Jamie Goode catches up with Jay Boberg and Jean-Nicolas Meo of Nicolas-Jay, a winery who has, in a very short time, become one of the stars of the Oregon wine scene
Jay Boberg and Jean-Nicolas Meo were in town showing off their 2019s. ‘2019 was a cool vintage, as you can taste,’ says Jean-Nicolas. ‘Even a cold one. The conditions during the summer were nice, without heatwaves, and it was overcast with a bit of rain during September. It made wines that are a bit different from what we’ve made in the past.’
He emphasized that Oregon isn’t just California with a little less heat. ‘It has a nice variation of vintages. This is certainly leaner than what we’ve done so far.’ The wines are refreshing with lower alcohol. ‘It is definitely a vintage worth investigating if you had this idea of Oregon being new world.’
‘It was a relatively small vintage for us production-wise,’ says Jay. ‘The yields were not high.’ He adds that ‘a ton of grapes is not a ton of grapes is not a ton of grapes. You can have one ton of grapes that produces a lot more juice than another ton of grapes, depending on the skins and berry size.’ 2019 is a lower yield from that standpoint. Fortunately, rain stayed off during harvest so they could pick when they wanted to. In 2021 they had the same thing happening: a leisurely harvest in that they could pick when they decided, rather than being forced by weather.
2019 is the second vintage they’ve made Chardonnay, and they showed two here. ‘Chardonnay is very interesting in Oregon,’ says Jean-Nicolas. ‘It is a new grape for us. It is still in its first stages in Oregon. Certainly, the arrival of Dominic Lafon in the second half of the 2000s was a game changer for Oregon Chardonnay. It is definitely a very hot grape, even though Pinot Gris is still the dominant white grape for Oregon.
Bishop Creek is old vines grafted over from Pinot Gris to Chardonnay, at the top of the home vineyard.
Burgundy Chardonnay clones have really made a difference. ‘They used to have California clones,’ says Jean-Nicolas.
‘They never really got ripe,’ says Jay. They had a small block of them and weeks after everything else they still weren’t ripe.
‘Chardonnay is not really evolving extremely quickly in the vineyard in terms of ripening,’ says Jean-Nicolas. ‘You have time to choose exactly when you want to pick.’ He says there is a difference between Chardonnay and Pinot. ‘We are the first to pick for Pinot, but not for Chardonnay.’ He says some pick Chardonnay extremely early, and not properly ripe – and that the same thing is happening in Burgundy too.
In 2019 they made 87 cases of Bishop Creek and 200 cases of the Affiite Chardonnays. But they plan to make more. They have picked up another Chardonnay vineyard and planted three more acres at Bishop Creek in 2015. They also picked up two new vineyards in 2021 – Spirit Hill and Lone Star. These are both owned by Argyle, and they have agreed to sell them a few tons of each, which they use for their high-end sparkling.
The idea is that they want to replicate what they are doing with Pinot Noir for Chardonnay, with a series of single-vineyard wines as well as a blend.
One big change has been working in a new winery – before they rented space at Sokol Blosser. ‘It’s like going from roommates in college to having your own place,’ says Jay. They have two cellars at the new winery, and this makes extended barrel ageing feasible. This is part of their winemaking approach. ‘In Oregon, few people over-vintage,’ says Jean-Nicholas, and this is a problem. ‘You can’t bottle in July.’ They were able to over-vintage at Sokol Blosson, but it was a bit problematic. ‘The wines need time,’ he says. ‘They need the second fall and beginning of winter. It is really important for the wines to calm down from malolactic. It is essential.’
Because they didn’t make any red wines in 2020, as a result of the fires and smoke, 2021 was their first vintage in their new cellar. ‘The biggest thing I noticed this year,’ says Jay, ‘Is that we had the flexibility to do things exactly when we wanted to.’ The new winery has a capacity of 8000 cases, but they don’t think they’ll ever get there. The other advantage about the new cellar? Jay is a music guy, and at last he can choose the music. ‘We have the best winery sound system in north America!’
What’s so interesting about these wines is that the winemaking has revealed the differences between the various sites: these wines all taste different, although there is a slight house style, emphasizing freshness rather than bold sweet fruit. Perhaps the two are aligned.
Nicolas -Jay Affinités Chardonnay 2019 Willamette Valley, Oregon
Nice intensity on the nose, which is nutty and toasty with powerful pear and citrus fruit. Linear, quite mineral, with the concentration and richness nicely restrained with good acidity. Lovely weight here with a fine, spicy finish. Serious effort. 94/100
Nicolas-Jay Bishop Creek Chardonnay 2019 Yamhill-Carlton, Oregon
This is really lively with a lovely linear flow: it shows great acidity and precise citrus fruit, with a hint of pear richness and a touch of green apple. There’s a touch of mandarin here. Real intensity and purity with potential for development. 95/100
Nicolas-Jay Ensemble Pinot Noir 2019 Willamette Valley, Oregon
Beautifully floral aromatics with sweet red cherries: so inviting. The palate is supple and elegant with fresh red cherries and plums. Very fresh and delicious with such purity and real elegance. I love the texture to this wine which is just so fine. Real elegance. 96 /100
Nicolas-Jay Ensemble Pinot Noir 2018 Willamette Valley, Oregon
There’s some structure and density here, with sweet cherry and berry fruit but also a density and some dusty weight. Firm and beautifully proportioned, with a grippy finish. 94/100
Nicolas-Jay Own Rooted Pinot Noir 2019 Willamette Valley, Oregon
Lovely brightness to this wine, with good acidity, and fresh red cherry and redcurrant fruit. This has some structure, but it sits in nicely amid the focused bright fruit. There’s a transparency to this wine, which is bright and purposeful. Very fine. 95/100
Nicolas-Jay Momtazi Pinot Noir 2019 McMinnville, Oregon
This is ripe, fresh and quite dense with keen acidity and bright red cherry and raspberry fruit. Great concentration here and lots of freshness, with a slight liqueur-like richness on the mid-palate. This is really fine and potentially long lived, combining good structure and acidity. Sensational. 97/100
Nicolas-Jay Nysa Pinot Noir 2019 Dundee Hills, Oregon
Very fine aromatics: bright red cherries with some floral overtones and a slight sappiness, showing a hint of oak, too. Astonishing elegance on the palate with red cherries, cranberries and a hint of cedar spice. This is so pretty, in a lighter style, but it doesn’t lack concentration or potential ageworthiness. Give this a little time to fully integrate. So good. 95/100
Nicolas-Jay Bishop Creek Pinot Noir 2019 Yamhill Carlton, Oregon
Very fresh and fine with lovely redcurrant and cherry fruit, with nice intensity and structure. There’s a distinctive woody spiciness hiding under the fresh fruit. Has a touch of gravel and spice with fresh red cherries on the finish. Lovely intensity here and potential for development. 95/100
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