The average person spends most of their youth trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives before having to make the ultimate decisions about college or graduate schools.
These decisions define us in today’s world. Yet more and more often, we see people changing paths after decades of study–you can even count me among them.
In fact, it’s almost become accepted that the average person doesn’t truly understand their direction in life until they’re thirty. In this train of thought, you have to wonder how many people in this world are out there doing jobs they never really wanted to do, specializing in fields they have no passion for, and producing a substandard product as a result.
The good news is that many of us have the courage to do something about it and change the course of our lives. One such person is Kelley Fox, and what she’s done with her life is really something quite special.
After completing a B.S. in Psychology, with a minor in Biology and degrees in Biochemistry and Biophysics, Kelley was admitted to the PhD program in Biochemistry from the Oregon State University–yet never completed her doctorate. Instead, she made the decision to become an Oregon winemaker, which she accomplished entirely through the experience of working in the vineyards and cellars of the region, including time spent alongside David Lett of The Eyrie Vineyards, which deeply influenced her. Starting in 2005, she began work as the winemaker at Scott Paul while also pursuing her own dream of create Kelley Fox wines, which saw its first release with the 2007 vintage.
Fast forward to today, where Kelley Fox Wines is now being talked about among collectors and critics as one of the under-the-radar producers of Oregon, making wines that transcend the region and the stereotypes of domestic Pinot Noir. Kelley now works exclusively on her own wines, crafting a number of Pinot Noir bottlings from the historic Maresh Vineyard and demeter-certified Momtazi vineyards.
What separates her from the rest is her insistence on doing nearly everything on her own and in the most natural way possible, often by hand and maintaining a coexistence between herself and the vines.
While talking with Kelley, the first thing you quickly realize is that she is the genuine article. Many natural – organic – biodynamic winemakers talk the talk, but when their hand is on the table, what you find isn’t always exactly what you expected. This is not the case with Kelley, who not only practices a completely natural approach to winemaking–but literally lives a natural approach to winemaking.
At one moment, we would be talking about the trees throughout her vineyards and how they affect each parcel, and then the conversation would swing to the strict diet that she maintains and her belief in the connection between the vineyard and the person who tends it. If for a moment you start to think this sounds like some new-age marketing, I assure you it’s not. Tasting the wines is enough to convince you that what you have in front of you is not just a product or a the result of a process–instead it is a pure expression of vineyard, fruit, and the naturally-occurring yeasts that fermented it. There’s no new wood, and the wines from the 2014 vintage on are fermented on 100% whole clusters.
Purity is the word that comes to mind with each sniff or sip from the glass. These are remarkably pretty wines with a depth that is unmatched by most. While the house specialties of Maresh and Momtazi vineyards continue to define the style, Kelley also crafts a second wine from both, which allows us to experience each terroir at a price that is incredibly fair in today’s market of Pinot Noir. Ahurani shows the earth, power and minerality of the McMinnville Foothills Momtazi, while Mirabai displays the elegance and depth of fruit found in the Dundee Hills Maresh.
That said, experimentation continues at Kelley Fox, with talk of an amphora-aged Pinot Gris and the further development of individual blocks within each of her vineyards. It’s an exciting time for her and for us, because these are very special wines at a relatively affordable cost.
My only fear is that, as word gets out, will we be able to find the Kelley Fox wines that we’ve fallen in love with? Only time will tell.
