Putting the Kiwi in an American Wine

One of my most “Unforgettable Characters” , Ray Walsh of Capitello Wineries

Ray Walsh, speaking at this years International Pinot Noir Conference in McMinnville, Oregon

Ray Walsh grew up in Auckland, New Zealand and brags about the fact that his only exposure to vineyards was picking up his father’s spent ammo, and occasionally scaring away birds with shotguns. It wasn’t until Ray was in his early twenties that he worked at his first vineyard in the Moselle River Valley in Europe. Ray fell in love with “the grape” there and returned to New Zealand to work on his degree in Enology. Ray worked at winemaking in New Zealand at Coopers Creek Vineyard and Villa Maria, and then decided it was time to move, and set his sights on the U.S.

When Ray heard about a new state of the art wine facility that was opening in Oregon, with all the equipment he wished he had in New Zealand. In very short order Ray made the move and became Cellar Master for the King Estate Winery in Oregon, and becoming Winemaker in 1999. Gaining experience, recognition as well as additional responsibilities at the King Estate Winery, Ray discovered that he was so engulfed in his work that his relationship with his family was suffering. While vacationing back home in New Zealand, Ray took a good look at his life and decided it was time for another change, back to a simple life, but keeping with his love of winemaking.

Returning to Oregon and with his son at his side has created Capitello Wines in Eugene Oregon. Over the years Ray Walsh developed his skills as a winemaker, using advanced technology to produce wines that in many cases are unmatched. Some of the techniques he uses are viewed by others in the industry as “play” and that they distort the natural flavor of the wine. To that Ray points out that some of the science he first brought to his winemaking is now being used by large numbers of U.S. winemakers. One such technique of which Ray was the first to use, is a procedure called “de-alc-ing”, a method using reverse osmosis to remove alcohol levels of wine. In this method Ray was able to reduce alcohol levels of his Pinot Gris from 14.2 to 13.4, and the results were wonderful. He also believes in “fining” or removing certain clouding matter from his wines. He believes his methods actually add flavor to the wine he is producing, and has the vote of many who enjoy his wines, including myself.

Capitello Wines produces a Sparkling Brut, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Dolcini, as well as their Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, and I will sway this, they all produce a smile on my face, as I realize the expertise of this Winemaker. Ray Walsh is a master of his trade, who has learned how to enjoy the loves of his life, his family and his wines.

The glass of wine that most impressed me, and let me say was difficult to do against his other wines, all fantastic in their own, was his small volume “Succession Cuvee Pinot Noir”. For this spectacular Pinot Noir, Ray sourced his grapes from Mary’s Peak Vineyard and fermented them in a special “French Oak Tank”. The wine was then transferred to 50% new and 50% once used French oak barrels. These special oak barrels are from the Chitton Forrest, a small forest in the coolest area of Burgundy, France. What you get from age in these specific barrels is a tighter gain, elegant floral spice, and a finish of richness that produces perfect balance after aging for two years in them.

This 2008 Succession Cuvee Pinot Noir is an “Old Style” Pinot Noir, with aromas of raspberry and black cherry, earth tones and a floral finish. On your palate a delightful rush of the concentrated red fruit, with soft elegant tannin levels, and a lengthy smooth velvet finish that seems to go on forever.

As a final note, Capitello Wines now imports a New Zealand Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, as well as a Pinot Noir from Rays homeland of New Zealand, both of which I tasted with Ray at the Wine Festival, and are now included in my own personal wine cellar.


About storiesbygary

I am a Freelance Writer / Photographer, writing travel related articles for international magazines, blogs and websites and my own published books.
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