WOODBURN, Ore. — Jason Hanson, winemaker at Hanson Vineyards, lets his grapes do the heavy lifting and eschews the idea of a “house wine.”
“I have a non-interventionist wine-making theory,” Hanson said. “I would rather grow the best fruit I possibly can and allow it to turn itself into wine than change the nature of wine (through manipulation).
“My Pinots from year to year change drastically,” Hanson said. “Every year they are completely different, and that is the way I want it. I don’t want a ‘house style.’”
A small-acreage winery, Hanson Vineyards, one could say is a throwback to an old-world style of winery that still is prevalent in Europe, but is rare in the U.S.
“We will never be a big winery, and we don’t want to be,” he said.
“You go to France and there are lots of little family plots on the hillsides. The family works the land and makes the wine and has for generations. There is no desire to be huge. The desire is to have a product that you are proud of that you put your name on the side of the bottle,” he said.
Located in Monitor, an unincorporated community east of Woodburn in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, Hanson Vineyards is situated on three distinct soil types. Clay soils dominate the upper part of the vineyard, while rocky and sandy soils dominate the lower part.
“We’re in what is essentially the Butte Creek sub-valley,” said Hanson, the fourth generation of his family to farm the ground. “It is very interesting soil to work with.”
The vineyard practices sustainable production practices, he said, limiting use of pesticides and using netting to protect grapes from robin damage.
The winery produces a variety of grapes, which enables the vineyard to stagger harvests in a way that minimizes the need for outside labor and allows it to serve a wide variety in its tasting room, including Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Chardonnay and Gamay Noir.
“I think you are going to see a lot more Gamay Noir coming into the Willamette Valley,” Hanson said. “It is a unique grape. It is a heavy producer and it is right for our climate.”
Marechal Foch, which Hanson uses in a red blend called Cascadia, is the darkest grape produced on the vineyard. The blend, consisting of half Foch and half Pinot Noir, won a silver medal at the 2015 Great Northwest Wine Competition in Hood River.
The winery ages wine in oak barrels a minimum of two years before bottling, Hanson said.
In addition to the wine characteristics changing dramatically from year to year, production levels can swing wildly at Hanson Vineyards.
In 2010, a cool year, the winery lost a sizable percentage of its crop to botrytis and bird damage and produced only about 500 cases. In 2014, a hot year, the winery produced close to 1,500 cases, Hanson said.
“We’re small and we self-distribute and we sell a lot through our tasting room, so we can absorb swings like that more than a huge winery that has commitments to distributors,” he said.
Small, like an old-world winery.