Division Wine Company
Oregon wine country revisited, part 15

Website: www.divisionwineco.com

Division Wine Company is a really interesting project. It's an urban winery in Portland, Oregon (on Division, hence the name), and there are three sides to the business. It's home to Division, a 500 case winery making authentic, soulful wines from vineyard sites in Oregon and Washington State; it's a crushpad for others to make wine in (the Southeast Wine Collective); and there's a wine bar too.

Kate Norris 

I visited twice, in July 2016 and July 2017, to taste through the wines and talk with the owners Kate Norris and Tom Monroe. Kate and Tom were married (they've both moved on, but still work together) and their winemaking careers have their roots in the Auvergne region in France.

Tom Monroe 

Kate is a blend of English and Madagascan French (she was born in the middle east and has lived in more countries than most people have visited), and has a previous career as an event planner in Clapham, London. After an education in France, her sisters had been scattered around the country. One bought a cottage in the Auvergne (Gamay, Pinot Noir and volcanic terroirs!), and later convinced her mother to buy a property there. By this stage Kate and Tom were living in New York, where Tom was in finance. But on a trip to the Auvergne, Kate's winegrower friends there offered them a chance of working the season, an opportunity that they took up. 'I had no idea what to expect,' said Tom. 'I had zero French.' So they enrolled in enology classes with an enology professor from Beaujolais for four days a week, plus some extra tuition. 'We both learned an incredible amount. Kate translated most of our homework every night, and we'd go through it. It was quite technical.'

Interestingly, while he was at business school, Tom had written a business plan for a community winery in Portland. So on their return to the USA, they made a decision to put this plan into practice. So Tom got a job as an assistant winemaker at Methven in the Eola-Amity Hills, and started Division in 2010 with some grapes from here, and also some from another vineyard. In their first year, they made 300 cases of wine. Shortly after, the Southeast Wine Collective was launched.

Since then Division has grown and the winery is at capacity, with their wines and those of 10 clients. Tom sees it as an incubator. 'People grow and they leave. Initially there was a very low turnover. We get reached out to a lot. Kate and I spend 20 minutes with someone and we figure out pretty quickly whether we can work together or not.'

Of late, Division has got bigger and some of the clients have got smaller. 'We make sure that people who are here have an interest in making wines that are reflective of where they come from, and that they are people who have curiosity. It's not a place where you can say hey, can you make me two barrels of wine.'

From the start, Tom and Kate decided that they wanted to do something a little bit different. Their feeling was that there was something missing with Oregon Pinot Noir: too many tasted the same. 'The wine world is small enough that there's no mystery in the winemaking,' says Tom. 'The mystery is the connection to the land, that few people here have.' So they source from a range of interesting vineyard sites, and don't just focus on what Oregon is famous for.

'It is all about finding the vineyards we want to work with, and farmers who are interested in what we are doing and want to be part of it,' says Kate.

'We spend a lot of time with growers and say let's do what is right here for this vintage,' says Tom. 'When we start the plan all we can do is to make educated guesses about what the season is going to say to us. We are going to make adjustments each year.'

He's particularly excited about Gamay. 'I am so proud of our Gamays.' Division are the largest Gamay producer in North America. They source from three sites in Eola Amity hills and one in Umpqua. There are some granite soils in Applegate in Southern Oregon, and they are developing a Gamay vineyard there. They'll also be planting Chenin Blanc, in a co-venture with a grower called Herb Quady. They are also keen on Cabernet Franc, reflecting their time in the Loire. There's also Kate's Gamine project, which produces Pet Nat and northern-Rhône-inspired Syrah.

All the wines are started of with a pied de cuve from each vineyard (with separate ones for each wine). Reds are unfiltered and unfined with minimal SO2 adds, ranging from 15-40 depending on the wine.

Wines come in two levels: the Division Villages, and then the main Division wines.

The PetNat is interesting. Kate says that there's simply no room in the winery to bottle it during the middle of harvest. 'So I get it to just above the sugar level I want in tank, then chill it down and cold stabilize it until after harvest.' The wine is then removed from the lees and kept in a keg. 'Then in December we combine the lees, bottle it, warm it up and fermentation gets going.' It is disgorged.


Gamine Pet Nat 2015 Oregon, USA
Non-dosage version. This is Grenache, and it's fermented in stainless steel. While there's still 20 g/l sugar left, it is racked off gross lees, cold stabilized for 45 days, and then the lees are reintegrated and it's bottled for 6 months for a second fermentatiom. This is lively, fresh and bright with citrus fruit and some grapefruit pith notes. Fresh and dry with nice weight. 89/100 (07/16)

Gamine Grenache Rosé Pet Nat 2016
Quite yellow in colour. Zero added sulfites. 11.3% alcohol. Juicy and bright with lovely acidity and nice pear and grape fruits, quite dry with nice bite and a bit of citrus. There's good acid and a bit of flint, with some peach skin. It's fruity but also savoury, with lots of interest. 91/100 (07/17)

Villages Rosé of Gamay Noir L'Avoiron 2016 Columbia Valley, Washington State
Juicy and vivid with strawberries and cream, as well as a bit of juiciness. This has a persistent finish with a touch of minerality. Some cherry brightness with some stony character. Juicy finish. Very appealing. 89/100 (07/17)

Division Villages L'Isle Verte Chenin Blanc 2015 Columbia Valley, Washington State
Lovely aromatics: floral, straw, nuts, ripe apples and herbs. Delicious and open with some oxidative notes and lively sweet apple and pear fruit. Very distinctive with nice sweetness on the finish. 92/100 (06/17)

