Having been to numerous wineries around the world, nothing is more satisfying than discovering a real gem for the first time. Alexana Vineyards was that find for us on a recent trip to Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Located in the Dundee Hills AVA, it is one of the most unique properties we’ve come across, with no less than eighteen soil types divided into 31 different parcels to extract the very best from each micro-region.
Alexana Winery is one of three properties owned by Dr. Madaiah Revana, a cardiologist based in Houston originally from Bangalore, India. He also owns Revana Family Vineyards, which was purchased in Napa Valley in 1997 and features a 9 acre parcel that is almost exclusively Cabernet Sauvignon save for a small amount of Petit Verdot. In 2005 Dr. Revana purchased the 80 acre Alexana property in the Willamette Valley, and his most recent purchase is the 17 acre Corazon del Sol property in Argentina which he bought in 2008. Each of the winery names pays homage to family with the first being the most obvious reference. The name Alexana is an amalgamation of the first half of his daughter’s name “Alexandra” and the last half of the family name “Revana”. In similar tribute, the Argentinian property is named after his son Arun which in Indian means “the sun”. It didn’t translate well into Spanish so they settled on “Corazon del Sol” (heart of the sun).
Before Dr. Revana purchased the 80 acres at Alexana, no one had made wine at the property. In 2003, the previous owner did plant 16 acres to vine of which 13 acres were Pinot Noir and three acres were Pinot Gris. In 2006 Dr. Revana bought the property and produced Alexana’s first vintage by sending the grapes over to well respected winery Penner-Ash Wine Cellars where Lynn Penner-Ash acted as a consultant. Over the next 5 years, a further 39 acres were planted that included more Pinot Noir, as well as Riesling and Chardonnay.
We met with winemaker Bryan Weil standing outside on the tasting room deck overlooking Alexana’s vineyards. He joined the team in 2011 to finish up that vintage at Penner-Ash and help build what is now a beautiful 3 level gravity flow winery. He is warm and friendly and we instantly struck up an easy rapport given our mutual love of wine and food, as it is through food where his wine journey began. Despite growing up just 45 minutes from the winery, his family wasn’t in the wine business and he instead ended up attending culinary school in Albany, Oregon. It was during his studies at a wine and food pairing class where the wine bug bit him. “I love the interaction of food and wine and how they pair together. Now that I’ve transitioned into the winemaking side, that chef background has helped my palate immensely particularly with descriptors. You know what a gooseberry versus a cumquat is, you notice the textures of different ingredients and, most importantly, you’re able to convey them.”
As we continued looking out at the property with its undulating hills and unusual terrain, Bryan explains that today the property has 56 acres planted that are divided into 31 different micro blocks to maximize the best qualities of its 18 different soil types. The east side of the vineyard is volcanic red clay soils which are highly oxidized with iron rich soils and the rest are primarily sedimentary silt and stone, both ideal for growing Pinot Noir. There are 10 different Pinot Noir clones planted throughout the property made up of mostly Dijon clones with Pommard being the most widely planted one. “Each block is truly different. Alexana is an atypical piece of land for Dundee Hills—there’s a consistency of quality even in a different vintage. Vintage variability is there and we celebrate that.”
Touring through the facility it is obvious it’s a quality driven one. Both with respect to the soil and fruit as well as the winery itself. He proudly shows us the Oscillys, an impressive destemmer machine which operates without a beater shaft meaning the fruit doesn’t get beat up and once through the destemming process the remainder is almost 90% berries. This focus on the fruit conjures up the perfect culinary analogy, “My job at the winery is to not screw up what happens out in the vineyard. If you have good ingredients you really don’t need to do much. It’s why I love Italian cooking, you just need 3 quality ingredients to make a meal that tastes incredible.”
Although Bryan has the final say on the way the wine at Alexana is made, he aims to mimic the collaborative spirit that is so prevalent throughout the Oregon wine industry, at the winery itself. “Everybody has their own palate and experiences acid or tannins or phenolics differently so it’s important that we all learn from each other. Based on experience, getting the whole team together is important because I can only make the wine. I don’t sell it so we rely on the experts at the front of the house the same way they rely on us to make a quality product.”
