Remy Wines: A taste of European varietal wines in the Pacific Northwest

Remy and her friend welcoming guests to their annual Fire Dinner (Photo credit: Remy Wines)

They say almost all creativity involves purposeful play. You’d imagine an 8-year-old child building pillow forts, spinning fantastical tales with dolls, or eating dirt while frolicking at the playground immersed in wholesome, soul-satisfying play. For Remy Drabkin, as a precocious little girl, playtime looked a little bit different. Okay, a whole lot different. For starters, some of Oregon’s most prominent vineyards (Read: Adelsheim and Ponzi) were her playgrounds. Remy had an idyllic childhood growing up in the charming town of McMinnville.

She was going on tractor rides, helping with fruit picking, and even loading the press. As a pint-sized child, she knew she wanted to be a winemaker, and had no qualms about announcing it aloud. Fast forward to today, and it would suffice to say that Remy is a pioneering winemaker pushing the envelope as a top producer of non-traditional grape varieties.

Remy was smitten by the vineyards and the sheer bounty they had to offer. She tells us about how her childhood influenced her love for winemaking, “as a Jew, wine has always been part of my family culture; it is ceremonious and significant. The people I loved; loved making wine. I grew up helping at harvest and being rewarded with hot cinnamon buns, toting home milk jugs of freshly pressed juice. Holidays and birthdays were spent with great people and great food.

These “great” people Remy refers to are also the pioneers of Oregon’s wine industry, including Ponzi, Adelsheim, Eyrie and Erath. These small family wineries were forging their way, and Remy was running around in their homes and wineries, playing with their kids. Remy tells us, “they worked other jobs, built their homes and worked the land with their hands, and involved the kids to support their winemaking habits—and they won! They weren’t just innovators, they were multi-faceted—artists, scientists, engineers and designers. I wanted to emulate what they had begun. I desired that extended community and the intersection between intellect and creativity.”

Remy fell head over heels in love with the process of making wine, and to this day—it’s what she loves most as a winemaker. Remy says, “I’m not sure how to translate the pure joy I felt at climbing on top on a tank of fermenting fruit with Dick Erath, and being taught how to do a punch down while balancing on the side of the bin, watching the pink froth—knowing it was alive, transforming before my very eyes. I loved the process as a child. Of course, I came to appreciate the product eventually, but my first love is the process and that extends to running my own business. Constant innovation and transformation—that’s how I live my life.” 

Remy’s story is as individualistic as the wines she makes. She crafts Italian-inspired wines like Lagrein, Sangiovese, and Nebbiolo in the kingdom of Pinot Noir—Willamette Valley, the heart of Oregon’s wine country. Always one to go against the grain, makes wines from grape varieties that are indigenous to Europe and not traditionally grown in the Pacific Northwest. Remy was raised around Italian families and that really influenced her style of winemaking. Other strong Italian influences were present early on too – Remy’s mom was a chef at Nick’s Italian Cafe in downtown McMinnville, a sort of unofficial club for Oregon’s first winemakers, who would hangout and talk all things wine over there.  

As a teenager, Remy did weekend gigs and summer jobs at wineries, learning from the ground up and dabbling in different aspects of winemaking. After completing high school, working at a Kibbutz in Israel was her next stop, followed by viticulture school in France. Her next stint was at an Italian restaurant in Pittsburgh; where they made house wine in the basement with shipped californian grapes. Soon after, Oregon beckoned out to Remy again, where she worked at different wineries by day, and burnt the midnight oil making her own wine. Remy launched her eponymous Remy Wines and Three Wives wine labels in 2006, and there has been no looking back for her. Since then, it has been all about crushing stereotypes, stirring, shaking, and spearheading the wine scene in Oregon and beyond. 

Remy talks about her journey, “At 25, I started Remy  Wines and Three wives, and I’ve already been through a recession with my business—which leaves me feeling prepared to take on the recession that is unfolding right now. I designed my first wine label when I was in 5th grade—so Remy Wines has been coming together for a while. Today I aim to not only make great wine but also an impact on my community. Small business is challenging, especially since the onset of Covid. To me, success means an exceptional product and happy team, while still allowing me to enjoy my favorite part of the business—making wine.”

Remy’s style of winemaking is a study in contrasts. She follows the old world philosophy that is sleeping in tradition, and at the same time, works with unconventional grape varieties. Remy says, “I’m a minimalist at heart. I like understanding things from the ground up so making wines in a very traditional way speaks to that. I’m also non-traditional—I wouldn’t have it any other way! In reality though, we have a very collaborative community and the resource pool is smaller when working with more unknown varieties in the area.”