Division Villages L'Isle Verte Chenin Blanc 2016 Columbia Valley, Washington State
This is so complex and lively with citrus, wax, lanolin and pear notes. Structured with good acidity. This is really pure and expressive with nice weight. Some spice alongside the lemon and apple notes on the finish. 93/100 (a bargain at $21 retail) (07/17)

Division Wine Company Savant Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2015 Oregon, USA
Picked three times: an early pass, then clean ripe fruit and botrytised ripe fruit. Very rounded and complex with ripe apple, pear and spice notes. Some peachiness and almond character, too. Rich and textural. 92/100 (07/16)

Division Stangeland Vineyard Chardonnay 'Deux' 2014 Eola-Amity Hills, Oregon
12.8% alcohol. Just one barrel made this year, from vines planted in 1977/78. Lively, nutty and bright with some ripe apple and pear fruit. Great concentration here and lovely precision. Has nice focus and weight. 93/100 (07/16)

Division Stangeland Vineyard Chardonnay 'Deux' 2015 Eola-Amity Hills, Oregon
Plantings from the 1970s, with the vines coming from Eyrie vineyard, brought over from Meursault. This will be the last vintage from this site because of phylloxera, but some cuttings have been taken and these have been grafted over at Johan vineyard. Just two barrels made. Nutty, spicy and intense with lively apple and pear fruit, as well as some citrus freshness. Has a mineral, nutty, acid core to it. Rich and acidic at the same time. 92/100 (07/17)

Division Villages La Frontière Sauvignon Blanc 2016 Willamette Valley, Oregon
Lovely mango and passionfruit on the nose, with a faint appley edge. So interesting. Very open and fruity in the mouth with some tangerine and tropical fruit. It isn’t flabby, but it's open, pretty and beautifully fruited. Finishes with some baked apple. Lovely weight. 91/100 (07/17)

Division Villages Pinot Noir 2015 Willamette Valley, Oregon
11.9% alcohol. Carbonic maceration, aged in cement. Supple and juicy with bright, fresh cherry and raspberry fruit. Some spice and minerals, and nice texture with fine grained structure. 91/100 (07/16)

Division Johan Vineyards Pinot Noir 'Deux' 2013 Willamette Valley, Oregon
12.6% alcohol. Just a hint of reduction on the nose with some spicy grip. Had a fine savouriness and nice bright red fruits with a savoury framing. Red fruits, a bit of earth, showing nice restraint and balance. Picked after the storm. Has salt, orange peel and fine herbs. 92/100 (07/17)

Division Temperance Hill Pinot Noir 'Trois' 2014 Willamette Valley, Oregon
This has real texture and freshness, with bright vivid fruit and grippy, spicy tannins. Chewy tannins are coated in sweet fruit, with nice freshness and richness. There are some sappy characters, too. Floral and expressive. 93/100 (07/16)

Division Pinot Noir 'Un' 2015 Willamette Valley, Oregon
This is the largest production Pinot, blending together seven vineyards. It's a snapshot into the growing season for us. This is supple, elegant and fine with lovely sweet fruit. Cherries, berries and fine spices. There's a rounded character to the fruit. Seductive, balanced and fine with real appeal. Great value. 93/100 ($27) (07/17)

Division Gamay Noir Renardière Redford-Wetle Vineyards 2015 Eola-Amity Hills, Oregon
13.3% alcohol. From a 7.5 acre organic vineyard planted by Myron Redford on his home property in 2006. 50% whole bunch/50% destemmed, debut vintage. So fine and fresh with a supple raspberry and cherry fruit personality, as well as some stony notes. Quite lively and a bit edgy with a brightness and some sweet acidity. Lively and delicious, but with some seriousness. 92/100 (07/17)

Division Gamay Noir 'Cru' Methven Family Vineyards 2015 Eola-Amity Hills, Oregon
One barrel and one puncheon, from vines planted in 2002. 13.7% alcohol. Supple and pure with nice bright raspberry fruit and red cherries. Fine-grained spiciness. Direct, pure and supple with lovely focus. Red cherries, stones and minerals. 93/100 (07/16)

Division Villages 'Les Petits Fers' Gamay Noir 2016 Oregon
Vivid, lively and juicy with appealing bright cherry and raspberry fruit with nice sweetness and some savoury bits. Crunchy, fun and engaging with real smashability, but also some tannin. 91/100 (07/17)

Division Cabernet Franc 'Granit' Mae's Vineyard 2014 Applegate Vineyard, Oregon
13.4% alcohol. Neutral Bordeaux barrels. Lovely and supple with rounded, sweet cherry and berry fruits. Has a smoothness, but also a bit of spicy crunch on the finish. Very polished but not overly so. Really vital with nice acidity. Nice autumnal hints here and some gravelly grip on the finish. 92/100 (07/17)

Division Villages 'Béton' 2015 Oregon
This is a blend of 65% Cabernet Franc, 35% Gamay and the balance Pinot Noir and Cot. Animal, feral and spicy with juicy cherry and raspberry fruit and a bit of grip. Detailed and natural tasting. Juicy, spicy, meaty. 89/100

Division Villages 'Béton' 2016 Oregon
60% Cabernet Franc, 30% Gamay, 10% Cot, aged in cement tanks. This is just smashable, with very supple, expressive red cherry, raspberry and plum fruit, with a supple personality. Juicy and expressive with a hint of seriousness along with the joy. 91/100 ($25) (07/17)

Gamine Syrah Mae's Vineyard 2014 Applegate Valley, Oregon
13.5% alcohol. Textured, spicy and vivid with juicy, peppery blackberry and plum fruit. Vivid and detailed with some tannic structure. 92/100 (07/16)

Johan Vineyards
J Christopher
Big Table Farm
Walter Scott
Beckham Estate
Division Wine Company


See also:

Visiting Oregon, July 2008 (series)

Wines tasted 07/16 and 07/17 as indicated  
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