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Happenings & Musing from the Eola-Amity Hills.

Julian Elam
December 18, 2018
5 Questions with winemaker Ben DiCristina

Q: How did you get your start in wine and how did you get involved with Evening Land?

“When I was living in Switzerland, I met my (future) wife Kelly’s brother, Andrew. I was looking to get out of social work and do something different. He was working in wine in Oregon, and I had always been curious about Oregon and was starting to get curious about wine. He was really kind and wanted to help facilitate my interest in wine, so they invited me out to Oregon to live and work with them.

I got my first job at J.K. Carriere, initially just doing bottlings and rackings and pulling rocks out of the vineyard. I did that with some odd jobs in Portland for a couple years, and we started working more with Brad McElroy at Ayres Vineyard. I liked the small winery feel, the attention to detail; I liked paying attention to small lots, to vineyard management and farming practices. I went back to school to gain experience and qualifications, so I got a horticulture degree in viticulture and enology from Oregon State.

Our son Henry was born as I finished my degree and Sine Qua Non hired me to manage vineyards for them, so we moved to Lompoc, CA. I managed the growing season in 2014 and oversaw harvest for a few vineyards, mostly Syrah and Grenache, some Roussanne, some Viognier, and a little Mourvèdre.

Living in Lompoc, I got to know Sashi Moorman through his winemaking team of John Faulkner and Tim Fimpler. Sashi asked me if I wanted to be a part of the winemaking team at Evening Land, and I was probably too excited about it. It was a great opportunity. Sashi was in need of someone and I was in need of a shakeup. He was looking for someone who had a little bit of a vineyard background who could help steer the vision in the vineyard at Seven Springs, which was exciting to me. To be involved in vineyard work AND in the winery is something everybody wants to do. The opportunity to do that at Seven Springs is something I never thought I’d be a part of. 

So I moved back to Oregon and started the process of blending the 2014s, trying to get them assembled and bottled. It’s a good job; I feel really lucky to be able to work with Jessica and Daniel in the vineyard, and Julian, John, and Tim in the winery.”

Q: Which Oregon producers inspire or excite you?

“In Oregon, I think the person who’s most inspiring to me every year is Bethany Kimmel, who makes the Color Collector Gamays. I really respect how focused and caring she is about each lot that she makes. She has a very delicate hand with Gamay. Her vinification for those is really Gamay focused. A lot of the Gamay in Oregon is made like Pinot Noir, but she’s doing something different. Really focused, small production. She is a lovely human being and is just quietly making great wines.”

Q: Do you remember a particular bottle that hooked you on wine for good?

“When I was developing a little bit of an interest in wine, I was living in Switzerland and there were these wines by a producer named Domaine Belluard - the Les Alpes wines - that are made with this grape called Gringet [gran-JAY], and there’s a sparkling wine version and some still wines. Those wines really made me think, really made me interested to know why they were different, and really piqued my curiosity.

I don’t know that my curiosity had ever been piqued by wine before that.”

Q: What do you believe the role of a winemaker should be in guiding a wine to a faithful expression of its terroir? 

“If the winemaker is involved in the vineyard, then he’s really the only person involved in the life of those molecules from soil to grapevine to grape to the fermenter to bottle. A winemaker has a lot of say in what a wine ends up being. You can pick early or pick late, you can ferment in any number of vessels, you can control the temperature, you can add sulfur, and you can add yeast. What we like about wine does obviously color our winemaking process. We want the wines from Seven Springs to straddle the line of elegance and accessibility. 

The starting point is always the wines that inspire you. We’re inspired by Burgundy. We’re inspired by old world wines that strive for responsibility in the vineyard - with organics or biodynamics - to be very restrained with the use of sulfur in the winery, to preserve every bit of nature. We always use indigenous yeast, we very rarely temperature control fermentation. We want the wines to be alive. Usually, at Seven Springs that means that the best wines we make are picked to retain the acidity in the wine because when the fruit is most elegant is when there’s enough acidity to make the wine fresh. When we pick and there’s acidity in the grapes, we’re allowed to smell and taste the more subtle aspects.”

Q: 2018 was one of Oregon’s driest years on record.  How do you see climate change affecting Seven Springs and its wines?

“We have a small advantage in the Eola-Amity Hills. We’re a little bit cooler than areas south and north. Seven Springs is on the east side of those hills, which is a little bit cooler still, so if the trend is getting warmer - the hotter seasons getting hotter - we might be shielded from the worst. If we have too many more seasons like 2018, it’ll certainly be a challenge to continue to farm without irrigation. If we have even one or two more seasons like this one, we’ll have to dig a well and if the seasons get really hot we’ll have to irrigate. It’s hard to say how that would change the wines.

Whether or not that means we’ll have to adapt our winemaking I don’t know. 2015 was a really interesting test case. It was really hot and Evening Land made pretty delicate wines. Either way, climate change is very real and it’s not going away.”

Dec 18, 2018 at 8:44 AM
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