Winemakers tend to be journeymen, or in the case of Heather Nenow, Belle Fiore’s new winemaker, journeywoman.
Nenow began her career with internships in Napa, Italy and Chile. In California, she was winemaker at a number of wineries, from the small Lucchesi Vineyards in the Sierra Foothills, producing a modest 5,000 cases, to the leviathan Constellation Brands in Lodi, producing a boggling 7,000,000 cases. Most recently she was winemaker for Columbia Winery’s tasting room and wine club, where she produced a more “modest” 350,000 cases.
Nenow had passed through this area a decade ago, and she “had seen the area’s potential from a wine-growing standpoint and really loved the Southern Oregon vibe, combined with it being an outdoor enthusiast’s dream.”
She was attracted to Belle Fiore in particular, “because of the quality of the wines, the fun and interesting varietals being grown in the vineyards and the commitment and passion of the owner ... for the land and for creating a place where you feel transported to Europe.”
A decade later, opportunity knocked, and Nenow arrived at Belle Fiore in time for the fall harvest, with a much more Southern Oregon-like production of 8,000 cases.
Part of what drew Nenow to Belle Fiore was its unusual assortment of grape varieties. In addition to the expected pinot noir, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and merlot, Belle Fiore grows capretta, teroldego and verdejo. All in all, Nenow has 13 varieties to work with, enough to make any winemaker rub her hands together.
Not surprisingly, some varieties do better than others in our Southern Oregon climate, and Nenow is planning to vary the mix to emphasize the varieties she believes are destined to do the best here. On the red side, that includes tempranillo, cabernet franc and syrah. For whites, she believes that viognier, sauvignon blanc, riesling and pinot grigio will shine.
Nenow also has an experimental merlot project, which involves leaving the skins on the grapes for nine months in a stainless-steel tank with no oak. This is contrary to the customary practice of separating the juice from the skins after a week or two. The goal is a wine with a softer texture, higher-intensity (yet smoother) tannins, without the vanilla or toast associated with oak.
Nenow has wasted little time in becoming involved in the local wine community. In January she was a panelist at the 2017 Tempranillo Alliance conference. This month she addressed the Wine Industry Roundtable, a monthly gathering of wine professionals and aficionados.
Making wine requires a long view, which can be challenging for those of us who thrive on instant gratification. Case in point: while the white wines that Nenow made last fall will go into the glass this autumn, her reds will not be ready to drink for another two or three years. I think it will be worth the wait.
— Kevin Breck is a Jacksonville freelance writer and winemaker in training. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.