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Argyle

Argyle. This is magic. 'Nough said.  Well maybe not quite enough. The Metro Wines Tasting Panel found Argyle Wines to be the steel magnolias of the wine world. By this, we mean there was a delicacy, almost lilting quality to the white and rose wines yet an undeniable strength. To be honest, in our experience, Arglye is unique in this regard. This is magic.

Argyle's History

Oregon's Premier Winery


Prospecting the New World's coolest latitudes, Brian Croser and Rollin Soles staked a claim in Oregon's Willamette Valley, a place ideal for late season ripened Pinot Noir and Chardonnay fruit. Since 1987, Argyle Winery has produced world-class methode champenoise Sparkling wine, barrel fermented Chardonnay and 'silky' textured Pinot Noir from low yielding vines on winery farmed hillside slopes. Argyle was named "OREGON'S PREMIER WINERY" by Wine Spectator in 2000.

Argyle farms four vineyards: Knudsen Vineyard, Stoller Vineyard, Lone Star Vineyard and Spirit Hill Vineyard. The 120 acre Knudsen Vineyard was first planted between 1972 & 1974. The high elevation blocks of this landmark Dundee Hills site are key components in Argyle's sparkling wines. Knudsen provides Argyle a mix of old vine blocks and new high density blocks planted with "Old World" Dijon clones.

Just south of Knudsen Vineyard in the Dundee Hills sits Stoller Vineyard. First planted in 1995, Stoller, like Knudsen, is planted using state of the art viticultural techniques. Stoller Vineyard has produced some of Oregon's finest Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

In 1996 Argyle purchased a spectacular 160 acre vineyard site in the east slopes of Eola Hills, known as Lone Star Vineyard. Located 15 miles south of Argyle's winery in Dundee, this warm site is planted primarily to Dijon clones of Pinot Noir. This vineyard has the potential to be one of Oregon's best Pinot Noir vineyards.

All grapes are hand harvested into small baskets and transported to the winery. Grapes are chilled overnight to 35F before crushing the next day. Chilling preserves the ripe fruit characteristics and naturally limits oxidation. 

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At the tip-top of Knudsen Vineyards, at nearly 950 feet of elevation, is where you'll find our small planting of Pinot Meunier. Being inherently lower in acid as compared to its partners in bubbly-crime, Pinot Meunier benefits form the extra advantage of late-season ripening to retain bright, fresh acidity and mineral edge. This year's blend is 30% Pinot Meunier and 70% Pinot Noir, allowing for true rose petal shimmer, whilst underneath, faint star anise, cardamom, and bay leaf linger. Clean and long, delicate and nimble, the creaminess is accentuated with food...smoked pork rillettes, marmalade & toast.

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90 Points, Wine Spectator

The balance and integrity of the 2010 growing season is striking, especially when viewed through the prism of our 2010 Vintage Brut. Lemon peel, strawberry pith, fresh ciabatta dough. The center is downreaching and creamy. In the background, a faint, brine accent persists, remnant of freshly shucked Kumumoto oysters. Energetic acidity and length, there is a satisfying resolution about this cuvée, inspiring one to reach for another glass of the fizz!

Wine Spectator, February: Cowboy Philosopher

Pinot Pioneer Rollin Soles looks to the future at his own winery, Roco

Tim Fish

Issue: February 28, 2014

The first thing you notice about winemaker Rollin Soles is his mustache. The way it unfurls on either side of his upper lip makes it look like something from an old Western movie. But it suits him. Consider it a signal: A big personality is coming your way.

Soles is a Texan after all, although his accent has dulled after living nearly 30 years in Oregon's Willamette Valley, his adopted home. Since he helped found Argyle Winery in 1986, Soles has been a crucial player in the rise of the Willamette Valley, part of a second generation of winemakers who built on the foundation laid by Oregon pioneers such as Dick Erath and Dick Ponzi and ushered in a golden age of Pinot Noir in the region.

