Oregon’s Path to Pinot Perfection (and beyond)

By David Skinner

Nearly 15 million years ago, nature exploded in a maelstrom of chaos that cast a blanket of molten rock upon the marine-rich land where a receding ocean once lay.

As the newly born volcanic terrain matured, the hillsides softened and westerly flowing flood waters receded enrobing the land in nutrient-rich soil.

It would take until 1965 for winemakers to begin transforming the gentle slopes of the Willamette Valley from woodlands to the now familiar landscape lined with rows of vines eager to yield some of the best quality vinifera grapes anywhere.

Since then, more than a dozen distinct viticultural areas of distinction have emerged to host Oregon’s burgeoning wine scene.

Traveling the serpentine roads in the valley it feels as though the land is alive, constantly changing color, shape, texture and even sound. One moment, soft streams playfully accompany birdsong alongside the road in shadowy solemnity.

The tranquility of moss-lined forest, faintly resembling the dark-hedges of Ireland, transform without warning into sun-lit slopes resplendent in crimson soil and emerald vines. These winding paths throughout Oregon’s appellations (AVAs) culminate at cellar doors waiting to delight the rest of the senses.

Photo: David Skinner

Sheltered by the rain shadow of the Coast Range of mountains, and the elevation changes between AVAs, geography clearly impacts varietal types and windows for ripening each of these plantings as much as geology does.

The beauty of the close proximity of viticultural areas is that grapes can be transported without delay during harvest. For example, Dundee Hills and Chehalem Mountains (the highest mountains in the Willamette Valley at 1633 feet) tend to hang onto fruit a bit longer compared with regions closer to the valley floor to attain full maturation.

The ability of a winemaker to gather grapes from different soils, elevations and climate creates the platform upon which nature and nurture play equal roles in the success of great winemaking.

Though more recently under vine, Southern Oregon is affected by the complex of rivers carving the region into more amorphous soil structures than their northern neighbors.

The Umpqua Valley and Elkton possess soil complexities that while made of mostly clay, silt/loam and alluvial constituents, account for the planting of a wide range of varietals best suited to what the local conditions present.

The Grapes

With more than 700 wineries across the state, it is not surprising that there are dozens of different varieties grown here (72 to be exact).

That being said, there is no doubt that the Willamette Valley is recognized primarily for its suitability for Burgundian classics like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Not surprisingly, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc flourish as well. The “Pinot family” of grapes dominates in this AVA but there are also fine examples of Riesling to be had here.

 

Photo: Elk Cove Winery

Since the early days, viticulturalists have played with the numerous clonal expressions of these classic grapes and wine enthusiasts can revel in the success of this experimentation. Today, there appears to be a consensus that the Dijon and Pommard clones are best suited to the climate and soils of the Willamette Valley.

While the northern reaches of the valley are latitudinally aligned with Burgundy, the south matches up perfectly with northern Spain, home to Albariño and Tempranillo.

With the Umpqua Valley winds and topography replicating a climate similar to that found along the Bay of Biscay, plantings of these grapes thrive and produce great structure and concentration.

“Oenoecology”

One of the hallmarks of Oregon wine production is the universal commitment each label has to sustainable and ecological stewardship of the land.

One might coin the phrase “oenocological” to describe the cultural values inherent amongst the wine community. This shared adherence to careful oversight of vineyards creates a familial sense between competitors.

In fact, there is an incredible level of cooperation and respect between the different properties. Proprietors and winemakers will gather for lunch at local cafes and share their experience with each other regularly.

Walking through the regimented rows it’s clear that the soil is nourished by simple and time-proven agricultural practices such as turning the fall-sown cover crops into the soil and application of the deeply rich compost from pressings and pruning.

Early weeding in the vineyard is often aided by the efforts of sheep grazing gracefully prior to flowering. And, yes, this also produces food for the plants in symbiotic harmony. Enemies of the vine like mold are controlled with natural substances and vermin are successfully vanquished by the raptor population purposefully developed by the growers.

Photo: David Skinner

The industry is committed to the salmon safe program designed to keep the agricultural watershed clean enough for native salmon to thrive.

