The Seattle Times: Winemaker David O'Reilly is at home in the Yakima Valley
GoodFruit.com: Stories are plentiful at Owen Roe
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Owner and winemaker, David O'Reilly started his career in wine like many do--with an unused liberal arts degree (in his case, philosophy). And though he's charted his course through a different field, his Pacific Northwest winery Owen Roe, David is definitely one with ideas. Originally from Belfast, he named his winery with a nod to his roots after the 17th-century Irish activist, Owen Roe O'Neill. O’Neill’s dedication to upholding principles of political equality and freedom makes him an ideal model for Owen Roe winery, for they share his commitment to principle in work. At Owen Roe they do not compromise: only the best is good enough. Since 1999, Owen Roe has garnered a reputation for luscious Oregon Pinots and, increasingly, structured and dynamic Syrahs, Cabernet Francs and red blends from Washington.
After 15 years of operating out of his winery in Newberg, Oregon, O'Reilly has set his sites for the future by building a 7,000 square-foot, state-of-the-art winery in Yakima Valley, with an estate vineyard called Union Gap. The new low-energy facility was built into a metal barn, and it's tricked out with all the bells and whistles that would make any winemaker gush. The pieces of equipment he's dubbed his "geekiest" are two Coquard basket presses that, he says, have surpassed their expectations in the way they improve wine texture. A serendipitous perk is that they're also great for making ice wine. "On a frigid morning we harvested a couple of press loads of frozen Gewurztraminer from Outlook Vineyard and the result was sublime--the steady gentle pressing yielded delicious juice with awesome texture," said O'Reilly.
Yakima Valley is the oldest AVA in Washington and the source of 40 percent of the state's wine production. Nearly any grape can ripen in this AVA, as it has an immense diversity of microclimates, a long growing season, and great silt-loam soils over a layer of basalt. "The wines that we make from Yakima," explained O'Reilly, "while unmistakably New World, show great acidity and finesse. Here the Bordeaux and Rhone varietals ripen beautifully and the long, dry growing conditions provide for vintage consistency."
The top Owen Roe wines showcase their signature handprinted photogravure labels. The photogravures are just one example of the exacting attention to detail that Owen Roe is known for. Another is O'Reilly's meticulous approach to winemaking. David O'Reilly works with small family-run operations with an average acreage of only 30 acres. He and the growers work collaboratively to achieve maximum flavor and optimal ripeness with modest sugars to keep the wines in balance. One of the benefits of the easy growing conditions in Washington is that there tends to be a greater emphasis on vineyard or producer to find truly distinctive fruit. Vineyards are contracted by the acre with strict yield controls, and without the use of any herbicides or pesticides. The grapes receive minimal handling and the juice is racked by gravity. All wines are made in tiny lots. The same high principles are found in the winery. Only minimal handling, racking by gravity, and excellent cooperage are employed to ensure that a sense of place truly shines through each and every Owen Roe wine. From the fruit to the bottle, cork, and label, Owen Roe aims for the very best.
Owen Roe recently purchased the 280-acre Outlook Vineyard, where they grow much of the fruit for their value-driven second label, Corvidae--a Latin word for the crow family of birds, which are a common presence in the eastern Washington vineyards. Another secondary label is Sharecropper's. During Owen Roe's early vintages, which coincided with an economic downturn, the winery instated the historic practice of sharecropping with its farmers--taking the fruit for its wine on spec then sharing profits with the growers. From this partnership comes affordable, easy-drinking Pinots and Cabs.