This week I’ve had the pleasure of exploring new and upcoming releases from three exceptional wineries – Pášxa, Padigan Ranch, and River’s Edge. Each is unique in its own way, and spot on for the purpose and focus of this digital magazine.
Pášxa (pronounced pahk-sha) is a sister brand to The Walls. Both are owned by Michael Martin, and both are made by Force Majeure’s Todd Alexander.
Todd Alexander explains that Pášxa offered a chance to explore new sites within the Rocks District AVA where his home winery (Force Majeure) is located. Across the several brands he oversees he’s worked with grapes from Steve Robertson’s SJR vineyard, Martin’s Rockgarden vineyard (originally planted by Nina Buty) and his own River Rock vineyard.
Pášxa offered “the chance to expand the palate and explore other sites, as well as help with acquisition and development of new vineyard sites from the ground up. It also gave us the opportunity to put together our own farming team. Pášxa and Force Majeure are farmed completely in-house which gives us greater control in quality-focused capabilities.”
The wines are highly allocated and offered on a first-come, first-served basis. Note that I tasted and previewed these new releases back in the summer and urged readers then to get on the client list. Now is the time while it’s still open.
And now the reviews:
2021 Pášxa Rockgarden Vineyard White Wine
A roughly even blend of Marsanne and Roussanne, this seems to have been given enough oxygen exposure to turn it a burnished gold despite its youth. It’s scented with cinnamon and saturated with flavors of nuts, oils, buttered brioche and roasted apples. It’s soft and seductive and utterly unique. 55 cases; 13.8%; $95 (Walla Walla – Rocks District)
Pášxa 2020 Rockgarden Vineyard Grenache
This puts a pleasing, toasty frame around the core flavors, a lovely mix of cranberry, plum pastry and brown spices. There’s an underlying earthy/leafy character with the lightest suggestion of the so-called “good” funk that characterizes this unique AVA. The finish gracefully tails out leaving touches of caramel and coffee grounds. Fans of Grenache (and I am certainly among them) will find this notable for its subtle elegance, length and detail. 60 cases; 13.9%; $85 (Walla Walla – Rocks District)
Pášxa 2020 River Rock Vineyard Grenache
Grenache from anywhere rarely shows this potent expression of pure terroir, elegance, length, detail and finishing power. Tea, tobacco, earth, blood orange and raspberry liqueur. Despite 60% whole cluster fermentation the savory side is kept proportionate, and 15% new oak adds a subtle focus to the finish. I think maybe the closest comp would be the GOK from Cayuse – the Cayuse a louder, in-your-face style, the Pášxa its gentler brother. By any standard this is a must-taste wine for anyone who loves Grenache. 140 cases; 14.9%; $95 (Walla Walla – Rocks District)
Pášxa 2020 Rockgarden Vineyard Mourvèdre
The gorgeous fragrance introduces this terrific exploration of this grape as a standalone varietal wine. It’s an explosion of berries red blue and black, with highlights of caraway seed and white pepper. There are floral scents of cut flowers and the sort of exotic spicy highlights that speak to this unique AVA. incredibly expressive and long, this takes Mourvèdre to a level rarely if ever seen in this country. 130 cases; 14.5%; $85 (Walla Walla – Rocks District)
Pášxa 2020 Rockgarden Vineyard Syrah
Made from a selection of the best Syrah from this estate vineyard, this was fermented in concrete and aged in one quarter new French oak. There should be a photo of this wine in the dictionary under Rocks District Syrah – it’s that specific and focused. Without going over the top, and maintaining impeccable balance, it captures the blue and black fruits, the earthy umami, the suggestions of bloody meat and herbal tea and all the things that make this AVA unique and iconic. Among the very limited releases from Pášxa this has the biggest production and should be at the top of your must-have list. 375 cases; 14.3%; $85 (Walla Walla – Rocks District)
These wines are made by and for Ashland’s 2Hawk Winery. At first there was a Padigan Series, now with a designated label they are rebranded as Padigan Ranch. I’ve tasted three of the four releases (missing the Sauvignon Blanc). I was totally dazzled by the Chardonnay – my clear favorite.
At the moment there is no Padigan website though one is in development. Winemaker Kiley Evans tells me that these wines are available in distribution only and have been released through 2Hawk’s Oregon distributor. If you are traveling in the Rogue Valley they are available at several locations including the Compass Hotel by Margaritaville and Cartwright’s Market, among others.