On to the tasting notes:
2015 Kelley Fox Wines Pinot Noir Mirabai (Maresh fruit) – The nose showed incredibly fresh red berry and cherry fruit, along with plum, herbal tea leaves, clove, and minerals. It was wonderfully refined on the palate yet soft with pure red berry and blue fruits, inner florals and hints of citrus zest. The long, lingering finish was redolent of mineral-tinged blueberry skins. (91 points)
2015 Kelley Fox Wines Pinot Noir Ahurani (Momtazi fruit) – The bouquet was a gorgeous display of tart red fruits, wild herbs, sweet tea leafs, and dusty spice. On the palate, I found rich dark red fruits with iron-born minerality, The finish was long with lasting minerality and lingering tart red fruits. Floral, herbal, and mineral, this Pinot is right up my alley and an amazing value. (92 points)
2015 Kelley Fox Wines Pinot Noir Maresh Vineyard – The ‘15 Maresh came across as more refined than the ‘14 next to it, with mineral-strewn black cherry, mulling spice, and over time, exotic herbs. On the palate, it was remarkably fresh with pure red fruits, soft enveloping textures, and inner floral and herbal tones. The finish was pure and lifted with florals, moist earth, and a coating of persistent dry berry extract. (94 points) find it at Morrell
2014 Kelley Fox Wines Pinot Noir Mirabai (Maresh fruit) – The nose showed pure ripe fruit, fresh strawberry, sweet floral tones, and hints of savory herbs. On the palate, I found lifted bright textures, soft yet and vibrant with stunning purity, exotic inner floral tones, strawberry, hints of tannic grip. It was incredibly fresh throughout the finish, with juicy acidity and staying minerality. (91 points)
2014 Kelley Fox Wines Pinot Noir Maresh Vineyard – The nose was intense with a mix of wildberry, strawberry and dusty cinnamon and spice, then turning more to minerals and crushed fall leaves. On the palate, I found silky, enveloping textures with ripe red fruits, hints of exotic spices, and inner floral tones. The finish was long with spicy red fruit and hints of grippy tannin. The 2014 seems to be getting better and better. (94 points) find it at Morrell
Article, Tasting Notes and Label Images by: Eric Guido
Vineyard photos courtesy of Mikhail Lipyanskiy Photography
Kelley Fox Wines Website
Find Kelley Fox wines at Morrell Wine & Spirits
There are names within the world of wine that every consumer-turned-wine enthusiast learn quickly as they begin to explore their vinous curiosities. Each region seems to have such a name–call it an icon–which somehow transcends more than just the place, but becomes a beacon of the region and is regarded as that which represents its essence. In Burgundy, that name is without a doubt, Domaine de la Romanee-Conti.
Seeming to be a continent of its own amidst a sea of islands that make up the producers of Burgundy, Domaine de la Romanee-Conti stands not just for what many believe to be the epitome of what the region can produce, but has also achieved a level of value in the world’s eyes that permits their wines to be released at a price that is unmatched throughout much of the world. Driven solely by the market that has grown to love it, consumers and collectors continue to search for these wines the world over, and pay dearly to own and experience them first-hand.
As a wine lover and an explorer of Burgundy, I became fully aware of Domaine de la Romanee-Conti (or DRC), over twelve years ago, which was eleven years prior to the first chance I ever had to taste one. So it goes, as the mystery and obscurity of DRC may be unmatched by any other producer.
When you consider this, you can likely imagine how excited I was when I had my first chance to experience these wines and taste in the cellar with Bernard Noblet (DRC’s cellar master) in the summer of 2016. Following Bernard from barrel to barrel was unforgettable. The man exuded passion for the wines and terroir. Even as he emptied his glass, he would continue to nose the bouquet that was emanating from the empty vessel. I felt both honored and quite satisfied to be in the company of both the wines and the man who tends for them in the cellar.
Fast forward now to the official showing of the 2014 vintage in NYC, headed by Aubert de Villaine, the co-director of DRC himself, as he took us through the intricacies of the vintage and spoke of a deep-rooted attachment that he felt for the land and environs of Burgundy. He expressed in detail how each climat was so unique and continued to surprise him to this very day.
The 2014 vintage in Burgundy was one that started with a mild winter that displayed damp conditions, yet resulted in a spring of remarkable balance and beauty. The early flowering was welcome in these conditions. Then, at the end of June, the region was shaken by an extreme storm and hail, which wasn’t as severe in Vosne-Romanee, which Domaine de la Romanee-Conti calls home. These storms were followed by scorching heat, which naturally reduced yields in the vineyard as many berries simply burned and dried. Then in July came cooler temperatures, cloudy skies and lasting rain.
If there’s one thing that I’ve come to know about vintages in Burgundy, it’s that vignerons are constantly in a state of worry, playing a waiting game and watching as Mother Nature consistently delves out the ups and downs of each season. Just as I’m sure many producers worried through the summer months, in early September they were relieved by a lasting dry warmth and plenty of sunshine. One last storm in mid September worried producers again, as they feared the onset of botrytis, yet as Aubert de Villaine explained to us at the event, the unusually thick skins of the grapes, which formed through the ups and down of the vintage, protected them. The following week provided warmth, dry conditions and exactly what the region needed to complete the ripening process through harvest.
The result of this arduous vintage are wines that speak volumes to longtime Burgundy lovers. The 2014s aren’t big, ripe wines, nor are they brooding and structured. Instead, the ‘14s are finessed and ever present with gorgeous balancing acidity.