To know more about her exceptional story, check out this documentary, “Red, White & Black.” which examines diversity in Oregon wine. While we’re looking for ways to satisfy that deep wander-bug, there is still some time before we can safely travel across the world. For now, here are some stunning wines crafted in Oregon that will give you a taste of Europe. Remy wines is a small-batch winery, so order now and let the adventure begin! Here is the lowdown on some incredible wines that we tried from Remy Wines…

2017 Remy Wines Lagrein

The 2017 Remy Wines Lagrein is the bottle to open on a rainy evening (which we have plenty of in the PNW!). This far-flung, unusual varietal from Alto Aldige, a sunny province in Alpine Italy, is not well-known in the Pacific Northwest. Remy became the first Oregonian to bottle lagrein as a single-varietal, where the character of the grape really shines through. Remy tells us, “Go to my Lagrein for an experience that will transport you to the fairy tale land of the Alto Adige, where there exists to this day the greatest concentration of castles anywhere in the world.” 

Lagrein is a very polarizing wine, and I didn’t know what to expect while trying it for the first time. It has a beautiful color—deep plum, almost mulberry. The first sip was very unfamiliar, but welcome, and left me wanting more. The wine feels silky smooth on the tongue, and is both earthy and fruity at the same time. It has flavors reminiscent of chocolate, thyme and jammy cherries. And oh, it is full-bodied in every sense of the word, with almost a tannic, chewy mouthfeel. This beautifully complex wine pairs well with rich hunks of meat like pork belly or a delicious steak.

2019 Three Wives Auxerrois

We get it—you’d rather be relaxing at a Chateau in France, soaking up the sun, glass of wine in hand. While travel is still a distant dream glimmering on the horizon, we can definitely find solace in a glass of French wine, bottled right here in the PNW. Rare, unconventional and classically Remy—the 2019 Three Wives Auxerrois is an incredible wine for summer. If I could use one word to describe this wine, it would be soulful. If you like wines that are off-the-beaten-track, then Auxerrois should be on your radar. The wine has a stunning golden hue that smells like a vacation—sweet plumeria and tropical fruit.

Auxerrois is a rare grape varietal from northeastern France, and is known to be notoriously difficult to work with. Infact, it is rarely even grown out of Europe. Remy loves the varietal and sources her grapes from a local grower. On the nose, you can smell tropical fruit—fresh pineapple and citrusy grapefruit. The wine has musky, honeyed notes and full-bodied flavor. It has a hint of sweetness which is balanced with subtle, refreshing tartness. This low-acid wine is perfect for some light PNW summer sipping while daydreaming of exotic, far-flung vacations. This wine is an absolute hit with asian food—think spicy dan dan noodles, cashew chicken or even bacon fried rice. 

2018 Remy Wines Rosebud Nebbiolo

One whiff of the 2018 Remy Wines Rosebud Nebbiolo and you’ll be smitten by the scent of fragrant roses. Nebbiolo is an old grape hailing from Italy’s piedmont region, and true to her deviant spirit, Remy sought out this rare varietal. When it comes to Nebbiolo – you’ll either love it or hate it. It is one of the most tannic varieties in the world, and is definitely not for the faint of heart. It starts off with a contrasting aroma—tar and roses. It is an elegant, delicately perfumed wine. It’s an orange-y red colour that reminds me of persimmons. It’s almost diaphanous, and has legs like Pinot Noir. But that’s when appearances can be deceptive. Very deceptive indeed. While it looks like a light wine, it is shockingly intense on the palate.

Its soft, floral scent belies the intense acidity and sharp tannins that you taste at the very first sip. There is definitely no shying away from tannins here. It packs a powerful punch and tastes of cherries, grass and leather. There is a faint hint of earthy truffles as well. This wine pairs fabulously with decadent Italian dishes like risotto and cheese fondue that are rich enough to cut through all that acidity. Goat cheese and prosciutto tarts, arancini, margherita pizza with burrata, pork belly are other great pairings. Pro tip: add shaved truffles to pick on the wine’s truffle flavors. This is a bottle to open on a cool summer night. 

2019 Three Wives Germaine Gabrielle Rose

Ah, summer. One of my favorite things about summer in the PNW is drinking chilled rose out in the yard. Do you love a glass of summer rose? Well, in that case, the 2019 Three Wives Germaine Gabrielle Rose will be a hot favorite. Or do you dismiss rose as a frivolous drink reserved for all night girls slumber parties? Well, this is the wine that will make you rethink your perception of rose on the whole. It is difficult not to fall in love with this wine. It’s a gorgeous peach-pink in colour. It has bright acidity with fruity aromas of grapefruit and strawberries. It’s dry, not very sweet and packs a lot of flavour.

This is a wine best serve chilled and sipped out on the patio or in a park. The best accompaniment for a shimmering glass of rose? Alfresco-style dining! Think easy dishes like seared scallops, shrimp scampi or a fresh greek salad. Baked brie with nuts, rosemary and honey is a surefire winner. To keep it simple, a picnic lunch with hunks of bread, cheese, olives and cold cuts is a lovely idea too. Cheers to summer!