INTERVIEW WITH JOSH BERGSTRÖM

This Wednesday, November 6th Oregon Winemaker, Josh Bergström, will host a sold out wine dinner here at Gotham. Guests will be treated to a four-course menu by Chef Victoria Blamey, paired with a lineup of six different offerings from Bergström Winery.

Gotham Wine Director Josh Lit had an opportunity to chat about the history of the winery, and to understand a bit about what’s on the horizon.

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JOSH LIT: We’re all excited to have you here at Gotham next week, so thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions.

JOSH BERGSTRÖM: Absolutely. Gotham has long been a supporter of what we do, and so the pleasure is all mine.

How long have you and Bergström been making wine?

I did my first harvest in Oregon’s Willamette Valley in 1997, but our family began working on our own wine label and plans to plant a vineyard in 1996. 2019 was my 23rd vintage making wine, though our first harvest as Bergström Wines didn’t come until 1999.

Who founded the winery?

I created the winery with my parents and my wife Caroline, and so we’ve never had another winemaker.

Still a small operation?

Over time I’ve built up a wonderful team of young and passionate individuals who help bring our vision into reality. Our production team now involves 4 people in the winery and 5 people in our vineyards. It’s a very exciting time.

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Who would you say has influenced your winemaking the most?

I could mention numerous French winemakers who I love, but my father is always someone I will label as “the greatest winemaker who never made wine in his life.” From the start he believed in allowing me the freedom to make the most important decisions that were always qualitative and never about the bottom line. 

The best wines are made through hard work and sacrifice and he taught me that through his life. Leading by example. But maybe more importantly than that, my wife Caroline has always been my greatest influence. She is the balance in our life and the voice of reason. Calm and a very powerful… a strong leader in her own right. I draw a lot of inspiration from her and channel that into my work. I guess I am fortunate to be surrounded by strong leaders who have always inspired me. 

What is your basic winemaking philosophy?

This has evolved as I’ve aged. My early winemaking philosophy when I was in my early 20’s was different than it is now as I near mid-life. I would like to believe that my wines are getting more pure and true and transparent by paying attention to our farming efforts… But the foundational pillars of what I have always navigated our business, our north star if you will, is always about ecological agricultural pursuits, natural winemaking methods with a keen eye on purity. Pulling out delicious aromas and flavors, while trying to avoid spoilage and nasty flaws. Wine should also tell a story about a certain very special piece of land that people can tether themselves to and follow over their lifetime. I have gone from being a wine-maker to more of a wine-grower and that’s okay. More than anything, I hope that the message of our estate vineyards shines through in the glass.

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When you’re not enjoying Bergstrom wines, what are you drinking?

I am very proud of our wines, and I love to serve them to my guests. But I don’t drink them on a regular basis. I love to drink wines from around the world so that I can be continually inspired to make world class Pinot Noirs. I drink a lot of Burgundy, Northern Rhone, Beaujolais, and Loire Valley wines. I also am not chauvinistic and so I drink a lot of wines from friends in California who make Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Syrah to see what the rest of the United States is up to. 

But… to be honest, we drink a lot of champagne.

America’s relationship with wine has changed drastically over the past 50 years. The average American is drinking more wine than ever before, and becoming more knowledgable about the various regions. Certainly Oregon is now coming into its own. How has winemaking in Oregon evolved over the past few decades?

Wow… where to start? In the past 55 years, Oregon has moved from being a curiosity, a risk, a dangerous place to invest, into one of the greatest places on earth to grow and produce Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. 

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Early winemakers used to pass bottles around in casual hippy-style seated circles in fields asking each other their thoughts on how they could improve. Now we have large Californian and Burgundian corporations building multi-million dollar facilities on our hillsides. It is our communal feel in the Willamette Valley that has allowed for our success. Because we were always too small to step on each other’s toes, we realized early on that the rising tide lifts all ships and so we should work together. It is through this community that we have achieved in 55 years what some regions have yet to achieve in 200. We have pushed the limits of cool climate viticulture and winemaking and we have shared our knowledge with the outside as much as possible. Because of that progress has been made in leaps and bounds. 

Winemaking and farming today in the Willamette Valley look nothing like they did 55 years ago, but what does remain true is that we have what no other region has. The Willamette Valley is a cool climate that is very conducive to high quality fruit production which makes it perfect for wine. Serendipity? Luck? Hard work? Maybe all three have come into play, but I can tell you that our winemaking community is like nothing else you have ever seen: sharing, loving, innovative, curious, diligent, and bent on moving the needle forward. 

I don’t think there’s another region in the new world today that can claim all of those things and also see the amazing level of consistent quality as in Oregon’s Willamette Valley over the past 10 vintages.  

Aside from the Bergström label, you have a side project going on. Tell us a little about Gargantua and how that evolved?

Gargantua is my west coast examination of Syrah… one of my favorite varieties to drink. I love Syrah and I knew that someday I would try to make some. I wanted to be a Pinot Noir winemaker who made Syrah so that I could bring another voice to the conversation on why this varietal is so important in America’s evolution of wine appreciation. I also didn’t want to make a Syrah like corporate America made it: sweet, oaky, void of savory character. So it turned out perfectly for me as whole cluster fermentations and low amounts of new oak was how I already made my Pinot Noirs. But Syrah is nothing like Pinot Noir; they behave very differently. Pinot Noir is all about ethereal texture and aromatics, but with Syrah you need to watch the tannic load and tame its wildness. 

I’m excited our guests at next week’s dinner will get the opportunity to taste the Gargantua Syrah.

The truth is I love making them both and I am not an expert on Syrah by any means but I aim to be sometime soon.

Josh, thank you for taking the time today. We can’t wait to have you in New York next week.

My pleasure.

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