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An Interview with Felipe Ramirez, Winemaker at Oregon Fine Wine Producer, Rose & Arrow

Robert Mathias MW

27 March 2024

Chilean born Felipe Ramirez joined Oregon’s pioneers of Pinot Noir, Rose & Arrow, in 2015 as their head winemaker.

The estate began as a collaboration between Mark Tarlov (the founder of Evening Lands) and Burgundy producer Louis Michel Liger-Belair and has developed into an incredibly well-respected estate that produces some of the finest Pinot Noir and Chardonnay found in Oregon. Here Robert Mathias MW chats to Felipe to find out where his love of winemaking began and asks about the current winemaking at Rose & Arrow to discover what’s in store for the future.
Hi Felipe, thank you for joining us today. Tell me, how did you begin your journey to become a winemaker and how did that lead to you joining Rose & Arrow?

I came from a family of chefs. As a kid, I was exposed to flavours through my grandfather and some uncles who owned restaurants in Chile. My family instilled in me an appreciation for handcrafted products like growing vegetables, and my dad was an agronomist, so it all led me towards winemaking. I pursued a master's degree in France and crossed paths with Louis Michel Liger-Belair, one of the founders of Chapter 24. In 2015, I joined the Rose & Arrow project, focusing on unique soil spots in Oregon. At the time I was working in Chile for a French project, but I decided to take on the challenge. Pedro Parra was also working at Rose & Arrow at that time, and I used to work with him in Chile so that also played into my decision. Moving to Oregon was tempting too because it looks very similar to where I came from in Patagonia.

Rose & Arrow All About Oregon Bordeaux Index
Felipe Ramirez in the vineyards of Rose & Arrow
Was there a specific moment or bottle that influenced your journey into winemaking?

Not a specific bottle, but the comfort of sharing wine with family and friends has always been influential. It’s the routine and the connection that drinking wine together would bring. While some wines have blown my mind along the way, it's more about the experience than a single moment.

Rose & Arrow is known for its detailed approach to terroir. How vital is soil analysis in winemaking?

Soil analysis is crucial for crafting unique wines. Soil, like limestone or basalt, influences the wine's character. Pinot Noir, especially, reflects its terroir distinctly. We use techniques like electro conductivity to identify rocky sites, where energy translates into great wines. We love to create wines that you can’t reproduce over the years, wines that are completely unique to that period of time. While the weather will always change, the soil never does.

Could you describe your winemaking style at Rose & Arrow?

Any decision we make at the vineyard is made in order to produce the best wine possible. We focus on crafting wines that express their vineyard's terroir. We practice organic and biodynamic methods in the vineyard and minimal intervention in the winery. Our goal is to let the grapes and soil speak for themselves, using indigenous yeast and avoiding filtration.

Rose & Arrow is still a relatively new project. The first vintage was in 2016 so what have you learned since its inception?

We've learnt to explore Oregon's diverse AVAs to understand their unique characteristics. Each vintage presents challenges, but our dedication to quality has driven us forward. I think the most difficult thing is to learn how to interpret your grapes. Experimentation and collaboration have been key to our progress.

Rose & Arrow All About Oregon Bordeaux Index
Rocks found on the Rose & Arrow estate
How important are AVAs in understanding Oregon wines, and what are the region's biggest challenges?

AVAs provide a general idea of where wines come from, but they can be too broad to capture the nuances of smaller vineyard sites. Oregon's challenge lies in maintaining quality while expanding its reputation. The influence from Burgundy has been significant and I don’t think there is another place in the world that has such a large number of Burgundian investors. Oregon is poised to be a leader in high-quality Pinot Noir production.

Could you elaborate on your vineyard management and sustainability practices?

We prioritise organic practices and work to establish a strong connection between roots and soil. We don’t use any herbicides or pesticides – everything is worked organically. Dry farming helps maintain balance and express terroir. We've also experimented with alternative vessels like sandstone jars and concrete tanks to refine our winemaking techniques further. We love to work the soil to get the best out of it.

We recently got the help of specialist pruning consultants to refine our work in the vineyard further. The team have been incredible. We were good at pruning before but now we have learnt from the best in the business. Good pruning is so important for the life of the plant and the quality. We’re always searching to find the best ways to produce our wines. Pedro Parra has also been consulting for us since the beginning of the project and is vital in helping us to make better decisions and hence, make better wine.

Tell us about the 2021 vintage at Rose & Arrow and what's in store for 2022 and 2023.

The 2021 vintage was early, dry, and healthy, providing balanced wines. We also had a great team of interns that year who contributed so much to the vintage. In contrast, 2022 was late but yielded fresh and beautiful wines. 2023 mirrored 2021, offering early ripening and dry conditions. As for 2024, we're cautiously optimistic amid changing weather patterns. But you never know how things are going to go. That’s the beauty of the thing. Every year is a new challenge and every year you’re presented with opportunities to learn from previous years.

What new developments can we expect from Rose & Arrow?

We're always experimenting and refining our practices. Recently, we've been exploring alternative vessels to enhance our wines' complexity. Our focus remains on crafting wines that reflect Oregon's unique terroir and push the boundaries of quality.

In winemaking, achieving the perfect balance is key, especially in Oregon where our volcanic soil gives our wines a unique character. Unlike regions with limestone soil, which tend to make wines with cooler tones, our soil brings out warmer flavours, often leaning towards rich, black fruits. To make sure our wines aren't too intense, we use less new oak and are careful during fermentation not to extract too much from the grapes. We also manage how much sunlight the grapes get to avoid them getting too hot. By doing this, we aim to bring out more red fruit flavours and keep our wines fresh and vibrant.

In short, our goal at Rose & Arrow is to make wines that reflect the best of Oregon's terroir – bold yet balanced, with a touch of red fruit and a hint of freshness. It's all about working with nature to create wines that capture the essence of our land.

Rose & Arrow All About Oregon Bordeaux Index
Felipe in the Rose & Arrow vineyards
Finally, what do you envision for the future of Oregon wines?

There’s a shift happening in the wine world. Burgundy wines, known for their quality, are becoming scarce and pricey, leaving room for a new player. That's where Oregon comes in.

Oregon's wine scene has been on the rise for a while now, and I believe it's well-positioned to step up as the next big thing in the market. One big reason is our knack for producing top-notch Pinot Noir, like Burgundy is famous for. We've been at it since the 1960s, getting more serious about it in the 80s and 90s. And in just the past few decades, the number of wine projects here has shot up, showing how we're growing.

What sets Oregon apart is our focus on quality. We're all about doing things right, like planting our vines on hillsides instead of the valley floor. It's paying off, as more and more people are recognizing Oregon wines for their excellence.

There's a buzz around Oregon wines, too. People are tired of the same old choices. They're looking for something different, something that has the complexity and versatility of Pinot Noir that we offer here. Research even backs it up, showing that people are getting more interested in Pinot Noir wines. And while challenges like global warming are real, we're tackling them head-on with sustainable practices like dry farming.

Looking ahead, I know the wine world can change quickly. But as long as we stick to what we're good at—making great wine and caring for our land—I'm confident that wines from Oregon will continue to shine, offering something special for wine lovers everywhere.

Thank you, Felipe, that was so insightful. We’re really excited about the future of Oregon as a producer of fine wine and are looking forward to seeing it’s expansion in the wine world, particularly with Rose & Arrow leading the way.

Discover Rose & Arrow here.