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From heavy equipment to Folin Cellars

Rob Folin’s winemaking career began with a bit of petty larceny.

After a stint in the Marines as a heavy-equipment operator, Rob was taking winemaking classes at Chemeketa Community College in the fall of 2001 when he noticed a flyer on the school bulletin board from Domaine Serene, looking for temporary harvest help.

You’ve seen this type of flyer before: words up top with tear-off phone numbers below. Rob nicked the entire flyer and applied. Not surprisingly, he got the job. And while sticky fingers might have had something to do with it, it’s more likely that his heavy-equipment experience sealed the deal. (“You can drive a forklift? You’re hired!”)

By the time Folin left Domaine Serene in 2008, he had worked his way up to cellar master. During that time, his parents, Scott and Loraine, were ready to rip out a failed baby kiwi experiment and plant grapevines. (Rob recalls that over five years, they harvested a grand total of two five-gallon buckets of baby kiwis.)

Their first plantings of tempranillo and viognier were in 2003, and their first vintage was in 2005. Rob made that wine “up north” while working at Domaine Serene. He recalls putting in 13-hour days at Domaine Serene, then heading off to make the family wine, sleeping in his truck and then doing it all over again.

The Folins opened their first tasting room in Carlton in 2006 and began offering tempranillo, syrah and viognier, which was a welcome relief from the omnipresent pinot noir and pinot gris. The Sams Valley winery and tasting room opened in 2009.

For winemakers, clones, barrels and yeasts are to winemaking what salt, pepper and spices are to cooking. For tempranillo alone, Rob creates a half-dozen variations using different clones, barrels, yeasts and skin time. After 24 months in the barrel, all of these ingredients are pulled out of the barrel room and the blending begins. With these ingredients, the winemaker hopes to make something greater than the sum of its parts. When it all comes together, it’s a symphony of smells, tastes and textures

A truly special opportunity for Folin Cellars’ wine club members is the Blending Party and Luncheon. On the appointed afternoon, wine-club members are able to mix their own favorite blends (with some judicious tasting along the way). While the members are sitting down to a meal, Rob tastes all of the blends and chooses the best. The winning blend is then bottled and labeled under the Ambassador Cuvee label and presented to wine club members.

After this article was written and "in the can," I opened the 2015 Mouvédre. Only two weeks after bottling, it is intensely fragrant with dark fruit, pepper and spice, with a Jolly Rancher undertone. Tannins and acidity are beautifully balanced. It pairs wonderfully with mushroom orzo. This beauty will continue to improve for another 10 years. But life is short. Buy two! Drink one now and put the second away.

— Kevin Breck is a Jacksonville freelance writer and winemaker in training. Reach him at rogue.enofiles@gmail.com.