Phaedra Hise on September 20, 2016 0 Comments Hanson Winery Jason Hanson and his father, Clark, run Hanson Vineyards in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. Hanson is a fourth-generation farmer, but he only put grapevines in the ground about ten years ago. Now, Hanson Vineyards is known for their Pinot Noir and non-invasive winemaking technique. Here, Jason Hanson talks with us about his winemaking philosophy, new varietals, and why beer is a winemaker’s favorite beverage. How did you get into winemaking? What’s your background? Charlene Vogel for Hanson Winery When I was a kid, this land was a walnut farm. My sister and I were the labor crew, so we were out there picking up walnuts every day after school. My dad was a schoolteacher, walnut farmer and also a hobby winemaker. I did my undergraduate studies in upstate New York, and then a Master’s in politics from George Washington University. For a while I had my own company doing political research. I lived in D.C. for 14 years before finally deciding that I didn’t really enjoy being that closely involved with politics. I wanted to get back to the Pacific Northwest. My father had retired from teaching and we started talking. It took a few years to figure it all out. Then we got some grapes in the ground and in 2005 got our commercial winemaking license. What’s your title? Winemaker? Vintner? Owner? Chief Bottle Washer? Winemaker is probably an apt title, but because we are 100% estate grown we spend more of our time farming than anything else. A term that’s coming into vogue now is “wine grower.” It helps indicate that you’re actually growing the fruit that you’re using to make wine. I enjoy the winemaking side, but for me it’s more about control of the process. I’m out in my vineyard every day. I know where the fruit is at any given point over the course of the summer and fall. I know what we’ve used in our farming practices. I’m able to be in the vineyard right at the moment when I get to decide it’s ripe, it’s time to pick today. That’s something a lot of winemakers, especially wine growers, wouldn’t trade for anything. Hanson Winery How big is your vineyard? Most of the wineries here in Oregon are sourcing grapes from other growers in the valley, but we are an estate winery, which means we grow all our grapes here on our 11 to 12 acres. When you are an estate winery, some years there are lots of grapes, some years not so many. Last year was our largest crop, we made about 1600 cases of wine. For a small estate winery, that’s a nice size. If we get too much bigger, we can’t do it by ourselves anymore. There’s a tipping point of what you can keep your arms around and what’s so large that you have to bring in crews and other people. The workers here are me and my father, and a lot of what we do is by hand. We do use a tractor to spray sulfur and mineral oil to fight mildew. Powdery mildew is the main pest in Oregon because it’s a fairly moist environment. Why are you focusing on estate growing at Hanson? The main difference between a small family winery and a big giant wine corporation is that if you’re making wine that’s going to be on every grocery shelf in America, it’s like making Oreo cookies. You want it to be exactly the same from Portland Oregon to Portland Maine. That’s what people expect. As a small winemaker I don’t have that expectation of myself, and people don’t expect that from me. Estate grown means there is a wide variance in what we get. Pinot Noir is the king of grapes here in Oregon and what we make most of. We get similarities in our Pinot each year. For example, it almost always has a nice ripe cherry flavor. That comes from the ground. But the intensity changes dramatically year to year because the weather changes dramatically from year to year. That variance in vintages is actually a wonderful thing. What other varietals are you growing? We have 11 different varietals in the ground, including a new one that we just planted this spring. This part of Oregon has a unique history to it. In the late 1960s a large group of Russian Old Believers got out of the Soviet Union and transplanted to this area. So growing up, in grade school, a huge portion of my classmates were Russian Old Believers. Two years ago, I was looking at a grape nursery catalog and they had a varietal from Russia. I thought I have no idea about this grape, only a catalog description, but that is something I need to have. So this spring we planted about half an acre of this Russian varietal. Next year we’ll get our first crop and the following spring we’ll decide how good the wine is. There is a certain amount of patience that goes along with winemaking. Hanson Winery What are your favorite wines to make? Blends like our Cascadia Red are where I get to play around and have fun. Some grapes are just better blended. They may not be terrific by themselves, but they bring an attribute that’s really nice when mixed with something else. But not all grapes blend well. If you’re throwing all your odd lots into your blend, you probably won’t end up with a good blend. Some of the best folks at figuring out flavor profiles of wine are people who really like to cook. It’s kind of like, “Hmm, what does this spaghetti sauce need? More garlic.” People who can isolate flavors in food are really good at wine tasting and identifying and writing tasting notes, and also helpful in coming up with blends. It’s not always just my palate that picks the blend. We have other folks we talk to and say, “Try this, do you like it?” Hanson Winery What differentiates Hanson’s wine from other Oregon winemakers? I think it’s a bit of a dirty little secret in the wine world – if you take grapes and tip them into a container they will turn themselves into wine. A lot of what you learn in a training program is the chemistry, and you definitely need to have some of that. But I don’t want to manipulate what we do in any substantial way. I don’t need to know about all the glorious things you can add to wine to make it taste like this or make it look like that. What we do is very simple, old world winemaking. There are about 200 things that are legal to add to wine. So with Chardonnay for example, a lot of people like a really oaky buttery style. If you’re not paying $40 a bottle for that Chardonnay, it probably was never inside an oak barrel. You have to use newer oak barrels to impart those oaky buttery flavors. So if you’re getting a $7.99 bottle of Chardonnay at grocery that’s oaky and buttery, you can bet that was added through chemicals and not aging in an oak barrel. Our wines are very bright and fresh tasting. I like to pick the fruit right at ripe, not let the fruit hang for a long time. That flavor profile, that’s the kind of Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Riesling that I like to drink. It’s very snappy and bright and fresh on your tongue. If you don’t start with a lot of acidity you can sometimes end up with flabby, flat wine over time. What’s the happiest part of your day? At the end of the day when I can sit down and have a beer. There is a saying in wine, “It takes a lot of good beer to make good wine.” Especially during crush, when you are picking all day, pressing all day. When you are surrounded by the smell of grape juice and fermenting wine, the last thing you want is a glass of wine. Oregon is awash in wonderful beer, and I’m an IPA guy. I usually have a Boneyard RPM. You can learn more about Hanson Vineyards, including information about upcoming events, by visiting their website HERE.