With 5 vintages now under his belt at Alexana, the last 4 years has seen the facility come under full production (10,000-15,000 cases) but he relishes the fact that there is still much learning and experimentation left, “It’s still a fairly young vineyard which is fun because nothing is set in stone yet. We were really fortunate to work with Lynn Penner-Ash. This has been our first year without her as a consultant, but she’d been here for a decade and she really spent her time in the first 7 years understanding the blocks before I came on board. I think it’s really important to accentuate what you get from the ground and it’s really special here because of the 18 soil types and the 10 different clones of Pinot Noir.”
Bryan is as passionate as he is talented and if you’re lucky enough to meet him and taste with him, you’ll be hard pressed to walk away without a wonderful learning experience not to mention a few bottles of terrific wine. Similar to his days as a chef, his focus on the quality ingredients that go into making Alexana wines including the people, the facility, the soil and of course the fruit, has truly created a recipe for success.
2014 Alexana Riesling
Notes of golden delicious apple and honeysuckle mix with citrus on a medium plus body with good acidity. The result is a very appealing texture, giving a fuller, Alsatian take on the variety. Just 3 of their 55 acres are planted to Riesling so this won’t be easy to get a hold of, but it is worth the search. Floral notes can be found on the tangy finish and add a unique signature.
Very Good – US $32 at the winery
2014 Alexana Revana Vineyard Pinot Noir
This wine takes grapes from across the estate and as such it utilizes all 10 clones found on this unique property. Cherry and cranberry flavours take the helm of this medium body Pinot that finishes with black pepper and spice. Lithe and finessed with pretty floral notes. Raised in 33% new French oak barrels for 12 months, just right to add texture while letting the elegant fruit take centre stage.
Very Good – US $49 at the winery
The West Blocks of the Estate are planted on sedimentary soil, while the East Blocks are planted on primarily volcanic Jory soil. Tasting one after the other gives you a terrific window into the different effect that the soil brings to the wine. The West Blocks Pinot shows lots of the darker end of the spectrum: dark cherry and hints of mocha combine with a spicy, cracked pepper infused finish. The texture is very smooth and has a fullness and warmth to it. Minerals and earth show the Dundee Hills signature.
Excellent – US $65 at the winery
2014 Alexana East Blocks Pinot Noir
The volcanic soils create an expression of Pinot that sits in the red fruit end of the spectrum. Cherry, cranberry and hints of strawberry join with Asian spices on an elegant frame. The finish is earthy with hints of pepper. The West Blocks will grab your attention, the East Blocks will gently bring you around. Even at this young age the tannins are quite polished, an Alexana signature.
Excellent – US $65 at the winery
2014 Alexana Single Clone Pommard Pinot Noir
Just three blocks planted to the Pommard Clone are used to make this powerful expression of black cherry, raspberry, mocha and spices. With this wine the concentration is dialed up a notch. But it remains balanced and true to the variety, showing Pinot’s silky texture. Medium acid holds the big fruit in harmony and reminds you of its cooler climate Oregon origins. Drink your East and West Blocks while you let this one develop more of its potential!
Excellent + – US $80 at the winery
2014 Alexana Signature Pinot Noir
Like the Single Clone Pommard there is a darker fruit expression but here the emphasis seems to be more on the elegant end of the spectrum. Another wine that would benefit from another couple of years in the cellar, its tannin is polished and speaks to its youth. The elegant body transmits the Dundee Hills earthiness and red cherry fruit profile. A wine that was made for serving with food. Selected from special barrels throughout the barrel ageing process.
Excellent + – US $75 at the winery
2014 Alexana Black Label Pinot Noir
This limited release wine is sold to members only. Made from La Tache clones together with a bit of clone 943, this wine is dark and almost brooding. Black cherry takes centre stage and gets back-up from deep woodsy notes, spices and hints of mocha. A fuller expression of Pinot but still Oregonian in its balanced profile. Another candidate for the cellar this wine asks you to take notice. Already complex with likely a decade of further development in front of it
Excellent + – US $95 at the winery (members only)