Evesham Wood Winery
Expanding Possibilities, Solid Tradition,
and Remarkable Wines
By Christina Kelly
Avalon Senior Editor
With the change of hands at Evesham Wood Winery near Salem, Ore., Pinot noir enthusiasts are finding the same remarkable wines they've collected it through Evesham's 25-year-old history. The beautifully nuanced wines continue to express the unique flavors of the organically managed vineyard.
Generally when a winery is sold to a new owner, the winemaker wants the wine to reflect his or her personal taste and style. Consumers are left to wonder if their favorite wine will disappear with the new ownership.
But a funny thing happened when Erin Nuccio (photo at right) made wine at Evesham with owner Russ Raney.
Like wine evolves in the bottle, the more Nuccio worked in Le Puits Sec Vineyard (French for "the dry well"), the more he realized the uniqueness of the vineyard and the wines. As the two winemakers worked side-by-side, Nuccio realized their winemaking styles were similar, and they shared the philosophy of less intervention in the vineyard. Two wines, the Evesham Wood Le Puits Sec Pinot noir the coveted and hard to get Evesham Wood Cuvee "J" Pinot noir are made from the vineyard.
"I had a tremendous amount of respect for Russ and his style of winemaking," Nuccio said. "The longer I worked at Evesham, the more I realized it was a special place and the unique wines produced at the site should not be changed or compromised."
Erin had worked for Raney for several harvests before the idea of buying the winery surfaced. Nuccio originally wanted to start a winery from scratch to express his passion for the grape. In fact, when Raney first approached Nuccio about buying Evesham Wood, Nuccio turned him down.
at right, original Haden Fig art
"I knew the answer was no," recalled Nuccio, 37, who met the Raneys in 2007 through family friends. "I didn't want to take over an existing winery. I didn't want comparisons. I didn't want people to think I messed with something that they thought was special."
What sealed the deal for Nuccio was that his own label, Haden Fig, a boutique wine made at Evesham during the three seasons Nuccio worked for Raney, would remain viable. It would become the label for Nuccio to take some risks and challenge his hand at winemaking, experimenting with grape skins, clones, native fermentations and more.
"When I realized it was possible to do both Evesham Wood and Haden Fig Pinot noirs, I knew this is where we were headed," he added. He has also focused on three white wines, the Evesham Wood Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Gris.
Raney said it was a relief to learn that Nuccio would keep the winery name and the winemaking techniques.
"That was music to our ears," Raney said. "I guess I wanted to have a legacy-at least for the vineyard. And maybe some day, Le Puits Sec will be designated a Grand Cru."
Evesham Wood Winery Information
below, Evesham Wood's estate vineyard, Le Puits Sec
Evesham Wood Wine Reviews
The Evolution of Erin
A man born with a chef's palate, Nuccio intended to study at a culinary school in the Washington, D.C. region when he got a job at a prominent wine shop. As he tasted and studied wines in order to sell them, absorbing information from knowledgeable wine professionals with years of experience, he felt the nibble of the wine bug-and then it turned into a full-blown passion. He ditched culinary school to work in wine sales, importing, distribution, restaurant and wine bars and all things wine related.
When his new bride, Jordan, decided to go to veterinary school in Massachusetts in 2000, Nuccio worked for a distributor in wine sales while trying to figure out where this industry might take him. The couple decided to head out west after Jordan's graduation in 2005 to see where he might possibly open a wine shop and she could open a veterinary practice.
The Nuccios traveled to Washington State and Oregon (too rainy), to Northern California, where they eventually settled in Berkeley. But the Bay Area exposed Nuccio to even more wines and enthusiasts, and brought him closer to Napa and Sonoma. It was then he decided he had to make wine and find a special place to showcase both the wine and his winemaking style.
"The reason I didn't make wine in California was that I couldn't passionately make wine in California. I wanted to believe 100% in my wines, and I couldn't express my winemaking style under those growing conditions."
Even while Erin was studying in CA he wanted to make wine in Oregon. "I had realized exactly what I was meant to do with my life. I was just in the wrong state."
at right, the Nuccio family
Erin and Jordan had talked a lot about moving to Oregon, but the issue of Oregon's rainy climate had been a sticking point. After 45 straight days of rain in Berkeley, Jordan realized that a soggy winter wasn't such a bad thing. Now she says she can't imagine living anywhere else.
After moving to Portland in the summer of 2007, Erin's plan was to spend a couple years as an assistant winemaker while looking for vineyard land and gradually launching his own winery. Erin emailed only one winemaker - Russ Raney, then owner and winemaker of Evesham Wood, asking for a job as Russ' assistant.
When Russ said no, he also invited Erin out for a visit to the winery. Upon their first meeting in June, Erin and Russ immediately became friends. They spent the whole day together in the cellar and vineyard and found incredible common and shared perspectives on wine, winemaking, and viticulture. Erin figured the day was going so well, why not ask Russ for a job again? The answer, again, was no. But Russ suggested he work harvest at Evesham and offered to let Erin make his own wine at there (later to become Haden Fig).
While Erin felt it was the right thing to do for the 2007 harvest, he planned to seek an assistant winemaker job at a different winery after harvest. Later in fall, Erin was at a party talking with an accomplished Oregon winemaker, who commented that the greatest Oregon Pinots he had ever tasted had been made by Russ. That's when things finally clicked that the opportunity to make wine with Russ, even without an official job title or really any structure, was something Erin couldn't pass up. He knew he'd come back in 2008 and stay until he got kicked out.
At right above, Avalon's Marcus Looze, Andy Osterhous, and Evesham's Erin Nuccio
All Things Winery
Evesham Wood annually produces about 5,000 to 6,000 cases of wine-85 to 90 percent of it in Pinot Noir. Haden Fig (a nod to Nuccio's son), produces about 1,500 cases, with a tiny amount of Pinot Gris. The estate vineyard, Le Puits Sec, has been certified organic since 2000 and dry farmed long before that.
Life at Evesham Wood is like taking a step back in time. The couple has two children, Haden, 3 and Juliette, 9 months, and they live next to the 13-acre estate vineyard west of Salem, where many tasks are done by hand. There is no fancy equipment, says Nuccio. The bottling and labels are done by hand. Volunteers come out to help during winery events such as harvest.
"One of the things I love about this place is that we are connected to the wine-we are connected to the soil in a very physical way," Nuccio said. "Smelling and tasting is our laboratory. It may take two times as long to get things done when you are working with gravity more than machines, but it is a way of life we enjoy."
The couple is even talking about getting draft horses to work in the vineyard.
Grapes are sourced from other dry-farmed vineyards in the Willamette Valley. The largest bottling is the Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, a value wine from Illahe Vineyard, Eola Springs Vineyard, Hidden Rocks Vineyard and Mahonia Vineyard. The silky Le Puits Sec is Evesham's estate wine. Nuccio brought back the single vineyard bottling of Temperence Hill Pinot Noir, and then makes the winery's top of the line, Cuvee J, using the best six barrels from Le Puits Sec Vineyard.
Raney is pleased at the direction Nuccio is taking Evesham Wood, making the winery a bit more efficient, while preserving the style of the wine. Both men agree that they are making wines that won't necessarily appeal to the masses or to wine critics who need a big hefty wine to jump-kick the palate.