John House and Ksenija Kostic both have day jobs so they're able to take risks with Ovum. For example, they focus solely on whites rather than more lucrative reds. "They are unveiled, so raw," explains House. "You can't hide anything. I think whites are a better conduit for terroir (the expression of a vineyard site) than red wines."
Where a larger winery might ferment whites quickly in large, temperature-controlled steel tanks for a consistency of style from year to year, the goal at Ovum is to reflect the vintage, no matter what it brings. So the techniques are old-school: House and Kostic allow fermentation to happen spontaneously and linger for months, in neutral (old) oak barrels. The resulting wines are richly textured and deeply layered.
The name "Ovum" is a reference to the perfect natural shape of the egg, and the life cycle a wine takes, from grape to bottle. And, yes, for all you wine geeks out there, these guys do have one of those au courant egg-shaped concrete fermenters. "There is a special convection that occurs in the concrete egg during fermentation that constantly stirs the lees," House explains. "The natural energy and heat generated by the yeasts make the sediment move in a circular fashion, making, in my experience, wines on the most mineral end of the spectrum."
House and Kostic have made it their mission to find the state's best old plantings of overlooked varieties like Muscat and Gewurztraminer. Their explorations have led them to highlight different vineyards, often in unexpected regions, with each vintage. "There are parts of southern Oregon we find very compelling," says House. "I just got an e-mail from someone who has plantings of Riesling, farmed organically in the Umpqua Valley since 1979. Where has this fruit been going until now? It has been blended."
Old love is a complicated beast. Once all of the grapes from the vineyards are in tanks, 40% of the must was racked into Novum Amphora, Austrian oak cask (Stockinger), cement egg and neutral barrel. After two lunar cycles, the wine was blended back into the tank, and then the process was repeated by putting the blended wine back to amphora, cask etc… This process was repeated three times. It’s much more about the flow in the winemaking process, looking to achieve a balance between the brightness and high-toned fruit, earthiness, skin contact, and a subtle oxidative quality.
The wine comes from various vineyards situated throughout Oregon on different soils and with different microclimates, and in 2019 comprised 95+% Riesling. Part of the scintillating Off the Grid Riesling (Rogue Valley) was co-fermented in Old Love. There was also some 1974 own-rooted Riesling from the Columbia Gorge. All of the Bradley “Base Line” vineyard (Elkton) is also in 2019 Old Love. Each year these proportions will naturally change, and like its brother/sister Big Salt, it’s more important that John and Ksenija find balance in the co-fermentation than to worry about exact quantities from each site.
Hand-harvested at Auslese levels of ripeness, the grapes were partly straight-pressed and partly macerated. The warmer sites were whole cluster press, whereas cooler or botrytis-affected sites were soaked on the skins for up to three days. Around 40% was soaked on skins in total. The ambient fermentation lasted for six months on average. They racked in and out of the vessels, regardless of whether they finished fermentation or not. Some barrels completed malolactic, but the overall wine did not, therefore they did their usual cross-flow filtration.
The wine was kept on the lees in order to maximise their benefit, both fine and heavy lees with 9-10 months total contact. Moving the wine around this much was akin to “lees stirring on steroids.” The wines were neither cold stabilised nor fined.
John and Ksenija prefer not to add sulphur at bottling, instead using smaller doses when the wine finished. This way the wine was able to metabolise the SO2 through increments that were less violent and impactful to its life cycle