You can’t get water from a rock. But in northern Oregon, delicious, highly coveted wines are being made with grapes that literally sprout from a bed of stones. Here’s everything you need to know about The Rocks region.
Located in Oregon, a few miles south of the Washington state line, The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater will soon be declared an official American Viticultural Area (AVA) within the larger Walla Walla Valley AVA. Only 4.9 square miles in size, with a gentle east-west slope, it sits on a dried-up alluvial fan in the Walla Walla River Valley.
While regions like Châteauneuf-du-Pape and New Zealand’s Gimblett Gravels have extremely rocky soils, the terroirs there still boast plenty of earth. The Rocks—beyond a dusting of dirt—is nothing but a bed of fist-sized, river-smoothed basalt cobblestones. Stretching down several hundred feet below the surface, the stones are so heavy and densely packed that crowbars are used to plant the vines.
Syrah is the star of the region, boasting a bold, earthy, love-it-or-hate-it character that locals call “The Rocks funk.” The wines are savory, with notes of meat, olive, flowers and mineral that make them perfect for pairing with steak or lamb. Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo also thrive here, along with limited quantities of Viognier.
The Syrahs to Try
Cayuse Vineyards 2011 Cailloux Vineyard
Unabashedly bold with the “Rocks funk,” this hard-to-score wine has big notes of smoked meat and mineral; $80.
Buty 2011 Rediviva of the Stones
This blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Mourvèdre pops with earthy funk, olive, herbs and white pepper; $60.
Saviah Cellars 2011 The Funk Estate
A play on the region’s aromatic signature and its winemaker, Richard Funk, this wine is full of smoked meat and floral notes, with a mesmerizingly silky texture; $55.
Coming from a warmer vintage, it shows more fruit than normally seen in the region. It boasts notes of plum, wet gravel and floral tones and has a finish that won’t quit; $65.
Proper Wines 2012 Estate
A new producer to the region, this wine has notes of smoked meat, coffee and dark plum and a rich, textured feel; $45.