Where do I begin? I’ve been writing about wine for well over a decade and I’ve never run into someone quite like Luke Wylde of Statera Cellars. Crafting a well-planned approach as Oregon’s first single-varietal winery from the picture-perfect wine destination of Abbey Road Farms in Dayton, Oregon, you’d never suspect the wild-eyed, tattoo-covered, wine-chugging rebel to be one of the masterminds behind such an elegantly nuanced Chardonnay.
Alongside his partner, Meredith Bell, Wylde’s Oregon Chardonnay-exclusive Statera Cellars is leading the charge on a single-varietal approach to wine production.
Born from a brazen Kickstarter campaign in 2015, Bell and Wylde descended on the Oregon wine culture like the Blue Brothers driving through the mall. Disregarding trends, traditional approaches and critique, they focused on the only thing that was important: the wine.
“The goal is to show the expression of Chardonnay in its own way,” Wylde says. “Our mantra is don’t f*ck with it.” His words make a sharp contrast to the serene scenery overlooking the rolling hills that surround the Willamette Valley tasting room, but he makes a point. Why hide behind smoke and mirrors when you can simply let the grapes speak for themselves?
On a recent visit, I walked through the vineyard with Wylde to check some new plantings of Cabernet Franc at Abbey Road, sipping on the 2016 Corral Creek Vineyards Chardonnay. I’m hit with aromas of honeydew melon, a touch of ripe mango and cotton candy. The whole bouquet came together into a beautiful sip that truly testified to the winemaking duo’s ability to harness the potential of Chardonnay.
ALL CHARDONNAY, ALL THE TIME
So why just one varietal? Why not expand into the Pinot Noir market with everyone else or jump on the Gamay Noir trend?
“We want to do one thing exceedingly well,” Wylde says on our walk. “We don’t want to put out sh*t just to say we have it. Why would we be mediocre when we could do one thing that’s exceptional?”
It can be a daunting task to put all your eggs in one basket. Having a lineup of offerings that please a range of wine drinkers gives wineries a fighting chance in a competitive market, but at the same time splits focus between wines, styles and approaches.
The murmurs behind Statera’s quality and style have grown into proclamations of celebration across wine-centered outlets, touting the richly nuanced Chardonnays for a depth of flavor and acidity. After spending the day tasting Statera’s vineyard-specific wines while watching Wylde bond with the goats of the farm, I have to say, I’m jumping on the bandwagon as well.
Wylde and Bell’s bold decision to place all efforts into showcasing the different terroirs, styles and clones of Chardonnay puts the spotlight directly on their winemaking abilities and leaves them nearly nothing to hide behind.
I asked Wylde, a self-taught winemaker, what the moment was when he fell in love with wine, and I was greeted with a smile and no hesitation.
“I was at some college party where all of the dudes were gathered around a keg to the right and the girls were crowded around a table with wine,” he recalls. “I joined the girls and sipped a Bogle Petite Sirah. That was when the lights turned on and I fell in love with wine.”
Bell’s story has a little bit more of a foundation in science having studied biochemistry, but her love for wine developed when she was in the Peace Corps for four years, serving in areas where wine was forbidden. After studying biochemistry at UCLA and viticulture and enology at UC Davis, she took an assistant winemaking position at Craft Wine Co. These two separate, but complementary paths form the foundation for thinking against the grain and winemaking evolution.
Statera Cellars is pioneering a movement to open doors to single varietal possibilities and honor the character of Chardonnay. And like Wylde says, “don’t f*ck with it.”