In 2013, Soles stepped away from his role as Argyle's general manager and lead winemaker to focus on his own winery, Roco. The name is a combination of Rollin and Corby, Soles' wife, and for him represents what he has long wanted: his own slice of Willamette Valley. While Soles harvested grapes from around the valley for Argyle, he relies on his 7-acre home ranch vineyard on the southern slopes of the Chehalem Mountains to make Roco wines. He bought the property in 1987, but due to time and financial constraints didn't plant vines until 2001. "We called it Wit's End, because that's how we feel when we're home," Soles says with a laugh. The vineyard features high-density planting-2,200 vines per acre-and Soles likes to say that he used what he considers "the three sexiest Dijon Pinot Noir clones available."

Soles, 57, continues to consult for Argyle, and leaves behind a long and outstanding track record of wines. Argyle is the only producer to make Wine Spectator's Top 100 in three separate categories: white, red and sparkling.

Argyle's Extended Tirage bottling is consistently among the top domestic sparkling
wines, and the Nuthouse Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are reliably outstanding. The Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays from Roco, meanwhile, are already challenging the best of Oregon. Roco Pinot Noir Chehalem Mountains Private Stash No. 8 Wits' End Vineyard 2010 scored a classic 95 points on Wine Spectator's 100-point scale; the Chardonnay Eola-Amity Hills 2012 earned 91 points.

From the Dundee Hills, about 30 miles southwest of Portland, Soles looks out over the lush Willamette Valley as it rolls east toward snowcapped Mount Hood. It's a fair and breezy day in early summer and Knudsen Vineyards is striped with crimson clover. "I came to Willamette the first time in 1979 and fell in love with it," Soles says. "I knew it was where I was meant to be."

Thirty-four years later, Soles is all but a native. Knudsen is the first stop on our tour around Dundee, and Soles seems to have a ready story for every winery, vineyard or winemaker that comes up. At one point he plows his all-terrain vehicle through a field of towering grass, wryly adding, "There's a path here somewhere."

His frankness and sense of humor have made Soles a popular figure in Oregon wine. Of one prominent figure in the wine business, Soles says, "Dude, that guy is a psycho!" Véronique Drouhin-Boss, chief winemaker for Domaine Drouhin Oregon and her family's winery in Burgundy, recalls the first time she met Soles. "He said, ‘I come from Texas, the place where you find the most beautiful women and faster horses.'!" Winemaker Dick Erath puts it this way: "He's a fun guy to be with socially, but he's serious when he has to be about wine."

Indeed, Soles is downright scholarly on the topics that interest him, from the struggles to ripen Pinot Noir in Oregon in the early years to the optimal vine-density for specific vineyards to how the Missoula Floods of the last ice age formed the soil of Willamette Valley.

"I've always had a natural curiosity, that's for sure," Soles says. "I'm not a scientist but I love looking into details and finding out what those details mean." Soles inherited his inquisitive streak from his parents. His mother, a teacher, spurred his desire to learn, and his father was an airline pilot, which allowed Soles to become a well-traveled explorer.

In his youth, Soles lived in Spain with his family while his father worked out of Jerez de la Frontera, in the heart of Sherry country. "My folks loved to visit the bodegas," Soles recalls. Later, when they returned to Texas, wine was a regular feature at family meals. "That all left an imprint on me," he says. "It had an impact."

After graduating from high school in 1974, Soles pursued a degree in microbiology at Texas A&M. It was there that he made friends with two future music stars: Robert Earl Keen and Lyle Lovett. The trio has remained friends ever since. Keen and Lovett have been darlings of the Americana and alt-country scene for 30 years. Lovett is a four-time Grammy winner known for his quirky movie roles, wry sense of humor and hair as tall as a 10-gallon hat. Keen and Soles were neighbors, and other musicians often came over for impromptu jams on the front porch or to listen to a newly purchased LP. "Rollin had the best stereo," Lovett says with a laugh during a phone interview from his Texas home.

