The balancing act of winemaker Bryan Wilson

Legend has it that cuckoos don’t build their own nests. Instead, they lay their eggs in the nests of other birds.

That legend was the inspiration for Bryan Wilson’s Cuckoo’s Nest Wines. Wilson started Cuckoo’s Nest in 2006, first at Schmidt Family Vineyards, and then at Foris Vineyards, where he is head winemaker.

Foris, owned by Ted and Terri Gerber, focuses on pinot noir and Alsatian-style white wines. It has almost 166 acres planted and harvests between 650 and 900 tons per year. Foris distributes its wines in 38 states.

Acting as winemaker for one winery while also making your own wines at the same vineyard requires a fine sense of balance. Of course, your first priority is making sure that your patron’s wine gets made. And yet, there is an urgent desire to create your own. From all appearances, Wilson has been able to maintain that balance.

Bryan’s winemaking philosophy, which is applied to both Foris and Cuckoo’s Nest, rests on a three-legged stool: smell, taste and texture. The first two may be familiar. The third, texture, may not. For Wilson, texture means acidity.

“Acidity pulls flavor through the palate and gives (the wine) length,” Wilson explains.

Acidity is also what makes any wine food-friendly. Toward that end, Wilson eschews the use of new oak, which Wilson feels cloaks the varietal characteristics of the grapes. The goal: “a more feminine, delicate style.”

On the day I visited Foris, Wilson poured a selection of wines from both wineries. The 2015 Foris Pinot Gris has aromas of lemon and citrus with a hint of minerality. Its bracing acidity (3.22 pH for you wine geeks) is balanced by a tiny amount of residual sugar, which give the wine a round mouthfeel. This wine demonstrates the texture that Wilson strives to achieve.

The 2014 Foris Cedar Ranch Pinot Noir is an atypical deep ruby color. It is earthy and smoky with some tannins, a softer mouth-feel and a lingering finish. For Wilson, pinot noir “is a mirror that reflects where it is grown and what is done to it.”

Wilson's Cuckoo’s Nest 2015 Pinot Gris has aromas of nectarine, citrus peel with some minerality, with a tart fruit finish and crisp mouthfeel. My personal favorite is the 2013 Two Birds, which is 60 percent syrah and 40 percent cabernet sauvignon. It has an intense aroma, with the classic syrah black pepper and a hint of smoke, with cab sauv’s typical green pepper at the back. It has soft tannins, good acidity and a lingering texture. For all their sophistication, Cuckoo’s Nest wines are very gently priced.

Foris Vineyards is in the Illinois Valley, at 654 Kendall Road, Cave Junction; 800-843-6747; www.foriswine.com. The tasting room is open daily 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Both Foris Vineyards and Cuckoo’s Nest wines are available locally.

Through Nov. 1, you can nominate your favorite restaurants for the 2017 Oregon Wine A-List Awards. Details are at www.oregonwinealist.com.

— Kevin Breck is a Jacksonville freelance writer and winemaker in training. Contact him at rogue.enofiles@gmail.com.

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