and tart pomegranate with notes of smoke, herbs and olive. For a young wine with solid tannic structure this is showing quite nicely, and the acidity keeps my lips smacking. Juicy plums and cherries are topped with a classic combo of earth, tobacco and smoke, an underlying note of beef jerky will likely come out more with time. Glad I have some in the cellar to check up on in a few years. (94 points)


John Paul first released Nebbiolo in 2010, and it's really cool stuff. I've only tasted the 2007 before, which I loved, and the 2009 is an exciting iteration of this grape.
Smells of dark plums, currant compote and some mushrooms. Structured but dusty tannins, prickly acidity, the balance is on point. Juicier fruit on the palate with some cherry to accent the dark plums. Loving the olive tapenade, brine, smoke and earth elements. Will surely improve in the cellar, but a beauty. (93 points)

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