On top of that, wineries ascribe to the rules set out in an approach to sustainability dubbed “LIVE” (low input viticulture and energy) which strives to reduce the carbon footprint of winemaking and soil management.

It isn’t unusual to find cellars that boast several certifications in these ecological areas as well as guarantees of organic and biodynamic practices.

 

Cellar Doors

 

Wine is transformed and its enjoyment amplified by the people and surroundings where it is tasted. This heightened sense of appreciation can be found nearly everywhere in Oregon.

With several hundred tasting rooms across the state, it would be virtually impossible to list them all. However, a sampling of some of the best may entice a desire to pay a visit and explore these and more. No matter where one chooses to taste there is no doubt there will be a warm welcome waiting.

View at Willamette Valley Vineyards (Photo: David Skinner)

 


King Estate

Photo: David Skinner

Serendipity has nothing to do with the royal reputation King Estate Winery has gained in the kingdom of Pinot. Notoriety like that doesn’t happen accidentally; it takes hard work, dedication and perseverance.

King Estate earned the right to wear the crown by following the path laid by Ed King Jr. and his son Ed King III in 1991 when they turned the original 600 acres of cattle pasture into a thriving viticultural practice.

While the estate has grown to over 1,000 acres, with 465 planted to grapes and all certified biodynamic, the winery remains in the hands of the King family where their reputation continues to be built on the pillars of stewardship, family and tradition.

The focus on creating benchmark Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir is supported by meticulous care of the land and an artisanal approach to winemaking.

The Kings have planted North America’s most clonally diverse Pinot Gris vineyards on carefully selected rootstocks across 314 certified-organic acres.

To ensure the best quality, crop yields are constrained leading to greater intensity and complexity of flavor in the wine. The 143 dedicated Pinot Noir acres are strategically situated on diverse hillsides where the sun and soils are best suited to the clonal variations that ultimately receive separate fermentation and aging before being blended to achieve the pinnacle of perfection.

Although best known for their Pinot selections, the estate also features a very good lineup of single varietal whites from Chardonnay, Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc grapes.

Extending their scope, King Estate has created a series of excellent wines with more northern origins. The North by Northwest series is dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon from the Columbia valley and Walla Walla. Accented by a Syrah, a chardonnay and a dessert Riesling, the NxNW wines are no less exceptional and worthy of the King reputation.

The cellar door and winery sit atop the central hill overlooking the entire estate. From this vantage point the diversity of the land and crops can be appreciated over a glass of wine from the tasting bar or with an exceptional meal in the restaurant.

As a setting sun paints verdant vines in faint blush, the cuisine, wine and views are truly fit for a king, but accessible to all.

King Estate Domaine Pinot Gris, 2015

King Estate Domaine Pinot Noir, 2013

King Estate Backbone Pinot Noir, 2013

North by Northwest Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 2013

Willamette Valley Vineyards

Photo: David Skinner

Jim Bernau founded the Willamette Valley Vineyards estate in 1983 and has been at the helm of this premiere winery ever since.

Jim’s approach to winemaking is best summed up when he says that, “The best thing you can find in the vineyard is the footprints of the winemaker.”

Putting this philosophy into action, he has carved a clear path to becoming one of the region’s top Pinot Noir producers.

Jim had an idea that enlisting a commitment from the wine community in support of the business would lead to world-class wines. Investing in an equity position by knowledgeable enthusiasts, the curation of the vineyards drives quality as priority number one.

Today there are over 9,000 owners supporting Jim’s commitment to producing great wines.

Willamette Valley Vineyards has collaboratively grown its estate vineyards through partnerships. The business has grown with the inclusion of Tualatin Vineyards (established in 1973), Elton Vineyard (established in 1983) and Loeza Vineyard (planted in 2015).

All in, the land farmed covers nearly 500 acres with Pinot Noir grapes dominating the landscape. Some acreage is also dedicated to Chardonnay and Pinot Gris (the estates also grow small quantities of Gruner Veltliner and Riesling).

