When it comes to crafting high-quality vintage Oregon sparkling wine, the most important ingredients—other than peerless, locally-grown pinot noir and chardonnay grapes—are patience, commitment, and confidence in the caliber of the product. With Lytle-Barnett, it’s undeniable that the wait is well worth it, and nearly seven years after the project began, co-founders Andy Lytle and Antony Beck are ready to pop the bubbly.
The duo first met in 2011 through their involvement in the beverage industry. Lytle, whose family established a distribution company in the ’70s, had worked his whole life in various roles with beer, wine, and non-alcoholic drinks. Beck ran a South African winery, started by his father Graham Beck in 1983, and frequently visited the Willamette Valley and his father’s winery, Angela Estate, named for his wife. When the two crossed paths, they discovered that their families had known each other through a mutual interest in racehorses, and quickly developed a connection.
Lytle had seen Beck’s success in the sparkling wine success on the other side of the world and urged him to replicate it here in the Pacific Northwest, insisting there was a market for it. “I think you’re crazy if you don’t,” Lytle recalls saying at the time. “So, Antony finally says, ‘I’m going to do it, good idea, but you’re going to partner with me 50/50.’” And so their collaboration commenced.
There is an understandable reason for the relatively sparse competition: the extremely hands-on process is a sizable investment in both time and money. “For almost seven years, not a dollar came in,” Lytle explains.
Bottles must sit for at least three years to earn the coveted vintage status, and there are several intricate steps along the way that augment the complexity and structure of the wine. Riddling requires that bottles are tipped at an angle and periodically rotated to drain any lees into the neck. That cloudy liquid is flash frozen into a solid cap, which is then disgorged when the bottle is spun upright once more. Finally, dosage, or the addition of sugar before corking and caging, takes place.
The Lytle-Barnett crew, which includes winemaker and the state’s iconic master of bubbles, Andrew Davis, and consulting winemaker, Pieter Ferreira, would not be deterred. “My attitude was if chardonnay and pinot noir are becoming this amazing product, let’s make high-end, beautiful sparkling wine in Oregon that would rival something that you would find in France,” Lytle says.
Their dedication came to fruition with four different vintage products: Brut, Blanc de Blancs, Brut Rosé, and Blanc de Noirs. The flagship wine, the 2014 Brut, infuses lovely floral and fruit notes with dry, acidic lemon curd and baking spice, with ethereal bubbles tying it all together. The 2013 Brut Rosé and Blanc de Noirs are both derived 100 percent from pinot noir grapes, but the first utilizes the Saignée method to achieve an ambrosial pink hue, while the latter removes all skin contact, essentially creating a lighter wine from a red grape. In the same vein, the 2015 Blanc de Blancs starts with a white grape, 100 percent chardonnay, and maintains the exquisite translucence and fresh-forward body to the end.
From an aesthetic standpoint, wine aficionados will appreciate the classically elegant design and title. Traditionally, champagne houses were designated by the family’s surname. In order to pay homage to that history, and avoid confusion with other businesses, Lytle and Barnett (Antony’s mother’s maiden name) were combined. “We wanted this to be a representation of vintage sparkling wine from Oregon, but made with all of the French méthode champenoise, or vintage traditions.”
Having reached such a long-awaited landmark, Lytle-Barnett is not looking back, but to what’s in front of them. Its products are available in high-end wine shops, restaurants, and specialty retail stores, like Zupan’s Markets; while their wine club grants exclusive access and invites to events. Experimentation with a cuvée, or a non-vintage blend of each year’s best of the best, are also in the works.