As I’ve written before, exploring Oregon’s vineyards is one of my favorite activities when we’re on the west coast. If I didn’t have other things to do, or a lurking fear of becoming a full-fledged alcoholic, I’d be out sampling wine every week!
For winemakers Scott and Lisa Neal, the owners of Coeur de Terre (“Heart of the Earth”), winemaking is a year-round labor of love. Scott grew up on a farm in Minnesota and has always felt connected to the land. There are very few endeavors that allow for a product to be grown, made, and sold all by the same person. Even better, he’s able to see customers actually use his product—which they do with gusto.
Coeur de Terre (CdT) is one of the wineries we most enjoy visiting, and not just because the wines are excellent. It’s the particular charm of the venue, the owners, and Jacques, the tasting room master of ceremonies, that make this place a standout. Scott explains that they’ve opted not to have a tasting room in McMinnville, alongside so many other Oregon producers, because they’re interested in attracting a loyal, more serious clientele. This makes CdT a special destination unto itself, rather than something you’ll stumble upon. As Scott says, “We’re on the way to here.”
Scott and Lisa established the winery in 1998, starting with about 50 acres. Today, the serene hillside property totals 92 acres and the owners have planted all the vines on the estate. Sticklers for quality and consistency, the Neals make sure that CdT is farmed using organic and sustainable methods. Twenty-four acres are dedicated to Pinot Noir (each block having its own distinct character), along with small blocks of Syrah, Riesling and Gruner Veltliner.
In 2014, Scott and Lisa added fifteen more acres of Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay, which will see its first harvest this year. Current prices range from $19-$21 for Riesling, Pinot Gris and Pinot Rosé to $36-$40 for heritage Pinot and Syrah, with single block Pinots and older library wines at $65+. There’s truly something for everyone, and joining their wine club produces some great savings, too.
I asked Scott to share some of his favorite memories.
This is a hard one to narrow down. Some of the outstanding memories I have are the times that Lisa and I would walk the land when we first came here and dream of what Coeur de Terre would look like. Now, 16 years later, we do that same walk and see that what we were thinking about is actually here. Other memories are the time my mom was able to visit the winery and see the block that was named after her before her passing. More memories are our first open house in the cellar of the current winery where we sold our first bottle of wine, and lastly, the memory of all the great friends we have made throughout our years at CdT.
Besides developing their newly acquired property, Scott and Lisa have expanded distribution to Scott’s home state of Minnesota and hope to expand into Texas and Colorado as well. (Living most of the year in Austin, I can’t wait for that to happen.) Looking ahead even further, they hope to instill their passion for land and place in their two young daughters. Since the 8-year-old already loves to ride the tractor, I foresee generations of the Neal family producing wine well into the future.
Another asset for Coeur de Terre is their charming direct sales manager, Jacques Rendu. The 2017 harvest will mark his 10th year anniversary working in the wine industry in Oregon’s Willamette Valley and his fifth year at CdT.
The Oregon wine industry is a relatively small world where 2/3 to 3/4 of the wineries are family estates. A close-knit community where everyone is very supportive of each other, Jacques has built connections with his peers through volunteering with the International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC), Oregon Pinot Camp and his work as a Board member for some of the industry’s non-profit organizations. Interestingly, Jacques says, “France gave me my palate education but it is Oregon that provided my technical winemaking and oenology training. Both are great assets when interacting with visitors or Oregon wine aficionados.”
One of Jacques’ most memorable experiences was hosting a catered IPNC seminar at CdT with French and American winemakers and attendees from all over the world. For a family winery with a small staff, this event was not only a great honor but also a logistical challenge. Only at the end did they discover that one of the guests was the wine buyer for the White House. He had served under the last three Presidents at the time and after tasting Scott and Lisa’s wine told them he wanted to order one to be featured at the White House. Impressive.
PLANTING THE SEEDS OF FRIENDSHIP
Jacques’ enthusiasm and knowledge are as contagious as his smile. We always learn something new – such as when a particular wine will be at its peak – and get menu inspiration for what food to serve with whatever we’re buying. Jacques has hosted guests from as far away as Portugal, Sweden, Denmark, France, Germany, Africa, Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand and, most recently, Japan. He says, “Wine is an amazing ‘cultural’ exchange vehicle.” Forget that old Coke jingle… imagine if the world could just sit down and have a glass of wine together!
Some of these simple tastings have resulted in long-lasting relationships. Total strangers the first time, visitors often leave with something more than a few bottles; they leave with great memories and a fondness for a special winery.
SIDE NOTE FOR TEXANS
[Not a sponsored post. Attributed photos courtesy of Coeur de Terre.]