Wine Succession — Nate Klostermann on Taking Over a Groundbreaking Winery, Sparkling Wine’s True Power and Exploding Grapes
We're Talking WineBY James Brock // 10.14.20
I love to talk about wine with people who share my passion for it. We open bottles, we trade stories about travel and soil types, terroir and residual sugar, and we talk of taste and food and restaurants. We recommend wines to one another, we drink, and we learn a lot.
In Wine Talk, I introduce you to friends, acquaintances, and people I meet as I make my way around the world, individuals who love wine as much as I do, who live to taste, who farm and make wine. You’ll appreciate their insight, and I hope you’ll learn something from them as well.
Earlier this year, I received a few bottles of wine whose arrival made be happy. Very happy. I was excited because I had not had a taste of Argyle sparkling in about five years, and a bottle of it was in the box. It was a 2016 Vintage Brut.
A few days later, the bottle properly chilled, I opened the Brut. It was excellent, as I expected. If you are not familiar with Argyle, I promise that you want to get to know the winery and its offerings, which include — but are not limited to — chardonnays, pinot noirs, rieslings and pinot meuniers.
The 2016 Vintage Brut is a continuation of what began in 1987, when Rollin Soles went on a mission to produce great sparkling wines in the Willamette Valley. In order to do so, he would need to grow outstanding Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
More than three decades later, it is widely held that Soles accomplished what he set out to do. The estate program he envisioned and developed now encompasses more than 400 planted acres.
Enter Nate Klostermann, who is the subject of this Wine Talk. He succeeded Soles as winemaker at Argyle in 2013, having been chosen by the man himself after serving as his trainee for eight years. Soles has good taste and is a discerning judge of character because Klostermann’s portfolio is full of noteworthy vintages.
Klostermann was born and raised in rural Wisconsin, and has a degree in food science from the University of Minnesota. The hobby of home brewing sparked an interest in wine, and he took a job at Falconer Vineyards — located in Red Wing, Minnesota — an experience that cemented his career path.
I like Klostermann’s approach to winemaking; he loves to experiment (skin soaking, mixing ripeness levels, whole cluster), and he’s making wines that will last.
In addition to the Brut, I also sampled the 2018 Argyle Nuthouse Pinot Noir, and the 2018 Nuthouse Chardonnay, both of which are drinking well. (I have another bottle of the pinot cellared away.) My next Argyle tasting will be riesling-centric. I look forward to visiting the Willamette Valley next year, and Argyle will be on the itinerary.
Let’s see what Klostermann has on his mind.
James Brock: How has COVID-19 changed your work and life?
Nate Klostermann: The daily operations in the winery have slowed down a bit in terms of pace and spacing with bottling and disgorging, but we have been lucky in that we have such a spacious facility, we’ve been able to keep good distance from each other. We’ve been tasting and blending wines outdoors more recently, which has brought a new and interesting aspect to the interpretations of the wines. No more travel, public tastings, or wine dinners, but the Zoom tasting experience has been positive in that we can interact with more tasters across the globe.
JB: Tell us about three wines you think are drinking well at the moment. What makes them worthwhile? How about a food pairing for each one?
NK: 2009 Argyle Extended Tirage Brut ($80) — Disgorged one year ago, this wine is really coming together, highlighting the freshness of recent disgorgement with the deep and complex palate of extended lees aging. I like to drink this on its own to feel the different levels on their own, but I would pair with grilled prawns.
2018 Argyle Nuthouse Riesling ($30) — I love the depth of the 2018 Riesling vintage. It really builds power and length with incredible acidity. We’ve been experimenting with extended barrel aging on our Riesling in the last five years, and I think we’ve hit the sweet spot of freshness and depth at about 11 months of aging. It’s a great food wine. I always gravitate to Southeast Asian, as it can pair with so many foods from there.
We’ve developed an annual tradition of including a food pairing only for the Riesling in the tasting notes since 2003 — this year I’ve chosen Cao lầu from Hội An, Vietnam, a rice noodle dish with pork and greens.
2018 Pray Tell Chardonnay ($40) — Fresh, vibrant, subtle spiciness, incredible length and purity. This is very small production, made by a wonderful husband and wife duo in McMinnville whom I adore. Their wines are both serious and playful, and are a treat to get your hands if you can catch them in time. My favorite pairing with this wine is Oregon Dungeness crab with lots of melted butter and flaky sea salt.
JB: If cost was no consideration, tell us the one bottle you would add to your personal collection, and why?
1979 Krug, Clos du Mesnil. I’d love to try any of these Clos du Mesnil wines from this era, but 1979 was the first vintage of this bottling and I feel would be an incredible glimpse into the historical style of blanc de blancs, which is my favorite style of Champagne.
JB: What is your favorite grape, and why?
NK: Chardonnay is my favorite grape because there are so many beautiful expressions throughout the world, both with still wine and sparkling wine.
JB: How about one bottle that our readers should buy now to cellar for 10 years, to celebrate a birth, anniversary, or other red-letter day?
NK: I would recommend the 2018 Nuthouse Pinot Noir to lay down for 10 years. With incredible balance of depth and freshness, it also has firm structure from the Eola-Amity Hills that will age gracefully and provide tension for many years to come.
JB: Where is your go-to place when you want to have a glass or bottle? COVID-19 has put a crimp on going out, but pre-pandemic, where did you go?
NK: My favorite two places to drink and explore Champagne are in Portland: Ambonnay and Pix Pâtisserie/Bar Vivant. They have incredible curation and a selection of wines at great prices from the two most passionate Champagne heads I know.
JB: If there was one thing you wish everyone would keep in mind when buying and drinking wine, what is it?
NK: Sparkling wines should be drunk more often than just on special occasions and celebrations. Incredibly versatile and food friendly, they should be enjoyed year-round and with foods of all kinds.
JB: What is your “wine eureka moment,” the incident/taste/encounter that put you and wine on an intimate plane forever?
NK: My “aha moment” was when I started as an intern at Argyle in 2005, tasting a freshly disgorged 1995 Extended Tirage Brut. I was young and was just starting to learn about sparkling wine. I was blown away by the time invested, precision, love and purity that went into it.
Explosive freshness, deep complexity — the idea that you could make a wine like this for a living got me hooked and has kept me continually engaged in the exploration of long-aged sparkling wines.
JB: What has been the strangest moment or incident involving wine that you have experienced in your career?
NK: The strangest/most challenging moment in my career was the harvest of 2013. The fruit was right on the edge of ripeness and Mother Nature opened up a deluge of rain upon the Valley. Some say that we got eight inches in one weekend. It was my first harvest officially being in charge.
Grapes were exploding on the vine and juicing out on the trucks. We had to drink a lot of whiskey to get through it. Thankfully, we were still able to make some excellent prestige wines that year, despite the challenging vintage.
JB: What is your favorite wine reference in a work of literature or a film?
Townes Van Zandt, Talking Thunderbird Wine Blues. Favorite songwriter of all time … playful, dark, brilliant.
For extra wine, travel and more from James Brock, check out his full site Mise en Place.