Tending the vines by hand with attention to canopy management and yield ensures the highest quality of fruit. Capturing what nature provides through the nurturing hands of winemakers, Joe Ibrahim and Gabi Prefontaine, WVV wines place a strong emphasis on pure varietal fruit characters, with attention to depth, richness of mouthfeel, and balance.

There is a myriad of variables, some controllable and others not, influencing what eventually makes it into bottle. But Jim never loses sight of why such care must be taken to deliver the best.

It’s those palates of people everywhere who seek both nuance and strength in every mouthful and whose enjoyment brings a smile of satisfaction to the WVV team. As Jim points out “vines suffer so people don’t have to”.

Willamette Valley Vineyards Estate Chardonnay 2015

Willamette Valley Vineyards Elton Pinot Noir, 2014

Willamette Valley Vineyards Bernau Block Pinot Noir, 2014

Willamette Valley Vineyards Whole Cluster Pinot Noir, 2016

Domaine Serene

Photo: David Skinner

In Tuscany, great towns and villas rest serenely along the summits of the hills dotting the countryside. Driving up the meandering lane way of Domaine Serene, Tuscan-style buildings stand watch over the rows of vines basking under an Oregon sun.

Owners, Ken and Grace Evenstad have created an experience that captures a certain sense of place, leaving no doubt that the Winery’s name embodies a spirit of peacefulness and a sublime sense of la dolce vita.

Ken Evenstad has spent most of his career as a pharmaceutical executive with a long-standing role as CEO of Upsher-Smith Laboratories, Inc. When he decided to lend his talents to making wine in Oregon, he brought all his innovative experience and drive to creating some of the best examples of Pinot Noir possible.

No doubt the patience needed to produce pharmaceuticals under the watchful eye of the FDA was an asset when Ken turned his attention to wines. The entire property and the people caring for the business exemplify the highest commitment to quality possible.

Domaine Serene owns six vineyard estates, spanning three Willamette Valley AVAs where they cultivate Pinot Noir. Their Chardonnay selections are all grown at high elevations in the Dundee Hills.

Showcasing their dedication to best practices and quality, a state-of-the art, five-level, gravity flow winery specifically designed to make world class Pinot Noir was constructed in 2001.

Following the same style and commitment to offering the best possible experience, they opened their doors in 2017 to a new clubhouse where guests may taste their way through several different flights of fabulous vintages.

Since the first vintage in 1990, Domaine Serene has produced award-winning wines, including Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir, recognized as the World’s #3 Wine of 2013 by Wine Spectator Magazine.

That same revered publication declared the 2014 Evenstad Reserve Chardonnay the top White Wine in the World in their 2016 Top 100.  This accolade is extremely special, as it marks the first time a producer has been recognized by the Wine Spectator as a Top Three Wine of the World for both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Domain Serene’s wines are, in one coined word: “De-luscious”!

Domaine Serene Evenstad Reserve Chardonnay, Dundee Hills, 2015

Domaine Serene Coeur Blanc Pinot Noir, 2015

Domaine Serene Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, 2014

Domaine Serene Aspect Pinot Noir, 2014

Domaine Drouhin Oregon

Photo: David Skinner

Perched atop the hillside overlooking the rolling Dundee Hills, one of Burgundy’s top producers has found land that suits its deeply rooted winemaking traditions.

Since 1988, Domaine Drouhin Oregon (DDO) has been crafting sumptuous wines and employing the meticulous skills that make Maison Joseph Drouhin famous for superb Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in France.

It was perhaps a serendipitous consequence that 100 years after the establishment of the Drouhin label in Beaune, Robert Drouhin discovered the magic of Oregon Pinot Noir at the 1980 Paris comparative tasting of new world offerings with familiar old world classics.

Armed with the sense that there was something special to be discovered and nurtured in the hills of the Willamette Valley, he set out to unlock the potential of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay that lay in the rich soils.

It took several years to find just the right location but in 1987 the summit of the hillside where DDO now sits was transformed from wheat and Christmas trees to rows of trellised terrain.

If you are looking for the essence of Burgundy in the new world, go no further. The DDO mantra is “French Soul – Oregon Soil” and their wines are exceptional at capturing that notion and bottling it for your enjoyment.

