A Terroir Lesson Through the Vines of top Pacific Northwest Winemaker Nicolas Quillé
Pacific Northwest wines (those hailing from Washington and Oregon) so often get lumped into the same category. And while both states are too often in the shadow of their southern neighbor, and both produce great wines, there are many differences. Nicolas Quillé, winemaker behind both Pacific Rim and Rainstorm, has dedicated himself to producing delicious wines that remove any doubt that the Pacific Northwest knows its way around the vineyard.
There is perhaps no better person suited to showcase the strengths of the Pacific Northwest. Born in Lyon, France to a family of winemakers, Nicolas originally set out to create a path outside the wine world. However that path eventually led him back to the industry in a big way. With a Masters degree in Winemaking from the University of Dijon, Burgundy, a Masters in Sparkling Wine and an MBA from the University of Washington, he is first and foremost an intellectual. And it's that curosity that led him away from France, with the goal of making wine in America.
The Riesling Zealots
To understand the beginning of Nicolas’s journey into the Pacific Northwest, you must first understand the love of (and dare we say religion of) Riesling. Pacific Rim was set on making quality Riesling from Washington, and with the bigger mission of getting Americans to fall in love with Riesling. In the pre-milenial, pre-Sideways era of the 1990s, this was quite a big goal. Even today, 95% of Pacific Rim’s production is Riesling, along with a few other lesser-known varietals including Chenin Blanc and Gewürztraminer.
As they put it: “We’re passionate about crafting world-class Riesling and we’re passionate about extolling the wondrous virtues of Riesling. We embrace all lovers of Riesling and we see it as our personal mission to transform Riesling lovers into Riesling zealots.”
Photo: Pacific Rim Vineyards
Pacific Rim set their sights on the vines of the Columbia Valley, which they found provide the perfect terroir for Riesling. The high quality soils and arid climate with cool evenings year-round provided the perfect growing conditions. Riesling is interesting in that it is sensitive to where it is grown, but in the right conditions is very hardy. In the case of Washington’s Columbia Valley, Pacific Rim’s vines are able to withstand cold winters and spring frosts.
What is it that makes the Columbia Valley soils so unique? During the last Ice Age (a.k.a. thousands of years ago) a giant ice dam formed on the border of Montana and Idaho, before later breaking. This severe flooding, known as the Missoula Floods, ripped through Idaho, Washington and Oregon, forever changing the soils and landscapes of the region. Lucky for us, these changes resulting in unique mineral-rich soils in the Columbia Valley (as well as the Willamette Valley).
Taste for yourself: Pacific Rim Riesling
A mix of stonefruit, this Riesling balances a hint of sweetness with fresh acidity. Light bodied, but flavorful. Perfect with a variety of foods, from Pad Thai to Chipolte and everything in between!
Onto Oregon and Pinot
After establishing a verified Riesling Zealotry, Nicolas looked across state lines to an altogether different terrain, under the Rainstorm winery. While the Columbia Valley is warm and dry, the Willamette Valley is cool and wet, basically closer resembling the rainy climate most of us envision when we think of the Pacific Northwest. The moody climate is a perfect fit for perhaps the most famously sensitive grape, Pinot Noir. Rainstorm crafts its Pinots to represent the grape, the climate and to complement today’s local, fresh foods.
Their Willamette Valley vineyard sits atop a fog-swept ridge, located east of Silverton. The Umpqua Valley vineyard is located on a beautifully forested ridge. The ridge terrain plays a key role because the slope provides great water drainage, controlling the vines’ growth. This means that the vines will naturally produce less grapes overall, which sounds bad, but actually helps intensify the flavors and quality of the grapes.
Photo: Rainstorm Vineyard
Meanwhile Rainstorm’s Pinot Gris grapes are all from Willamette Valley vineyards southwest of Salem on either side of the Willamette River. The Willamette Valley is cool and therefore well suited for aromatic whites like Pinot Gris. Like the Pinot Noir vineyards, the Pinot Gris vineyards are located on slopes with heavy soils – a perfect vineyard location and profile for Pinot Gris.
Taste for yourself: Rainstorm Silver Linings Pinot Noir Rosé
A delicious example of the Pinot Noir grape, perfect for when you are craving something cool, but still want the complexity of flavors from a red. Notes of strawberry, raspberry and rose. Crisp, refreshing and yum!
Pacific Rim, Rainstorm and Kuvée
Let your Kuvée take you on a trip to the Pacific Northwest. Whether you're craving Oregon Pinot, grown in the cool and wet Willamette and Umpqua Valleys or Washington Riesling from the dry and mineral rich Columbia Valley, we've got a glass for you.