Padigan Ranch 2021 Chardonnay
This type of wine completely blows up any notion you may have that Chardonnay is a neutral, even boring grape. This explodes with a juicy mix of citrus fruits, sweet apples, tangerines and cantaloup melon. The acids are lively and clean, and the wine is a total delight. Fermented with wild yeasts and aged in a mix of neutral and once-used oak, it’s all about the f ruit. My guess is it’s best enjoyed in its youth, but it could surprise me and hit its peak at the end of the decade. Just as lively and delicious on day two. Not yet released – consider this advance notice. 110 cases; 13.2%; $22 (Rogue Valley)
Padigan Ranch 2020 Tempranillo
First impression is that this doesn’t transcend rather ordinary red wine territory. It’s 75% Tempranillo, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8% Grenache. Somehow the chance of conjuring up a clear varietal character seems to have been diluted into a lightly savory wine with flavors of tomato leaf, moderate acidity and thin berry fruit. It finishes with smooth, drying tannins that leave an aftertaste of tanned leather. Not yet released. 287 cases; 13.5%; $24 (Rogue Valley)
Padigan Ranch 2019 Malbec
I’ve previously tasted a Padigan Malbec from 2Hawk’s 2017 vintage, but now these wines are released as a separate label. Here I find raspberries and brett, and for many tasters that would be an optimal combo at least at this stage. It’s a forward, fruity wine, with balancing acids and that leathery component that for the moment remains in balance. The problem with brett is that over time it can kill the fruit, so this is a wine to drink over the next few years. 120 cases; 13.3%; $24 (Rogue Valley)
Finding truly superb values among the hundreds of tiny wineries in Oregon often leads to out of the way locations. Here’s one of the out of the way-est: the Elkton Oregon sub-AVA.
Established in 2013 in and around the town of the same name this AVA encompasses 74,900 acres at the northwestern edge of the larger Umpqua Valley AVA. Just five wineries are actually located within the AVA, the best-known being Brandborg and River’s Edge.
River’s Edge was founded when Mike and Vonnie andt purchased the Black Oak and Elkton vineyards in 1996. The vineyards themselves date back to the earlly 1970s. The River’s Edge winery opened in 2000. As I wrote when reviewing the 2017 releases “the lineup of Pinot Noirs, taken all together, may well represent the finest value Pinot portfolio in the state. With prices in the low-to-high $20s, they offer estate-grown, old vine, and single vineyard expressions from this off-the-radar AVA.”
Mike Landt says he is now “semi-retired” and has handed off the winemaking since 2017 to Tyler Bradley. Tyler grew up in Elkton and my sense is that he is picking earlier, cutting back on new oak and adding a bit of restraint to the red wines. These are all good choices when giving Pinot Noir its best opportunity to express its natural elegance. This is not to say these wines are shy in any way – just flat out delicious. The website also lists a number of intriguing white wines from newer vintages which I have not (yet) had the opportunity to try.
River’s Edge 2018 Elkton Cuvée Pinot Noir
This is lovely to look at with lightly burnished sunset hues and lush aromas of strawberry scones, cherry pie and toasted cracker. It’s a blend of fruit from estate vineyards first planted in 1973. In brief, an excellent value and a wine to drink with pleasure at the soonest opportunity. 246 cases; 14.3%; $22 (Elkton Oregon)
River’s Edge 2018 Barrel Select Pinot Noir
The barrel select is sourced from several Elkton sites and blends old vine Wadenswil and Pommard with newer Dijon 115 and 777 clones. In recent vintages River’s Edge has pulled back on both new oak and finished alcohol and for me that makes the wines better and more ageworthy than ever. This is a balanced mix of strawberry, raspberry and pomegranate with a pleasing amount of toasty barrel highlights. There is no need to decant; it’s delicious right out of the bottle. These wines are finished with a screwcap which makes it easy to pour a glass and quickly seal them back up for a second or third day. 398 cases; 13.2%; $26 (Elkton Oregon)
River’s Edge 2018 Black Oak Vineyard Pinot Noir
This is a four barrel selection from an estate vineyard planted in the early 1970s, all Wadenswil clone. It’s toasty and granular, with bold flavors of black cherry, coffee grounds, underbrush and smoked wood. Maybe the most full-bodied, upfront, toasty and tasty wine of the whole 2018 portfolio, this is the rare Pinot Noir that begs for barbequed ribs. 96 cases; 14.8%; $32 (Elkton Oregon)
River’s Edge 2017 Elkton Vineyard Pinot Noir
One of two single vineyard reserve-level wines from the estate, this is a precision wine with complex aromas of truffle and roses, beguiling flavors of mountain strawberries and pie cherries, with a light touch of chocolate from the barrel aging. The old vine accents add depth and detail through the lingering finish, with tea and tobacco and lemon rind and more. This is a thrilling wine that compares favorably to Oregon Pinots at triple the price. Not yet released, but I suggest you go online and pre-order. 94 cases; 14.9%; $28 Elkton Oregon