Evening Land Vineyards does not have a sense of place, it has as a sense of places. The winery owns vineyards in Sonoma and Santa Rita California, Eola-Amity in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, more land and in Burgundy, France. The common denominator of these properties is that they are all in established areas for growing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Those are, of course, the grapes Burgundy made famous. The goal of Evening Land is very much to produce the best wines from these different locations. In some cases, ‘best’ means without qualification. Thus, the winery’s top-of-the-line white label wines sell for over $100 a bottle and price is no object in their pursuit of quality. In other cases, best refers to best value for money: the winery’s blue label wines, for example, retail for around $25 but aspire to be the best in their price category.
Jump for an exotic evening.
I got the chance to taste some of the Evening Land wines at all of their price points as a guest at a dinner at Bailey’s Prime Plus in Dallas. The wines were matched to Executive Chef Grant Morgan’s dishes. Bailey’s Sommelier, Jennifer Jaco, introduced Natalie Vaclavik, the company’s Southeast Regional Sales Director, to take us through the wines. We started with France, went to Oregon, and then down to the California central coast. The wines came in pairs, a Pinot Noir and a Chardonnay from each region. The full menu accompanies this report but let me draw attention to some notable points.
The 2010 Evening Land Vineyards Etoile Pouilly-Fuisse, Burgundy is more minerally, less fruit-forward than the west coast examples of Chardonnay. It was served as the preprandial (and with the first course) but I don’t think that it shines as a quaffing wine. Rather, I would serve this with delicate poultry or white-fleshed fish dishes. A case in point is the juicy Cherry Stuffed Oregon Quail Breast, Creamy Polenta, Sweet Onions created by Chef Morgan. The polenta (that’s grits if y’all aren’t from Tuscany) perked by the acid backbone of this wine. I would prefer to serve a fruity Chardonnay preprandial and, if I had examples at various quality levels, I would sacrifice the simplest. Before a full meal, ones palate is more open to straightforward fruit flavors and varietal correctness, forward fruit, the comfort of oak. The softness of wine that has gone through malolactic fermentation is usually enough for a pleasant start. At this meal, my choice would have been the 2010 Evening Land Vineyards Blue Label Chardonnay, Arroyo Grande Valley, California from the Californian central coast.
The Chardonnay that was served with the quail, the 2010 Evening Land Vineyards Seven Springs Summum Chardonnay, Eola-Amity Hills, Oregon, is in the white label category referred to above. It is an altogether more subtle and sophisticated wine that sells for over $100 and merits long contemplation. Its red cousin is the 2009 Evening Land Vineyards Seven Springs Summum Chardonnay, Eola-Amity Hills, Oregon. This was a corduroy-textured ball of tightly wound fruit that will obviously improve with time. I would put this down as my favorite wine of the night. The quail breast and, once again, the polenta were excellent foils.
This isn’t to say that the 2010 Evening Land Vineyards Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir, Santa Rita Hills, California is a lesser wine. You might prefer it, but the Pinots from this area do have a sweetness that I don’t prefer. It was served with Morgan’s intriguing Roasted Duck Breast, Almond Toast, Braised California Rhubarb, Watercress which featured, along with crispy duck breast, a thing that looked like a pinkish carrot sliced lengthwise that resembles something embarrassed by marital infidelities (a big issue among carrots). It turned out to be rhubarb braised in the juice of the cherries used in the previous course. Not embarrassing at all. In fact, the dish was clever and tasty.
The owner of Evening Land is Mark Tarlov, who founded the winery in 2005. He made his fortune as a Hollywood film producer, notably producing some pictures of director John Waters. However, he did not get Divine to make the wine or Mink Stole to manage the vineyards. Rather, he enlisted A-List talent in the shape of the Burgundy winemaker Dominique Lafon. He leads a winemaking team that consists of Isabelle Meunier in Oregon and Sashi Moorman in California.
Evening Land has only been out of the gate for six years. They are clearly a label to watch.