Felipe Ramirez crisscrossed the world before making his way to the Willamette Valley. He was born in Patagonia, Chile; studied enology in Santiago and began his winemaking career in Napa. But it was on vineyards in Burgundy and Alsace where he immersed himself completely in what he calls “this terroir thing”—and never looked back.
Felipe’s deep respect for the role soil plays in the winemaking process took him from France back to the granite-filled hills of Southern Chile, where he founded a co-op of family-run wineries (Slow Vino Chile) as well as his own organic vineyard. He joined us for the very challenging 2013 vintage and beautifully co-managed a harvest beset by some of the most challenging weather conditions ever experienced in Oregon. Not long afterwards, we were unbelievably lucky that he agreed to uproot his wife, Cynthia, and young son, Nico, to join our small team.
Felipe brings a classic wine education coupled with a deep understanding of the interconnectivity of science, art and personality that’s found in a glass of wine. (Plus, he’s an excellent human). But rather than try to describe his approach to winemaking in our own words, we thought we’d share a few of his own …
Wine is for eating, drinking and connecting. Not just tasting.
For me, wine is always connected to food. It’s just a liquid that gets people talking. It’s part of a party, part of a meeting, part of the table. It’s a part of life. It’s like bread. Or olive oil. It needs to be there, but naturally. I can’t see it as, like, a rock star thing.
The best wines, like the best people, are surprising and complex.
My definition of a “great wine” is one that has two things that are not very easy to find together. First, it needs to be high quality in terms of flavors, expression and balance. But it also needs to be different; it needs to have a personality. Something about it that grabs you and makes you say, ‘wow, what is this?’
It’s a little bit like people, right? There are some people that talk a lot, but they’re not really saying anything. For me, that’s like a wine with a lot of oak and perfume but nothing really special. And there are other people who are maybe a bit more quiet, but then blow your mind with something surprising or insightful.
You can buy wine by the varietal. But it’s really all about the dirt.
Most people choose wine depending on the varietal or the region, and that’s a good place to start. But I always buy wines by the soil. For example, I noticed that every time I taste a wine that really gives me butterflies in my stomach, as the French say, it comes from a place that has rocky soil. I recommend looking for wines where the flavor comes from the earth itself, not from oak. It takes a little bit more work, but a good wine shop should be able to guide you.
True love can strike twice.
I’ve made all different kinds of wines in my career. But I’ve been in love two times. The first time was with Syrah. Which was why I went to go work in France. And then, when I was in France, I found my way to Burgundy, so I fell in love with Pinot Noir.
Winemaking is about more than grapes and fermentation.
When I was younger, I quit my job on a vineyard in Napa and sold everything I owned. I went to France get a Master’s in winemaking and spent there three years studying, working, tasting, eating, and meeting very nice people. That opened up another world for me, not just in term of wine – because when you learn another language, read different books, see different movies, speak with different people, it just leads to new discoveries and, ultimately, new ways of making wine.
There’s a “trick” to wine appreciation; but it’s simpler than most people think.
I think the most important thing you can do to learn more about wine is just connect with your own senses. Nobody else can tell you what you like. But you do have to be aware of more than taste … you have to pay attention to how it smells, how it looks, how it feels. Start with one glass and say, “do I like this … yes or no?” Pretty soon, you’ll have a group of “yes” wines for yourself and you’ll realize they have something in common. That’s the beginning of having a palate. And from there, you just keep trying all sorts of wines.