Dave and Lois Cho first got into wine while working in wineries, but it wasn’t in the cellar or pouring flights: They were musicians. Growing up in California, the two would play gigs at tasting rooms in California wine country, where they’d get a glass of wine as a shift drink. As their interest grew, they began to contemplate the concept of getting into the winemaking side of the business, or maybe even opening their own winery. “On of our many road trips to Napa, we had the conversation, like, ‘What if we actually do this?’” Lois Cho says. The two moved up to Oregon, where Dave Cho studied viticulture; he went on to work for big-deal Willamette Valley winemakers like Argyle and Stoller. But this year, the two have opened their own winery, showing off the wide spectrum of pinot noirs — beyond the typical glass of red.
Oregon wine, for many years, referred almost exclusively to pinot noir; the vast majority of grapes grown in Oregon are pinot noir grapes, and when people taste wine in the Willamette Valley, most tasting flights include at least three pinot noirs. In recent years, some of the new generation of winemakers in the Willamette Valley have moved away from making pinots, dabbling in less-represented varietals or blends. However, the Chos wanted to experiment more with pinot noir grapes, to expand what people expect of the varietal.
Cho Wines, which just released its first six wines this month, sources all of its pinot noir grapes from a single vineyard: Laurel Vineyard, positioned at 1,000 feet elevation in the Laurelwood District AVA. The vineyard is owned by John and Lynn Albin, who founded Six Peaks Winery; their son, Andrew Albin, is a close friend of the Chos from their early days in Oregon. However, although the Chos bought exclusively pinot noir from the Albins, only one of those wines is a traditional pinot noir: Two are sparkling wines, one is a blanc, another is a rosé, and the couple even made a low-proof piquette. “We’re almost doing a study of pinot noir,” Dave Cho says. “They’re all expressed in different ways... very acid-driven, very fresh and nuanced expressions of the varietal.”
Three of the bottles are made using méthode ancestrale, a traditional way of making sparkling. Sparkling wines go through two fermentations: One to make it wine, and another to make it bubbly. As opposed to adding yeast for the secondary fermentation, in méthode ancestrale, winemakers chill the wine and then let it warm up, to pause fermentation and allow for a secondary fermentation. Cho’s méthode ancestrale bottles range from a 2020 pétillant-naturel to a piquette, which is made using the pulp (called pomace) from their sparkling wine press; think of it as something like a low-proof sparkling wine. The third sparkling wine Cho makes is a 2015 vintage, which the couple adopted to make one of their inaugural wines. “The reason I got a job at Argyle from Stoller was to learn about sparkling wine. I grew an affinity for sparkling wine while hanging out with a bunch of interns,” Dave Cho says. “I really learned and was able to hone in on some really interesting techniques.”
The Chos just launched their winery, but soon, they’ll appear at places like Red Hills Market in Dundee, the Portland Wine Cellar, and Portland wine bar and restaurant República. The winery will throw a release party in McMinnville on June 19.
• Cho Wines [Official]