Even in college, Soles knew he wanted to make wine, recalls Lovett, who described his friend as exceptionally focused, confident and tenacious. "He has a mind like a steel trap," Lovett says. "And he's one of the most positive and can-do people around."

Soles' first wine job wasn't in Texas or Oregon, but Europe. He planned to backpack around the continent the summer before his senior year at A&M, but a biochemistry professor arranged an internship for him at a vineyard in Switzerland instead. After graduation, he decided to get his master's degree in enology and viticulture at the University of California, Davis. Soles followed that with stints at Wente Vineyards and Chateau Montelena in California, and then settled in Australia for three years to work at Petaluma Vineyards with founder Brian Croser.

Visiting Australia in the early 1980s was an eye-opener for Soles. "I was totally California-centric," he says. "I just believed California was the center of the universe." The Australian wine industry was more advanced in vineyard practices than California at the time. "It opened up my mind. I learned so much about viticulture in Australia that I know I wouldn't have in California." Wineries Down Under were also better equipped to deal with white wine oxidization-then a concern in California- and growers were already planting vineyards more densely to improve quality and control ripening.

In 1985, Croser offered Soles the head winemaker's job at Petaluma, but Soles reluctantly turned him down. "If I'd had my way, I would have moved to Willamette Valley right after UC, Davis. That's where I wanted to be." Knowing that Croser was looking to expand abroad, Soles saw his chance and convinced his boss to make wine in Oregon.

Argyle launched the next year, with Soles, under Croser's employ, buying a run-down nut-drying facility in the heart of Dundee. "I kept it dilapidated but put a winery inside," jokes Soles, who has updated and expanded the facility over the years. Rather than produce Pinot Noir right away, Soles, concerned that consumer demand for domestic Pinot was limited and that Willamette had yet to produce quality bottlings vintage to vintage, decided to first make sparkling wine from purchased Pinot and Chardonnay. "We were struggling to get the damn grapes ripe," he recalls.

Since sparkling wine grapes are harvested early to preserve acidity, ripeness was less of an issue-but cash flow wasn't. Argyle had four years worth of inventory in the bottle before it released its first bubbly, which delayed the producer's ability to buy vineyards or land.

Fortuitously, Soles met Oregon Pinot pioneer Cal Knudsen, an original partner in Erath Winery before going off on his own in 1987. The Knudsen family's vineyard-now about 130 acres-has been a prime grape source for Argyle ever since. Knudsen would later invest in Argyle and serve as company chairman for 17 years. It was not until 1996 that Argyle bought its first vineyard, Lone Star, the source of the winery's highly regarded Nuthouse bottlings. Situated in the Eola Hills south of Dundee, Lone Star encompasses about 116 acres of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling.

While Argyle soon followed its sparkling wine with releases of Chardonnay and Riesling, Soles concedes the early results at the winery were less than ideal. He gives much of the credit for turning the operation around to the Drouhin Family, which established its Willamette Valley winery in 1988. "We learned so much about viticulture from those guys," Soles admits.

The Pinot Noir vineyards in the region were too vigorous, with sprawling canopies and vines that yielded far too many grapes for successful ripening. In response, Soles began opening up the canopy of leaves and dropping young clusters. More importantly-and at no small cost-vineyards were replanted over time with new clones and more vines per acre.

Eventually, Soles found his target: vines planted every 5 feet in rows 5 feet apart-radically denser than the pattern by which the vineyards had been set up in the mid-1980s. "You can't change a vineyard overnight," he says. By 1992, Soles was ready to make Pinot Noir. And while there were hit-or-miss vintages, by the late 1990s Argyle was producing some of the most impressive still wines in Oregon.

