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Malcolm Jolley: Serious or fun? These Oregon wines prove you don’t have to choose

Commentary

The Oregon and Washington State Wine Expedition, a road show of producers from both Pacific Northwest states, came to Toronto this week. The show is always well attended, especially from the restaurant trade. If I see a bottle from this part of the world on a wine list, it always piques my interest, as I presume the buyer is curious enough to source from beyond the usual New World suspects.

A version of this show was one of the first to get back in circulation after the pandemic shutdowns, and I would like to think it’s because there is an affinity between these producers and the Canadian markets. The Washington State wines are generally analogous to Okanagan wines, while there are parallels between the cooler climate Oregon wines, especially from the Willamette Valley, and what comes out of Niagara and Prince Edward County in Ontario.

Another similarity the Pacific Northwest winemakers have to Canadian ones is the relatively high cost of making wine in their region. Producers tend to be small and work in climatic or geographically difficult areas. As one Washington State export manager told me at a previous show, the problem is, unlike California, they have no big production area like the Central Valley to equalize prices. Everything tends to be on the boutique side of the market.

A final affinity across the border with our Cascadian winemaker cousins is the relative age of the modern wine industry. This holds particularly true between the two O’s, Oregon and Ontario, which began serious vinifera (fine wine) grape growing and winemaking projects in the 1970s. Two Oregon producers that began in 1972 brought wines to the show that demonstrated differences in style but a similarity of purpose in an interesting way.

David Adelsheim can claim absolute bonafides as an Oregon wine pioneer. Before founding Adelsheim, he worked with David Lett at The Eyrie Vineyards, a winemaker known as “Papa Pinot” for planting the first commercial vineyard of the grape in the state, convinced that the climatic and geographic conditions were comparable to Burgundy.

Though Adelsheim sold controlling interest of his namesake winery in 2017, he remains a promoter of the wines, and of Oregon wines in general. He brought to Toronto two wines: the Adelsheim Breaking Ground Pinot Noir Chehalem Mountains 2021 ($73.99 in Ontario) and the Adelsheim Staking Claim Chardonnay Chehalem Mountains 2019 ($45 USD at the winery).

The 2021 Breaking Pinot Noir was elegant and perfumed, with floral notes over red fruit with a hint of cranberry bitterness. David Lett had caught the attention of the Burgundians in the 1970s and 80s, and tasting this wine coming from that tradition, you could see how and why. At $74 (so let’s assume $150 or more in a restaurant), it certainly isn’t cheap, but head-to-head with a Grand or Premier Cru it would certainly hold its own.

Adelsheim also brought more than wine. He brought some perspective over more than 50 years of winemaking. “We started broke, and we’re still pretty much broke,” he joked, as we tasted the 2019 Staking Claim Chardonnay, making the point that change has been slow and gradual in the Willamette Valley.

He explained that while the Willamette Valley vintners looked to Burgundy and cool climate for inspiration when they made Pinot Noir, until the second decade of this century they were more likely to look south when they made Chardonnay. The commercial success of California Chardonnay suggested that big and oaky was the way to go.

The 2019 Adelsheim Staking Claim will never be confused with a California wine. It’s a lean and mineral Chardonnay, with crisp lime notes: more Meursault than Montrachet, if put into Burgundian terms. It is very much a food wine from a cooler climate.

Coleen Clemens Vineyards, Willamette Valley. Credit: Aaron Lee/Oregon Wine Board.

Nate Winters shares Adelsheim’s enthusiasm for Oregon wine, and though he also represents a 52-year-old winery, I suspect it is unlikely that he was alive when Dick and Virginia Troon planted their vines. Winters joined Troon Vineyard and Farm just before its second ownership change in 2017 and has been its marketing director as the winery has established itself as a leader in a new wave of Oregon wines.

Troon is in the Applegate River Valley in Southern Oregon, near the California border. The climate there is warmer and dryer than the Willamette Valley in the northern part of the state. Troon has adapted to its climate and invested in Mediterranean grapes, farming them in a deeply sustainable way and with about every certification one can imagine. All the pictures on social media prove it. They also list their ingredients on every bottle of wine (a rare practice that shouldn’t be).

However good for the planet Troon wines may be, Winters’ ultimate selling point is how they taste. The Troon Vermentino Applegate Valley 2022 ($39.95 in Ontario) was crisp, clean, forward in citrus fruit with a hint of white flower, and slightly honeyed in the finish. The first proof that this grape import from Northern Italy and Southern France worked very well in Oregon was the wine’s harmonious balance of acidity and depth. The second proof was the desire for another sip.

The Troon Siskiyou Syrah Applegate Valley 2022 ($88.95 in Ontario) was additionally a transcendent wine, full of tar (black pepper), roses, and dark red fruit. Despite the generous depth of flavour it had a lightness that made it a cousin to Adelsheim’s Pinot Noir in the way that the wines from the Northern Rhone, or even Piedmont, can correspond to Burgundy while being simultaneously different. Two things can be true at once, and it’s possible to be both serious and fun.


