THE ROAD TO BELLE
IN BRIAN O'DONNELL'S WORDS
My first adventure into winemaking actually came
(believe it or not) somewhere around the 6th to 8th grade when I & some trouble-making
friends (the ones my parent's didn't like, but who had an esoteric range of interests from
writing poetry to making guns) pilfered some Concord grapes from a neighbor's arbor,
pressed the juice somehow, and put it into canning jars...miraculously, the jars didn't
burst as the juice fermented, and we produced a cloudy, fizzy, coupla percent alcohol brew
that greatly enhanced our enjoyment of each others poems and shooting our home-made guns
at the squirrels (the only big game in our part of NYC at the time).
After that, I went into retirement for about 20 years
until I started making wine for family & friends in my garage in San Jose, CA (1986
vintage). I started with a couple of 5-gallon carboys, but pretty soon moved up to barrels
and began approaching the legal limit of 200 gallons per year by the time we moved to
Oregon in 1992. During that time I attended several extension classes at UC Davis to get
some formal training in winemaking. Beyond that, I learned by doing, reading, and asking
lots of questions.
Jill & I moved to Oregon in 1992 still firmly entrenched in our computer biz day jobs,
but with the intent of moving our winemaking to a commercial level as quickly as possible.
That year we made small lots of Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Noir from Wahle vineyard
(which is still one of our primary sources) in a friend's garage in Portland. We bought
our farm in Carlton around Thanksgiving, and moved the winemaking operation out there. In
1993 we began working with fruit from Maresh Vineyard, and in 1994 added the Murto
Vineyard. The early experience working with these vineyards, prior to making wine in
commercial quantities, was extremely valuable in kick-starting our winery.
With plans to begin commercial production in 1996, we spent most of the 1995 harvest in
France, poking around many domaines in Alsace and Burgundy, observing and asking lots of
questions. But we did get home in time to make a barrel of Pinot! We did start our
production in 1996 with 180 cases of Pinot Gris and 150 cases of Pinot Noir, but the crush
was done at another winery since our construction wasn't completed on time. In 1997 we
crushed about 30 tons at our new winery (adding Chardonnay to the mix), and increased that
to about 36 tons in 1998 (adding Riesling). Over the next few years we plan to increase
production to about 4000 cases per year, of which 50-60% will be Pinot Noir, 25% Pinot
Gris, and the balance others including Chardonnay, Riesling, and possibly Gewürztraminer.
My winemaking philosophy is aggressively non-interventionist, guided by the belief that
providing a clean, dimly lighted environment is all that healthy, ripe fruit needs to
transform itself into interesting wine. White wines receive long, cool fermentations using
specially selected cultured yeasts, and are fined and filtered as necessary to insure
stability. Red wines are fermented with both cultured and indigenous yeasts, moved only
with inert gas and gravity, and achieve stability and clarity through careful extending
barrel aging rather than through fining and filtration. The goal is a pure, natural wine
with strong varietal character, neither masked by excessive oak nor stripped by too much
Belle Pente Vineyard & Winery
12470 N.E. Rowland Rd.
Carlton, OR 97111
E-Mail: Brian O'Donnell
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