Along the way, Soles' personal life had its complications. His first marriage ended in 1995 and he became sole custodian of his daughter, Alexa, who is now 25 and lives in Portland, Ore. In 1999, Soles married Corby Stonebraker, previously a co- owner of Panther Creek Winery. Joining the extended family were Stonebraker-Soles' sons from her previous marriage to winemaker Ken Wright: Cody Wright, now 33, and Carson Wright, 29. The family spent summers camping, exploring and hiking.

In 2001, with the Oregon wine industry thriving, Petaluma was acquired by food-and-beverage conglomerate Lion Nathan; Argyle was part of the deal. As a minority partner, Soles didn't become wealthy from the sale. Soles won't admit it, but his wife believes he was disappointed that his years of hard work failed to pay off. "He created Argyle, built a very successful winery and ran it like it was actually his place," she explains. "But it wasn't. It was extremely hard for him to let go." Soles remained at the winery and continued to oversee grapegrowing and winemaking. But as the corporate culture became more ingrained, he began to see the writing on the wall and decided to create a more personal legacy at Roco.

"It was time for me to focus on Roco," Soles says of his decision to step away from full-time work at Argyle. Located on Red Hills Road-named after the region's red clay-loam soils-north of Dundee, Roco's winery is a long and handsome barn built with no-nonsense winemaking in mind.

The winery and the vineyards it sources are certified sustainable. Although 2003 was the first release, Soles made the wine at Argyle until the Roco facility was completed in 2009. About 5,000 cases of Roco were made in 2012, the bulk of it Pinot Noir, plus a few hundred cases of Chardonnay.

Roco is a husband-and-wife show. Stonebraker-Soles handles marketing, distribution and finances, allowing Soles to focus on winemaking and sales. Expanding production is not something that interests Soles as much as finding-and meeting-new winemaking challenges.

Over the decades, Soles has developed a distinctive approach in the cellar, something he brought from Argyle to Roco. Fermentation takes place in 1.6-ton plastic bins, originally designed for cherry picking, that are placed inside wooden crates and covered with plastic and cardboard for insulation. "It looks Rube Goldberg all to heck," says Soles, while explaining that it allows him to micromanage fermentations.

Soles continues to consult on growing decisions and final blends at Argyle, which is now part of Distinguished Vineyards & Wine Partners, the U.S. wine division of Lion (formerly Lion Nathan). Soles' former assistant Nate Klostermann is winemaker.

Stylistically, Argyle and Roco are similar, but Cody believes Soles is pushing the envelope with Roco. "The Argyle wines are gorgeous and well-built, but a little precise. That was his scientist side," he says. "At Roco, he's playing a little more, and I think it's an expression of his true style."

Cody was assistant winemaker at Roco until he decided two years ago to focus on his own well-regarded label, Purple Hands, which he makes at Roco. Carson, who works for a major bottle supplier, just started a label named Alumni, also produced at Roco. Troy Altobell is now Soles' assistant winemaker.

"You need to set things up for the second generation because you only get one chance a year to make wine," Soles says. "In a winemaking career, you might have 50 chances to make wine-that's it." While the adult children know Roco is part of their legacy, Cody and Carson are following their individual paths. "Our sons have chosen to say, ‘I'm going to make my own reputation,'!" says their mother.

For his part, Soles says he'll keep running Roco as long as he's having fun, particularly now that Willamette Valley has established itself as a world-class producer of Pinot Noir. Recent investments by influential companies such as Jackson Family Wines and Burgundy-based Maison Louis Jadot only reinforce the belief that Oregon has come of age.

"In the future, we're going to be known for Chardonnay as much as Pinot Noir," says Soles, who is now working on making a bubbly at Roco. "And it's my dream that we'll be known for méthode Champenoise as well," he adds. It may be wishful thinking on his part, but that's Soles for you: part scholar, part cowboy. As his friend Lyle Lovett says, "Rollin makes you feel like you can do anything."​ 

Dibon Brut
Lumos Pinot Noir