Domaine Drouhin Oregon Arthur Chardonnay, 2015

Domaine Drouhin Oregon Dundee Hills Pinot Noir, 2014

Domaine Drouhin Oregon Pinot Noir Laurene, 2013

Chehalem Wines

Photo: Andrea Johnson/Chehalem

Another pioneer of the Willamette is Harry Peterson-Nedry. In the early 1980’s Harry bought a sumptuous section of land in the west of the Chahalem Mountains known as Ribbon Ridge and planted the grapes that would eventually yield wines under his Ridgecrest Vineyards label.

Nearly ten years later, he and Bill Stoller joined forces to form a partnership that is now Chehalem Winery. Their first bottling, Ridgecrest Pinot Noir, was built on a solid heritage and Harry’s attention to detail in winemaking.

Chehalem can be considered as an innovative leader in the wine business. For example, at a time when black, opaque, extracted and heavily-wooded wines were the norm, Harry sought a more feminine profile and elegance in his Pinot Noirs.

When Riesling plantings were being pulled out, Chehalem planted prime acres of this variety. This contrarian approach to viticulture has led to the discovery of not only the best practices for making some of Oregon’s best wines, but also to establishing a solid reputation for aromatic whites such as Pinot Gris and Riesling.

The partnership possesses three different Willamette sites as the backbone for their varietals. Ridgecrest is set atop Willakenzie soils that are mostly basalt and sandstone based, providing some ideal conditions for Pinot Noir (nearly 70% of the plantings on this site).

It is here that early experimentation led to diversity and the inclusion of Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gruner Veltliner and Gamay Noir on the Ridgecrest property. Corral Creek Vineyards sits on sedimentary soil called Laurelwood.

This parcel is also largely dedicated to Pinot (Noir and Gris) but is home to Chardonnay and Riesling in small amounts. Finally, the largest crop can be found at the Stoller Vineyard. Here, the Dijon clones of Pinot and Chardonnay thrive in the Jory soils.

Chehalem Ian’s Reserve Chardonnay, 2013

Chehalem Inox Unoaked Chardonnay, 2015

Chehalem Reserve Pinot Noir, Ribbon Ridge, 2013

Boedecker Cellars

Photo: David Skinner

Stewart and Athena Boedecker started their love affair together at a wine tasting and thoughts of running a pub together emerged early in their relationship.

That notion dissipated as they pursued their early careers but after leaving their native northwest for Europe for two years, their homing instinct brought them back to Portland where they decided to live their dream of making fine wine, founding Boedecker Cellars.

Rather than force the wines to fit a certain style, they allow the wines to ferment with indigenous yeasts, age mainly in neutral barrels and élevage a year and a half.

The couple tastes through each of their 300+ barrels, first blind, so as not to let preconceived notions of vineyards or barrels interfere with their instinctual reactions.

Then, with notes and after six weeks of heated tasting trials and civilized marital discussions, the cuvées are born. Two styles dominate their offerings. The “Stewart” pinot noirs are decidedly more floral and spend typically less time in oak than Athena’s namesake bottlings.

Boedecker Cellars Stewart Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley 2014

Boedecker Cellars Athena Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley 2014

Boedecker Cellars Gi-Gi, Willamette Valley 2015

Sokol Blosser

Photo: Sokol Blosser

In 1971 Bill Blosser and Susan Sokol Blosser turned their dream of making fine Pinot Noir wines into reality by purchasing an abandoned plum orchard on the slopes of the Dundee Hills and opening Sokol Blosser winery.

Their early efforts placed them among the first to recognize the potential for viticulture in the Willamette Valley. Now their son, Alex Sokol Blosser has continued the family ttradition along with Alison making exceptional Pinot’s largely from the Dijon and Pommard clones.

Being early adopters of ecological stewardship programs, the winery was the first to be certified “Salmon-Safe”, a program launched by the Pacific Rivers Council to publicize products produced without using pesticides and causing runoff that would harm salmon.

In 1997 they joined the Low Input Viticulture and Enology (LIVE) program. Since then they have also been LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified, driven by solar energy and grow 100% organically.

