Bottleology – White Heron Cellars with Cameron Fries
February 22, 2010 by Dave Bender
Grape vines have a unique ability to thrive in fairly harsh conditions. Vineyards are often planted in dry climates to encourage their root systems to plunge deep into the ground in search of essential water and nutrients. It is this struggle and these stressed conditions that are essential in the production of high quality wine grapes, and which allows for greater individuality as a wine in the bottle. While there is an element of “survival of the fittest” in the vineyard, this element can also be found throughout many aspects of the wine industry.
Cameron Fries, winemaker of White Heron Cellars and his wife Phyllis have met all the challenges of owning their own winery head on since their first vintage in 1986. It’s the “sink or swim” scenario. It’s about the struggle and the daily demands of the business world that required this husband and wife team to dig deep throughout the growth of their winery from the ground up. Here’s a bit of what Cameron experienced:
City Slicker: Cameron Fries has lived in every major city on the west coast of the U.S., except Portland. Cameron said, “My father was a French chef so I always ate well. My dad always told me, ‘Whatever you do, don’t start a restaurant.’ So, wine seemed like the only logical choice. After all, I wear size fifteen shoes…you can crush a lot of grapes with feet this size! Unfortunately, with big feet your pounds per square inch of pressure decreases.”
Swiss Miss: Switzerland always makes ME think of chocolate. Then, snapping out of my Toblerone trance, I heard Cameron say, “Basically, my wife and I decided to get into the wine industry in 1979. We went to Switzerland for five years to learn how to make wine. My father was of Swiss origin, so I spent time as an apprentice and graduated from the Ecole Superieur de Viticulture et Oenologie de Changins on Lake Geneva in Switzerland.”
I Can Dig It: Cameron described to me his work planting the vineyard; he said, “In the spring of 1990 we began to remove sagebrush from a south-facing slope overlooking the Columbia River, basalt cliffs, and the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. All our friends and family came together to assist in the difficult transformation from un-irrigated sagebrush to long rows of green vines. Without the hard labor of our friends and family White Heron Cellars would not exist today. Our primary investment in this winery has not been the money–we didn’t have it. Instead it was the work of the shovel and hoe.” Each year they plant another acre of vines, please contact the winery at: firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested in some volunteer work—bring your back brace!
Not So Easy Street: You can really tell that Cameron has enjoyed the “process” of rearing the winery into what it is today. Cameron said, “The joke in this industry is that to make a small fortune you have to start with a big fortune. We started with no investors and no money so everything from the vineyard to the winery we have created with hard work.”
It’s evident that Cameron and his wife know the winery operations inside and out. HOWEVER, if Cameron had to do it all over again, he said, “I would get rich, before starting a winery.”
Wise Guy: Here’s some wisdom Cameron took from David Lake of Columbia Winery, “There are two kinds of wineries: wineries that have had problems and wineries that are going to have problems.” Cameron concluded with, “The hardest thing to recognize is your own limitations. In other words, what tastes good to you may not appeal to others.” It sure is a good thing there is an overseas market for those types of wineries and wines. FEW, problem solved!
Watered Down: When Cameron has free time, he likes to go into the forest, stick a chair into the stream and read (with a nice glass of wine or beer).
Pinch Me: “My favorite wine experience occurred in the Jura Mountains in Switzerland, a mountain range somewhat similar to the Appalachians. We were up there in the spring with wildflowers dotting the meadows, puff clouds in the sky, a wonderful soft cheese known as Vacherin Mont d’Or, good bread, dried meat from Graubünden, and a Chambolle Musigny. The wine was outstanding but the point of the story is that the environment and mindset really make the wine,” Cameron said. Ummm Cameron, you’re drooling.
Fun Fact: White Heron Winery was the first to plant and bottle Roussanne in Washington State. WOW, now that was FUN!
OAK-ie Dokey: Here’s Cameron’s take on oak, he said, “We do not use new oak specifically, because we believe it covers up the unique terroir of the vineyard. Thus our philosophy is to allow a pure expression of the grape variety and vineyard. Because of the widespread use of oak in Washington, we tend to drink European wines more frequently.”
A Mouth Full: White Heron Cellars, Roussanne, Mariposa Vineyard, Columbia Valley 2005 $14.99 300 Cs.
This is a wine that Cameron describes as a white wine for red wine drinkers. Roussasnne is a grape used in the Southern Rhone region of France often in a blends incorporating Marssanne and Viognier. Roussanne is known for carrying great acidity and aromatics–it makes Cameron think of tropical beaches!
My Shelf Talker: Roussanne is a grape varietal you should be drinking more of, in replacement of [YAWN] most Chardonnay. Dollar for dollar you’re getting a much better deal! Here’s a Roussanne that is priced right. Golden in color, you know you’re in for a ride. The nose reveals yellow apple, pear, dried white flowers, green banana, fresh fig and minerals. The palate is slick, almost oily, quite rich and mildly creamy. There are notes of melon, low acid levels and again the yellow apple character. This is defiantly a wine to ‘nerd’ with bit, the 5 years of bottle age has mellowed the acidity and brought about some secondary tones (not for everyone). What’s great is that this wine is a bit more inspiring than your average $15.00, full bodied white wine. It makes you think about a realm of different ingredients to work with, like for me it was buttered crawfish—I’m just sayin’.
Bottleology: 88 pts.
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