Vail Wine Ink column: Oregon’s Peter Rosback and the wines of Sineann
UNDER THE INFLUENCE
2014 Sineann Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough — This wine is hand-harvested and cluster-sorted, two things not normally seen in the Marlborough region, but the extra care produced a wine that is fresh, clean, a touch creamy and full of New Zealand sunshine. With a beautiful yellow label, Peter Rosback, winemaker-owner of Sineann wines, said this $18 wine is “aromatic, with hints of jalapeno, tomato leaf and passion fruit.” Sounds like a mouthful.
AN ATYPICAL WINEMAKER PICKS A WEDDING DATE
What winemaker in his right mind decides to get married during the harvest season? Well, Peter Rosback, for one. On Sept. 30, literally in the heart of the Oregon pinot noir harvest, Rosback will join hearts with his wife to be, Faye. “She said she wanted to get married on her mother’s birthday and it just happened to be on that date,” Rosback said. “I told her we may be picking that day and she said ‘be there by 2 o’clock or I’m asking for volunteers.’”
“This is my 41st harvest,” said Peter Rosback, winemaker-owner of Oregon’s uber acclaimed Sineann wines, with a degree of pride recently over lunch. “Of course, I cheat. I do two a year.”
Now, he knew he wasn’t making a confession when he said he cheated. Rather, Rosback was just bragging on himself. He was aware that anyone within earshot would wonder exactly how he had the good fortune to work twice as many grape harvests as any one region has in a year’s time. Obviously, he was a traveling man, and his boast was that in any given year, he would work a harvest here, in the Northern Hemisphere, and then head for a second one in the Southern Hemisphere.
In Rosback’s case, he gets to spend the months of September and October bringing in some of the world’s finest grapes from the vineyards he contracts with in Oregon and Washington. Then, in our spring, he heads south to harvest more of the world’s finest grapes, in this case pinot noir and sauvignon blanc, in the vineyards that lie on New Zealand’s South Island.
It is a lifestyle that fits this fiercely independent and intensely meticulous former engineer to a T.
Rosback makes about 8,000 cases of his Sineann (pronounced shuh-NAY-uhn) wines. While never content to while away on a single variety, though it is his deft hand with pinot noir that has brought him a myriad of accolades, he reckons that he produces up to “20ish” different wines at any given time.
I spoke with him on the first day of September as he was driving along the Columbia River Gorge to the iconic Champoux Vineyard for the initial harvest of this fall season. He was on his way from his home in the Willamette Valley to kick off what is now his 42nd harvest and pick some orange muscat.
“Orange muscat?” I asked, a bit bewildered, as I did not know the grape was part of his repertoire. “Yeah,” he replied. “I’m going to make an ice wine. And I have a friend who is an herbalist. I thought we would try and make an amari (a family of Italian herbal elixirs) that is not too sweet. And I love the orange aromas.” It was typical Rosback, never being typical. “You gotta’ have some fun,” he chuckled.
Another example of Rosback’s atypical nature can be found as one opens the bottles of many of his wines. Rather than corks, you’ll find elegant glass stoppers. For years, he was frustrated by the rate of failure that wines under cork had. So he went looking for a solution and, in 2005, began using a product called Vino-Seal. It is another case of his being an early adaptor.
THE BACK STORY
Rosback began making wines as a hobby while working as an engineer. He worked alongside Owen Roe winemaker David O’Reilly for a number of harvests at Oregon’s Elk Cove Winery, where both learned the basics of the business. In 1994, they paired to found Sineann and launched with a first release of 125 cases of old vine zinfandel. In the ensuing years, the two have split into different companies and both have been pioneers in the still-emerging Northwest wine culture.
An early lesson learned that resonates to this day is that sourcing is the most important part of the winemaker’s job.
“It really is all about the fruit,” Rosback said.
And the thing that he focuses on the most is finding the places, the people and the vineyards that produce the best grapes.
“Some people achieve the potential of a given site,” he said. “Kevin Chambers did that with the Resonance Vineyard (a legendary Willamette Valley pinot noir vineyard) and Paul Champoux was able to do that with his vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills. It makes it easy when you have great fruit.”
They are just two of 10 or so vineyards throughout the globe from which Rosback sources.
It was this desire to find great grapes that led him to New Zealand, where he harvests and makes a pinot noir from Central Otago, the stunningly gorgeous valley that is the southernmost wine region on earth, and a sauvignon blanc from Marlborough. Rosback believes both regions are on the cusp of becoming epic.
“This is where the future of sauvignon blanc is,” he said of Marlborough. “Once they get it down, look out, Sancere. This will be the best in the world one day.”
Always a step ahead. Typical Rosback.
Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass with his wife, Linda, and black Lab,Vino. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.