Owen Roe winery is named after Owen Roe O'Neill, a 17th century Irish Patriot from County Cavan, Ireland where winemaker David O'Reilly, one of 12 children, was originally from. Despite an age-old clan rivalry between the O’Neills and the O’Reillys, the two families were united in the opposition to Oliver Cromwell’s English tyranny over Ireland in the 1600’s. The photographs on all of his wine labels commemorate sites in Ireland where O’Neill lived, fought, and died.
Adorned on the label is a giant picture of a severed left hand which turns out to be his own family’s crest. It tells a story of a rowing competition between the O’Reilly’s and the O’Neills. Whoever touched land first after rowing across the lake was to be rewarded with the land he touched. Lagging behind, one of the kinsfolk grabs his sword to cleave his hand and tosses it ashore to touch land first. He won the land and later ruled over it as king. Each wine and each label depicts a different chapter in the Owen Roe saga, utilizing the back label to convey the story.
Owen Roe is committed to practicing the highest standards of winemaking. Since the first vintage in 1999, Owen Roe winery has been working to produce exceptional wines from fruit sourced from small vineyard sites in the Willamette Valley in Oregon and the Yakima Valley in Washington State, a place where the fruit ripens slowly and fully, resulting in excellent acidity and balance, in an effort to showcase the best expression of each variety.
The interest in these areas is further enhanced by the remarkable diversity of soil types within each region; allowing them to create wines with distinctive and unique personality, even within the same varietal. They employ as natural practices as possible in the vineyards. The principle of good earth stewardship is very important to everyone they work with, so no herbicides or pesticides are used in these vineyards. David O'Reilly is a firm believer in the principle that great wine comes from great grapes. All of the grapes are hand harvested, handled with minimal processing, small-lot fermented, and aged in French Oak barrels.
Typically they are racked only once after malolactic fermentation. Once in the winery, only minimal and traditional handling practices are employed to gently coax the most authentic expressions of each varietal.
"Everything we do is meticulous," said O'Reilly. "What we do is totally uncompromised. It is a lifestyle that includes hard work, but the product is thoroughly rewarding."
As someone who believes in working with the best, O’Reilly insists on feeding his crews in Oregon and Washington at lunchtime with fresh food. He hires a cook to serve lunch daily. The crew sits down for the meal and talks about the work of the day or things they hear in the industry. If O’Reilly is in town, he joins them for a meal.
Everything O'Reilly does is also thoroughly Irish. "I like to tell people that I got involved in the business to follow an Irishman's dreams," said O'Reilly with a wink and an Irish brogue that comes and goes. "Imagine making a living by drinking!" He jokes of course, because O'Reilly is dead serious about wine making. Although he enjoys the high ratings bestowed on his wines, O'Reilly says he is more satisfied with great taste.
In a relatively short time these spectacular wines have built an excellent reputation among the restaurants and shops of not only Washington State, but also New York, San Francisco, and Chicago. His wines generally sell out every vintage, and his beautiful labels are immediately recognized by consumers.
Owen Roe's 2010 Sinister Hand blend is a Chateauneuf-du-Pape-style blend composed of 71% Grenache, 24% Syrah, and 5% Mourvedre. A small crop of intensely flavored fruit in 2010 means fewer bottles than usual of an especially big Sinister Hand. Deep purple. Dark fruit aromas are accompanied by juicy raspberry and cranberry preserves, with herb and savory spice accents. The first sip of this wine surprises the palate with soft, supple flavors of raspberry jam and currant. The mid-palate opens up to a complex layering of minty eucalyptus, black pepper and leather and finishes with a structured backbone of earth and spice. The overall palate is vibrant and lush, with fine tannin structure and a medley of earth, hint of coffee and baking spice accenting the layers of fruit. Syrah adds pepper, Grenache adds raspberry jam. Medium to full-bodied with crisp acidity, smooth tannins, and a long finish.
It's not an unfamiliar sight to see O'Reilly touring the hills surrounding the Yakima Valley in his Ford Explorer, scouting out vineyards. Although a designated appellation, the Yakima Valley has been under the radar for many years, with the Walla Walla and Columbia Valley appellations garnering most of the attention. O'Reilly, a stickler about fruit, is convinced that the Yakima Valley has yet to yield all its gems in the hills surrounding the desert floor. With a cool, dry climate and shallow soils on top of volcanic rock, Yakima Valley vines produce smaller grapes with high acidity and lower pH levels - exactly what O'Reilly wants for a balanced wine.
There is no shortage of grapes here, but at times it has been a battle to convince local growers that less fruit of higher quality will be their best fiscal bet. Eastern Washington crop farmers are used to big yields - 5 to 10 tons of fruit or more per acre.
The Columbia Valley AVA is Washington's largest viticultural region covering just over 1/3 of the land mass of Washington state. Within the Columbia Valley AVA lie all of the AVAs of Washington except the Puget Sound AVA and part of the Columbia Gorge AVA. Many different micro-climates are found within this larger region and these influence quite heavily the Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling and Chardonnay grown here. The arid soils, warm days and cool nights provide perfect conditions for fruit forward balanced wines.
Story compiled from excerpts from Christina Kelly at AvalonWine.com, and other sources found on the web including;