Sokol Blosser Dundee Hills Estate Pinot Noir, 2014

Sokol Blosser Goosepen Block Pinot Noir, 2013

Dobbes Family Estate

Photo: David Skinner

Located in the heart of Dundee, the winery was established by Joe Dobbes after sojourns in Germany, Burgundy and Alsace where he refined his skills and brought his passion and desire to produce fine wine to Oregon.

Dobbes Family Estate wines are crafted from a wide variety of vineyards in the Willamette and Rogue Valleys, including the Dundee Hills, Chehalem Mountains, Eola-Amity and McMinnville Appellations.

Terroir plays an important role in the character development of wine, so all fruit is carefully selected from vineyards with differing elevations, soil types and clones. Single vineyard designates are an expression of each vineyard’s unique terroir while distinct cuvées showcase the art of blending while staying true to vintage and varietal character.

In addition to wide-ranging geographic locations, the estate uses a comprehensive compliment of grapes that includes Chardonnay, Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Rosé of Pinot Noir, Single Vineyard Pinot Noir, Cuvée Pinot Noir, Syrah, Late Harvest Viognier, and Port-Style Syrah.

Tasting wines at the cellar door offers the opportunity to choose from three distinct labels under the care of the Dobbes winemakers. The flagship Dobbes family Estate lineup is complimented by “Wines by Joe” and “Jovino”.

Dobbes Family Estate Grenache Blanc, 2015

Dobbes Family Estate Grand Assemblage Pinot Noir, 2014

Dobbes Family Estate Quailhurst Vineyard Pinot Noir, 2014

Rex Hill/A to Z Wineworks

Photo: John Valls

Founded in 1982 by Paul Hart and Jan Jacobsen, Rex Hill was built around an old fruit and nut drying facility and opened in 1985. The original vineyard around the winery is now all Pinot Noir except for one row of Muscat left for the sweet delight of harvest visitors.

In 2007, A to Z Wineworks (the William Hatcher Family, the Francis Tannahills, and a few partners including Gregg Popovich) purchased REX HILL Vineyards and Winery bringing fresh enthusiasm and energy to the properties strengthening both brands.

A commitment to excellence is evident in their biodynamic farming and sustainable business practices. Although the Rex Hill label focuses primarily on Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay, A to Z is a fitting name for a wine producer that sources grapes from the entire region to produce wines fitting of their mission to offer “Aristocratic Wines at Democratic Prices®”

A to Z Oregon Pinot Noir has twice been named to Wine Spectator’s Top 100 wines of the year; A to Z Oregon Pinot Gris is a perennial best buy; and A to Z Oregon Chardonnay is America’s best-selling Oregon Chardonnay.

Rex Hill’s Pinot Noir Reserve has garnered mid-90’s scores from Wine Spectator and Wine enthusiast, not to mention James Suckling’s 95 rating for the 2014 vintage.

Rex Hill Jacob-Hart Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir, 2014

Rex Hill Willamette Valley Seven Soils Chardonnay, 2014

A to Z Wineworks Pinot Noir, 2014

J. Christopher Winery

Photo: J. Christopher Wines

Founder, J Christopher Somers built his winery with Burgundian styled Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in mind and has successfully imbued his bottlings with that French appellation’s spirit. But he brought more than just aspiration to his calling.

He found himself cultivating his Pinot Passion during his time with Ernst Loosen at the famous Dr. Loosen winery in Germany. Their mutual admiration for Pinot led to a collaboration in Oregon where they laid the foundation for today’s operation in a vineyard aptly called “Appassionata”.

In 2010, they formalized their partnership, bought a 40-acre property on Chehalem Mountain in Newberg, Oregon, and began building a new J. Christopher winery. Today they hold three properties that permit them to optimally manage terroir and harvest in their quest for old-world style in a very new world setting.

The Chehalem mountain vines are grown at elevation and in eleven different soil types. Dundee Hills plantings enjoy the shelter of the rolling terrain and Jory soils while Grapes grown in the Eola-Amity Hills closer to the coast, benefit from well-drained volcanic soils and cooler weather patterns.

