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Stay ahead of the Cuvée with St. Innocent

Mark Vlossak’s winemaking philosophy is simple: “I make wines to go with food.”

The founder, owner and president of St. Innocent Winery in Oregon’s Willamette Valley says people often wonder why a wine enjoyed at a restaurant disappoints when consumed at home without a meal. Wine must be balanced for food, says Vlossak, a single-vineyard Pinot Noir specialist.

“I want the aroma, flavors and textures to integrate and create a personality,” he writes on the boutique winery’s website. “The fruit, spice, earth, acid, tannin and alcohol interact with food, producing an experience where both the wine and food taste better together.”

Vlossak launched St. Innocent Winery in 1988 to make Old World Pinot Noir based on sustainable farming methods. He respects the land’s rich biodiversity. In his mind, Mother Nature should do most of the work without interference. In northern Willamette Valley, where St. Innocent’s vineyards are located, Pacific Ocean winds cool the south-facing vineyards, allowing Pinot Noir grapes to ripen slowly into late season. Desired acidity and sugar levels are reached harmoniously.

St. Innocent Pinot Noirs — five single-vineyard wines and a Villages Cuvée ($25.99 SRP) — are consistently fresh, spicy and succulent, yielding bright cherry and strawberry aromas and flavors. They exhibit a strong sense of place, picking up earth and mineral tones from ancient sea-basin and volcanic soils. Based on quality alone, they represent a bargain. The winery’s high-scoring Shea Vineyard and Temperance Hill bottlings cost $55 and $38, respectively. Trouble is, St. Innocent are hard to get. The winery’s total annual production is 10,000 cases, with club members getting first choice on the limited allotments. What’s left filters down to a few fortunate restaurants and distributors and direct sales to consumers. (Go to www.stinnocentwine.)

I was introduced to St. Innocent Pinot Noir 10 years ago at The Wishing Well restaurant, located outside Saratoga Springs, N.Y. The wine paired fabulously with roasted lamb and mint jelly. Since then, I’ve had to hunt down any bottle I could find. The good news is that Gordon’s Fine Wines & Liquors in Waltham usually gets a small shipment, and this year it has scored a coup of sorts. Vlossak, the man behind St. Innocent, is coming to Massachusetts and will showcase his wines at Gordon’s on Tuesday, April 23, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. This special tasting event costs $30, and the price of each ticket can be applied to the purchase of St. Innocent wines. (Details at

Currently, Gordon’s is selling the 2017 St. Innocent Villages Cuvée at a discounted price of $21.99. Grapes from six St. Innocent’s vineyards (Freedom Hill, Temperance Hill, Momtazi, Vitae Springs, Shea and Zenith) go into the mix. Villages Cuvée is juicy, spry, spicy and smooth. It turned a grilled salmon dinner into the highlight meal of the week. It also pairs well with lamb, pork and chicken. I suggest you try a bottle. My experience tells me you won’t need divine inspiration to step up to more captivating St. Innocent single-vineyard Pinot Noirs. Read more on Jim Campanini’s wine blog at

Several seats remain for Jim Campanini’s “Volcanic Wines of Southern Italy” tasting seminar Thursday, April 11, from 7 to 9 p.m., at the Nesmith House in Lowell. The program is part of Middlesex Community College’s adult-education program. Participants will learn about grape varietals, wine-making styles and regional culture. Six wines will be sampled — from Campania, Sardinia, Puglia and Sicily — and paired with food. The fee is $95. Call MCC at 800-818-3434 to register.