All photos by Ryan Stevens.
Nestled in the hills of Carlton, Oregon Roots Wine Co. is a family venture that started when the parent of current winemaker and owner, Chris Berg, bought and planted the property in 1999. With their first harvested crop coming in 2002, they started with a small drop in the collective wine barrel of 72 cases of pinot noir. With a love of arts, music, and a hands-on approach, Roots Wine Co. has grown into one of the well-respected wine operation in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA.
The 5,000 case production is by this Kansas native and his Jayhawk wife-turned Oregonian, Hilary Berg. Theo, their six-year old son makes sure mom and dad are on task, while he plays with his toys. Between the rows of 777, 113, 114, and 115 pinot noir clones and the family home, the tasting room greets you with sweeping views from the sliding glass doors leading to the deck, and a classic Pac-Man game that just helped launch their first annual Pac-Man & Pinot Tournament.
Smiles and small talk fill the room while Chris lines up what seems like an endless line of melon de bougogne, single vineyard pinot noirs, and a single chardonnay. Hilary joins us, and the banter between the husband and wife shows off a carefree, humor-filled relationship that immediately puts me at ease. The casual ambiance also goes a long way to showcase their passion for both wine and each other. This company is less of a “company” and more of a family endeavor to follow a dream and produce wines that are eclectic as their makers.
As Chris points out the sandy loam, silt, and Willakenzie soils on the aerial pictures that hang in the tasting room, he shows me how truly local the grapes he sources are. Proving his point further, he takes me onto the deck and points towards his neighbors at Saffron Fields and Deux Vert Vineyards. The panoramic views and attention to every detail highlights why I love to write about wine; I can expound about the countless adjectives and nuances, romance the experience all without having to battle with all of the elements to make it. But for people like Chris and Hilary, the labor is of love, innovation, and sharing an experience that they have had a hand in from seedling to glass.
“We’ve had our hand in pretty much everything.” Hilary shows me some of her design work for the marketing side of the business. Not only does she take care of all of the design copy, and promotional materials, but her ventures into the dangerous world of Pinterest resulted in the creation of their custom-rusted, tin-tiled wine bar. The bar itself is a perfect symbol of Roots – it’s born from a rustic style that evokes hints of elegance and sophistication.
Standing behind the bar, looking for the next pinot to pour, Chris shows me a clump of iron oxide that runs through the primarily Willakenzie soils, bringing with it a minerality and added depth of flavor to their estate pinot noir. Each wine we try is another testament to how Chris uses a soft touch in order to leave the slightest fingerprint on the wine, allowing the fruit to shine through. His use of older French oak barrels gives the pinot noir chance to come to the forefront, unobstructed from the heavy notes of new toasted oak.
Sampling someone’s hard work and passion, can sometimes set a tone of judgment and nervous energy, but with Chris and Hilary it was more of a casual moment shared with friends. The laughter between the husband and wife was contagious and only served to highlight the fact that these two took the small vineyard that was planted in 1999 and pushed it forward into the Oregon wine scene.
The tasting, dissecting, and professional stage of the of tasting gave way to simple, meaningful conversation. This character-driven wine experience is founded in the love and bond between Hilary and Chris and every sip shows it. Roots’ dedication to letting the terroir come through by using up to 75% neutral French oak and highlighting the elements of vintage is one of the foundations Chris abides by.
“I do my best to let the winemaking happen in the vineyard and not in the lab.” Chris takes a small sip and checks the color of the 2014 Racine Carlton Hill Reserve Pinot Noir.
“I apologize, but I can’t dump this one.” I took another long sip of the 2014 Racine and let the ripe plum, soft strawberry, and subtle rose nuances roll over my palate.
Chris just smiled as we let the conversation fade to a shared moment of appreciation for the fruits of his labor.
Wines Not to Miss:
2014 Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir
The Dijon blend of 113, 1114, 115, and 777 clones are balanced by round hints of oak, and a soft leather, the Estate Pinot Noir shows amazingly well both with a fresh cork pop, or after a day of proper storage. The round, red berry subtleties pop through with a slight fruit-forwardness and balanced profile
2014 Racine Carlton Hill Reserve Pinot Noir
Featuring a Dijon make up of 113, 1114, and 115, the lush strawberry and red fruits come out to play without being overbearingly sweet. The neutral oak mellows out the Dijon clones and creates a well-balanced, lingering finish with each sip.
2014 Deux Vert Vineyard Melon de Bourgogne
Overtones of ripe pineapple without the overt sweetness mingle with marzipan and almond. The perfect white to blend the transitions of the hot days of the lingering summer into the crisp evening chills of fall, the Melon de Bourgogne screams for a high-acidity, tart salad.
2011 Art Brut Blanc de Blancs Sparkling
The full-bodied 100% chardonnay sparkling is sourced from the Sienna Ridge Estate and brings notes of fresh baked bread mingling with savory pear. Hints of citrus round out the flavor profile and add a fresh, lighter finish.