Many of us have at one point been drawn to a craft and dreamt of dedicating our life to it. For Greg and Mélissa McClellan of Suzor, wine was their first love and is now their shared passion. Named after Greg’s grandmother, Suzor is an ode to his French heritage and the many childhood summers spent visiting vintners with his grandparents in the Loire Valley.
With a love for wine that spans generations, Suzor is committed to a sustainable and minimal winemaking approach. From aromatic Pinots to a Chardonnay reminiscent of a crisp apricot galette, each bottle is hand-harvested in Oregon’s Willamette Valley and fermented without any added yeasts. The result is a vibrant, balanced, and complexly layered wine that is elegant and easy to enjoy.
Finding ourselves inspired by Suzor’s story, we spent some time hearing about their winemaking process, tips for tasting, and what makes Oregon wine special. Be sure to scroll to the end, where they share a delicious pear brandy mulled wine recipe, perfect for warming winter's chill.
Have you always been drawn to your craft? Could you share a little bit about Suzor's beginnings?
Greg: Mélissa and I came to the wine industry in very different ways. For me, it started when I was six years old, visiting my grandparents in the Loire Valley. My grandfather enlisted me to help him bottle wine that he would buy in bulk from local vintners. I was immediately drawn to the craft.
Greg's French grandmother, Sylla Suzor Gips inspired the name "Suzor."
Mélissa: For me, it started with helping my brother-in-law host blind wine tastings as a teenager - I would get a seat at the table in exchange for pouring the wines and tracking the scores. The winner would often tip with a bottle of incredible wine, allowing me to begin building a cellar before I was even 18 (legal drinking age in Canada!). Suzor started in 2011, with a whopping five barrels of Pinot Noir. We have grown very slowly over the years, making sure that we stick to our goals - making small amounts of wine that are elegant and that we love to share.
What is your wine-making process from harvest to bottling?
The first and most important step is working with the right vineyards. We work with people that believe in clean farming, who use no pesticides or herbicides. From LIVE certified to organic farming and rejuvenative agriculture, those sites showcase the true nature of the Willamette Valley we love.
Achieving the right flavors and balance in a wine is decided in the vineyard by tasting the fruit regularly. Once the grapes are hand-harvested, Mélissa and I sort the fruit diligently, and it then goes into small fermentation vessels. We don't add any yeasts, letting fermentation occur naturally, and every step of the process is done by us, by hand. Once fermentation is complete, the wine rests in French oak barrels for 12 to 16 months until the wine is bottled with minimal use of sulfur. We believe that low intervention in the cellar is what creates a wine with vibrancy.
Could you share a few simple tips on how to smell, taste, and enjoy wine (for those of us who are slightly intimidated by it all)?
Greg: For some reason, people are still intimidated by wine. The most important thing is also the simplest. Do you like the wine? From there, explore and have fun. If you want to identify flavors in the wine, go for it. If you want to try to pair the wine with food, be adventurous. If you want to sit on the couch, watch a movie and enjoy a big glass of wine, that sounds perfect too!
"Do you like the wine? From there, explore and have fun."
Mélissa: Truly, it's about being observant and not being afraid of asking questions. Is the wine fermented and aged in oak, amphora, or stainless? Are the soils marine, sedimentary, or volcanic? Is the producer farming traditionally, sustainably, organically, or bio-dynamically? We love to buy wine in independent retails shops where the owners can guide us to beautiful discoveries.
To you, what makes Oregon wines special compared to those in other parts of the world?
The best part about making wine in Oregon for us is that this is our home. Yes, the soil and climate are unique, and the environment helps shape the wines we make. There's a list of a million things - big and small - that makes winemaking in Oregon special. The farmers, restaurants, brewers, and distillers. The craftspeople, artists, students, and mentors. The social movements, recycling programs, community programs, and neighbors. All of this makes us want to live and grow in Oregon.
How do you celebrate the holidays? No doubt, things are looking different this year, but do the three of you have any favorite traditions?
We have lots of family in Oregon that we would normally get to spend the holidays with, including Greg's 98-year-old grandmother who moved to Oregon from France a few years ago. This year definitely looks a lot different - it will just be the three of us. But, we will probably continue the family tradition of Oregon crab, fondue, and a few bottles of Chardonnay on Christmas eve - by far our favorite tradition!
Finally, any projects on the horizon you’d like to share?
We are always working on some new small project, whether it is an experimental wine, collaborations with friends, or working towards our future of owning our own land on which to continue to grow, experiment, and have fun! Westward just released a Pinot Cask whiskey that was aged in our wine barrels. We also have a delicious collaboration with our friends at Alchemist's Jam and a beautiful locally grown herbal tea collaboration with our friend Briana at Aesthete Tea.
In the midst of the 2020 chaos, we launched Ensemble, a relief wine with 100% of proceeds going to Family Meal to help raise funds for special micro-grants to support local agricultural workers and service industry folks directly impacted by Covid-19. One of our favorite projects this year was a Bicicleta cocktail in collaboration with Greg's best friends at Someday Bar, made with our Chardonnay. We are also working on a fun surprise to end 2020!
Pear Brandy Mulled Wine
A simple and straightforward mulled wine recipe perfect for the holidays. "Acceptable from brunch on out, on any cold day." - @suzor_wines
750ml Suzor Chardonnay or your favorite one on hand
50ml Pear Brandy from Clear Creek Distillery
1/2 cup of local honey (ours came from Methven Family Vineyards where we make our wines
2 sticks cinnamon
3 star anise
1 nub of fresh ginger, sliced
1 red blood orange, sliced
1. Put all ingredients together in a pot or slow cooker and heat up (not too hot).
2. Once warmed, ladle into mugs.
3. Sit by a fire, relax, and enjoy!
Photos courtesy of Suzor Wines