The bouquets on most Pinots are layered and refined with masses of exotic florals, herbs and spice. They keep you coming back to the glass over and over again, and provide an inviting aura leading up to the first sip. On the palate they are refined, with crunchy red fruits and often reflect the same floral tones introduced on the nose. I find the balance and energy in these wines to be extremely pleasurable.
As for the whites, they seem to be even better, as a level of natural richness and concentration is contrasted by mineral-driven acidity and cut. The best of them are layered and pulsating with flavor, yet also soothing and elegant. The 2014 Montrachet from DRC is a perfect example of the balancing act that Chardonnay has accomplished.
It was quite a tasting across the board. Domaine de la Romanee-Conti has created a set of wines in 2014 that evoke a spirit of classic Burgundy. I don’t see these appealing to the mass market, but to the Burgundy purist, to the lover of refinement, and to anyone seeking the tremendous beauty that can be obtained through labor in the vineyards and cellars.
On to the wines:
Domaine de la Romanee-Conti Corton Domaine Prince Florent de Merode 2014 – The 2014 Corton displayed a remarkably beautiful bouquet with gorgeous red berries and spice, which became more floral over time with hints of rosemary and marine minerality. On the palate, I found lifted, almost weightless textures with pure red fruits, inner florals and sweet herbs. The finish was medium in length, closing on tart red berries and lasting minerality. This was an extremely feminine and pretty expression of Corton. (94 points)
Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Echezeaux 2014 – At first the nose was dark and restrained, yet time in the glass revealed a captivating bouquet of dried flowers, wet stone, and hints of undergrowth, which gave way to crushed wildberry. On the palate, I found soft textures offset by brisk acidity with herbal-infused red berry. With time, the Echezeaux textures turned more refined and lifted, showing wonderful balance. The finish was long, with hints of fine tannin and saturating tart red berry fruit. (95 points)
Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Grands Echezeaux 2014 – The nose was spicy with crushed raspberry giving way to dried flowers, then crushed stone with hints of bell pepper. On the palate, I found angular textures with crunchy red fruits, which were tart yet brought to life by zesty acidity. The finish was medium-long with hints of herbs and tart berry, seeming almost to close in on itself. (93 points)
Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Romanee-St-Vivant 2014 – The nose showed exotic floral and spice tones with crushed violets and marine-influenced minerality. On the palate, I found lifted, yet structured textures with lasting inner floral tones that seemed nearly identical to those found on the nose. It finished on tart blackberry and herbal tones. (93 points)
Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Richebourg 2014 – At first, I found a dark and brooding display on the nose, which opened up to become one of the most gorgeous expressions you can imagine, as spicy, almost black fruit and minerals gained floral lift and an earthiness that I can best describe as like digging through the actual soil of Richebourg itself. On the palate, soft textures were contrasted by lifting acidity and minerality, as dark red fruits and spice seemed to touch upon all of the senses. Edgy and interactive throughout the finale, this finished with palate-coating dark red fruit and streamlined acidity that made the mouth water. What a thrilling wine at this young stage. (97 points)
Domaine de la Romanée-Conti La Tache 2014 – On the nose, I found dark floral laced fruits and crushed stone with hints of smoke and rich brown spice. On the palate, soft, embracing textures were offset by a laser beam of bright acidity, which ushered in notes of black and wild berry fruit. The finish was long with saturating dark fruit and a mix of exotic spice and smoke. (96 points)
Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Romanee-Conti 2014 – The bouquet was restrained at first, with dusty dried florals, violets, and black cherry. On the palate, I found a lifted and pure expression, seeming almost weightless as it hovered over the senses with inner floral and herb-tinged red fruits. The finish was long with tart berry fruits that saturated the senses, as fine tannin lingered on. This is just a baby today and hard to read, but there’s so much tension in the glass that I can only imagine it getting even better over time. (96 points)
Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Montrachet 2014 – The bouquet seemed to leap from the glass, showing ripe apple, with yellow flowers, and crushed stone minerality. It was energetic on the palate, with a sweet-and-sour yellow fruit profile, where mango, young peach and pear mixed with sweet inner florals and brisk acidity. The finish was long, as it seemed to coat the senses, yet it also cleansed the palate and remained spry and lively. (94 points)
Article, Tasting notes and Photos by: Eric Guido
The Official website of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti
Imported by Wilson Daniels
Domaine de la Romanée-Conti at Morrell
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