It is a notable achievement for a Southern Oregon wine to score over 90 points in either of the two major wine publications. High scores in either The Wine Enthusiast or The Wine Spectator bring a wine and a winery to national — even international — attention. 

The Wine Enthusiast scores four DANCIN Vineyards wines at 94 points (a designation of “superb”) in its August 2015 issue. These exceptional scores are for DANCIN’s 2012 Melodia Pinot Noir, 2012 Trata Pinot Noir, 2013 Chassé Chardonnay and 2013 Capriccio Chardonnay.

The Melodia and the Capriccio are also labeled “Editors’ Choice,” a designation for “wines … with unique qualities that merit special attention.” The Trata and the Chassé are named as “Cellar Selections,” or “wines deemed highly collectible.”

The Wine Enthusiast also gives the DANCIN 2013 Chaîné Chardonnay 93 points and makes it an “Editors’ Choice.” It awards 92 points to the 2012 Septette Pinot Noir, 2013 Chaustinelle Reserve Chardonnay and 2012 Danseur Syrah, and makes the Syrah an “Editors’ Choice,” as well. The 2012 Pas de Trois Pinot Noir is awarded a 91. 

“Of the 10 wines we submitted to The Wine Enthusiast, nine received scores of over 90 points,” says DANCIN owner Dan Marca. “The remaining wine, the 2013 Assemblage Chardonnay, received an 89.”

Marca notes that two of the 94-point winners, one pinot noir and one chardonnay, were made from his estate-grown grapes. The fruit for the other two 94-point wines was sourced from the Willamette Valley. Eric Weisinger in Ashland made the wines to Marca’s specifications.

“It shows that Southern Oregon fruit is on a par with fruit from the Willamette Valley,” says Marca. “The wines were made by the same winemaker, and Eric and I did the blending.”

Marca is already expanding his recently completed winery, using the facility’s hillside location to provide gravity-flow winemaking. Using gravity rather than pumps or mechanical force, wine will flow from the crusher to an initial stainless steel fermentation tank, then to barrels for aging. The wine is then transferred to a stainless tank for blending and then back to barrels for further aging. The wine is bottled by gravity from the barrel to the bottle.

“Pinot noir is so delicate that the free flow as opposed to pumping really makes a difference in color, flavor and complexity,” says Marca. “Gravity flow also makes a difference in the quality of chardonnay.”

“It is all part of our commitment to detail, to producing the best wine possible,” says Marca. “It starts with properly tending the fruit, to harvesting by hand, then sorting once in the field and twice more at the winery before the fruit is crushed and goes into the fermentation tank.”

Marca’s focus on chardonnay as well as pinot noir has put him in the middle of a debate over clones of the chardonnay grape grown in Washington and Oregon. Grapes grown from original California heritage cuttings exhibit different flavors from grapes grown from Dijon clones introduced to Oregon in the late 1980s by wine pioneer David Adelsheim. The Dijon clones match the ripening characteristics of the Burgundy grape to conditions in Oregon. Marca is quoted as “the voice of reason” in a July, 2015 Wine Enthusiast article.

Marca says that each clone, grown in a particular vineyard with its own terroir, brings something specific and desirable to a wine. Harvesting them separately, aging them in stainless steel, new or neutral oak and then blending them in different proportions creates different styles of the same wine.

“For the longest time, we continually compared ourselves to Burgundy,” says Marca. “We are not that, nor are we California. I think our site and those like it have the best of both worlds. We’re not too big and heavy, nor too light and elegant.”

Roberta Kent is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at rbkent@mind.net.