Note: The day this column is posted, April 12, is also the day that bids are open for the Grapes for Humanity Fine Wine Auction 2024 at Waddington’s auction house.

There are few better opportunities to buy older vintages of renowned fine wines in Canada, and all for a good cause. The charity auction, set up in 2020, is known to attract celebrity collectors as donors and this year features a number of “MicroLot” collaborations from some of Canada’s best-known winemakers. I will cover it in greater detail in my next column but thought readers ought to know in real time.

‘Nothing lifts the burden of accountability from the PM’: Ian Brodie on Justin Trudeau’s foreign interference testimony

Commentary

Justin Trudeau provided testimony on Wednesday to the Foreign Interference Commission as part of the national public inquiry into foreign interference in Canada’s elections. Parts of his testimony concerned if and to what extent he had been briefed on matters related to the meddling. The Hub’s editor-at-large Sean Speer exchanged with Ian Brodie, the former chief of staff to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, to get an insider’s perspective on the ins and outs of briefing a prime minister. You can find more of Brodie’s commentary and other writings at his Substack here.

SEAN SPEER: As a general rule, the prime minister seems to have suggested that he doesn’t rely on written briefs. He and his office instead typically use oral briefings including for (but not limited to) intelligence and national security matters. My experience with Prime Minister Harper is that he received approximately ten written briefing notes from PMO staff and the Privy Council Office each day. Is that consistent with your own experience, and if so, what do you think is lost by minimizing the use of written briefs?

IAN BRODIE: It’s true, different prime ministers get their briefings in different ways. Mr. Trump responded to “killer graphics” as his CIA director said. In 2006, civil servants had to get used to Mr. Harper reading a lot of long, detailed written notes. Mr. Chretien liked short notes, to the point. Mr. Harper liked more background material. He got so many notes about the 2007 equalization reform, they filled an entire drawer of a filing cabinet! I really looked forward to days when we only got ten briefing notes from PCO.

Written notes had a big advantage. Mr. Harper initialized every note that he read. We knew the date he received every note and the date he returned it for filing. There was never any doubt about what he’d been briefed and when it had been briefed.

Oral briefings are fine, but you need a notetaker to record what was said. With really critical information, I prefer to have a paper trail. Plus, if the PM reads the preliminary material ahead of time, the briefing is more productive.

SEAN SPEER: With respect to specific intelligence briefing notes, the prime minister said that while he reads them when he can, he instead expects advisers to tell him if there’s something important. How does that approach converge or diverge with your experience as the prime minister’s chief of staff?

IAN BRODIE: Every PM relies on others to decide what he needs to see or hear. The fact Mr. Harper read a lot of written briefings every day meant you could send a lot of material his way. In my day, the clerk of the Privy Council had direct access with written notes and verbal briefings. So did I and several PMO staffers. Cabinet ministers, too. That meant there were fewer points of failure. It was rare for a single person to overlook something and leave the PM out of the loop.

But, nothing lifts the burden of accountability from the PM. He appoints people to make sure he knows what he needs to know. I am sure that several people said “Hey, the PM needs to know that China is working hard to get this guy elected as a Liberal,” or “Hey, the Chinese might be threatening an MP’s family because of a vote he took in the House of Commons.” In the case of Michael Chong, I expect he was briefed about threats to the Chong family. I still don’t understand why he didn’t instruct someone to check on Chong’s family, report back to him, and then let Chong know what was going on.

SEAN SPEER: What was Prime Minister Harper’s normal process for consuming national security and intelligence information? Did he have dedicated time each week? Did it typically come in the form of written briefs or oral briefings?

IAN BRODIE: That changed over time. The process became more formal after I left the government. He got a weekly written briefing from the intelligence assessments section at PCO. His various national security advisors would also brief. I visited the main intelligence agencies to make sure we were getting all the right information from them.

SEAN SPEER: In addition to being a chief of staff, you’ve been involved in leadership races and party nominations. The Liberal Party doesn’t prohibit non-residents from participating in its internal voting. The prime minister said that that’s intentional to “encourage wide participation in nomination races.” What are the risks in your mind to such a party policy?

IAN BRODIE: Governments should let political parties govern themselves as they see fit.

Back in 2006-07, we had informal discussions with the opposition parties about requiring proof of citizenship to vote in a federal election. They were opposed. We couldn’t even get an agreement to require photo ID at the ballot box.

Without a photo ID requirement, it’s hard to enforce a citizenship requirement, even when you set one as my party does.

Remember, in the Conservative Party, we let youth members vote even if they aren’t yet old enough to vote in a general election. Every party has wider rules for internal votes than the Elections Act does for general elections.

However, I personally think allowing non-citizens to vote in a party nomination or leadership election is very risky. They are vulnerable to all sorts of threats, as we have seen at the inquiry. Political parties pick the candidates we get to vote for at election time and pick the leaders of the parties that could become prime minister. To my mind, the qualifications to vote in nomination and leadership races should be the same as the qualifications to vote in a general election. Maybe we should have slightly wider rules for a riding board of directors. But when a party is picking candidates and leaders, that should be a tight process.