Upon determining that Chardonnay would remain a key focus at Evening Land Vineyards, Sashi and Raj committed their efforts to reshaping the vineyard and cellar focuses at the estate. As Charles Curtis MW reported in Decanter, “Parr believed in the site from day one. ‘I [Raj] said to Sashi: “This is the hill of Corton – we have to plant this whole hill to Chardonnay’.” The pair began planting more Chardonnay and managing the canopies differently than they were in the past, so as to protect the fruit from sunlight, and also made their preference for east-to-west vineyard rows in Oregon clear. “Although it’s counterintuitive to the common aspect of north-to-south rows, the hottest time of day in Oregon is 5 to 6pm (as opposed to solar noon), so the sun is far west on the horizon,” Sashi explains. A good deal of fruit on north-to-south vineyards ends up getting burned, whereas east-to-west plantings allow the sun to shine right down the middle of the vine row, which keeps the berries shaded.
Farming and vinifying in Oregon caused the pair to think deeper about what they were doing, as well as adjust their California habits to a completely new environment. “I think I’ve grown a lot as a winemaker because of making wine in Oregon,” he says. “I’ve really learned that if you’re going to respect terroir, you need to keep a very open mind,” he says, and with an open mind comes a good deal of change.
Today, many adjustments have been made since Evening Land’s Chardonnay inception back in 2007. Sashi and Raj have replaced Lafon’s small barriques with Stockinger barrels, and overall, significantly less new oak is used in the process. “In terms of pressing, I’d say that the regime is still very similar to how Dominique presses – which is very different from Sandhi,” Sashi explains, likening Sandhi’s pressing regime to that of Jean-Marc Roulot’s (crush all of the grapes to maximize acidity and bring phenolic backbone to the wine), whereas Evening Land’s whole-cluster / gentle long press remains in the vein of Lafon. He notes that the team tried crushing at Evening Land, but the wines just didn’t need any more tannic backbone or structure, as they were already present, so the process was reversed back to Dominique’s original ways. Since 2015, all Chardonnay at ELV has been whole-cluster pressed.
Sashi explains that prior to 2007, Oregon was leaning into Pinot Gris as its white wine grape. Although great Chardonnay was being made at Drouhin, Eyrie, and a handful of other estates, there simply weren’t as many people invested in the grape. “I don't think many would disagree that Dominique Lafon had a profound influence on the Oregon wine industry through the Chardonnay that he made,” he recounts. “He bestowed an honest gift on the Oregon wine industry, which was his expertise, as well as his incredible insight into making Chardonnay.” Upon Lafon’s arrival, Evening Land had three acres of Chardonnay to its name; today, the property boasts an additional 21, with hopes to plant more in the future.
“There’s a lot of momentum on Chardonnay, and it’s got a long way to go, as it is still vastly outnumbered by the acres of Pinot Noir,” Sashi reveals, noting that Chardonnay is simply not as appreciated as Pinot Noir. “It takes quite a bit of wine drinking to understand why Chardonnay is so great. I think you really have to fall in love with the concept of terroir,” he says, highlighting Chardonnay’s flavorless and neutral profile – which in turn, renders it an incredible canvas for depicting site variation. For example, Cabernet is all cassis and black currants, and Syrah is pepper and olives, but because of its neutrality, Chardonnay is so great for understanding the concept of terroir. One can really taste the difference between Perrières and Genevrieres because Chardonnay allows the sophisticated wine consumer to appreciate the differences in the soil – and until Oregon gets to that point from a consumer and producer perspective, Pinot Noir will always be produced in greater volume.
“No one can answer what the best vineyard for Pinot Noir is in Oregon, which means that the state’s terroir for the grape is more neutral, and that it’s ultimately more about the producer and his or her style than the vineyard… but when it comes to Chardonnay, I don’t think that’s the case,” Sashi continues, stating that once a wine region can say that a vineyard is more important than a producer, a new level of regional significance is achieved, as the statement suggests that the terroir factor is strong. As much as we believe in Pinot Noir in Oregon, it’s Chardonnay that continues to excite us for what’s next.