Wines at J. Christopher are still made in the classic Burgundian style and with Jay Somers at the winemaking helm, this will continue to be the legacy for the delicate style found in all their offerings. In addition to the Pinot and Chardonnay wines, the property produces a Sauvignon Blanc. Not surprisingly, these are made in the likeness of Sancerre.

“Nuages” Chehalem Mountains Pinot Noir, 2014.

Appassionata Estate Pinot Noir, 2014

Elk Cove Vineyards

Photo: David Skinner

One of the early pioneers in Oregon’s young history of winemaking, the Campbell family, made their home in a sheltered valley high in the foothills of the Coast Range Mountains.

The patriarchs of the Campbell clan chose this seemingly remote location for the Willakenzie soils and scenery but a generation later, their good fortune in finding this Shangri La has become a boon to oenophiles as well.

The winery derived its name from a herd of Elk that shared the bowl of land with them that first winter in 1974 and while the land has since been claimed by the vine, some of that herd’s progeny can occasionally be found ruminating along the “cove”.

This relationship with nature has been a hallmark for Elk Cove Winery and they have long been dedicated to sustainable agricultural practices and they even eliminate irrigation after the vines reach their third birthday.

Adam Campbell joined his parents in 1995 to begin his tutelage in their craft. Since then he has grown the business and has pursued perfection on the foundation of the original rootstock that rests elegantly enrobed in moss along the slopes leading up to the cellar door.

Beyond the old vines that sit on the Estate Vineyard some 750 feet high, Elk Cove has added two plots where they grow exceptional Pinot Noir.

The Roosevelt and La Bohème blocks are well suited for Pommard and Dijon clone plantings but there are also some small quantities of Pinot Blanc, Riesling Viognier and Gewurztraminer scattered between the Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris sections. But make no mistake their single vineyard Pinot Noirs are the cornerstones of their heritage and their future.

Elk Cove Vineyards Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley, 2016

Elk Cove Vineyards Goodrich Chardonnay, 2016

Elk Cove Vineyards Goodrich Pinot Noir, 2014

Ponzi Vineyards

Photo: Adam Bacher Photography

In 1970 Dick and Nancy Ponzi found a section of rolling farm land where they could plant Pinot Noir and nurture their crops with the kind of attention that this varietal truly needs to reach the grape’s full potential.

They started small with quality in mind and after their first wines left the barrels to reach the Oregon market in 1976, those 96 original cases launched a growing business that today produces a broad array of varietals in state-of-the-art gravity flow facilities.

The vineyards are found in the Chehalem Mountains AVA (except the original Estate) and the Laurelwood soils that dominate their site seem to have a particularly strong affinity for the Pinot family of grapes.

So, it isn’t too surprising that the Ponzi wine portfolio is well known for Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc. But they also have plantings of Riesling and even Arneis and this gives winemaker, Luisa Ponzi, more options for interesting offerings.

In 2012, Luisa and her sister, Maria, took over the family business and that same year their Tavola Pinot Noir made it into the Wine Spectator’s top 100; a spectacular launch of the second generation’s contribution to the label. A year later the sisters opened a modern, warm and friendly tasting room at the Sherwood property where the new production facilities are located.

Looking back to their humble beginnings the Ponzi dreams were of fine wine made with loving care, attention to tradition and influenced by innovation. They named their winery “Collina del Sogno” or the hillside of our dreams. Their wines stand as testimony that dreams can come true.

Ponzi Pinot Gris, 2015

Ponzi Classico Pinot Noir, 2014

Ponzi Pinot Noir Reserve, 2013

Adelsheim

Photo: David Skinner

Speaking with David Adelsheim about wine you can feel the emotional bond he has with the land and a deep understanding of what the soils and climate offer him and his talented team in their pursuit of producing serious wines of great character.

He is exceptionally well-known in the Willamette Valley as one of the forefathers of the region and a fountain of knowledge about the state’s wine history and Burgundian varietals that thrive on the slopes of the valley.

As anyone will tell you David is more than willing to share his knowledge with other vintners to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to grow the reputation of Oregon’s fine wines.

With 237 acres under vine and eleven estates to their name, most the Adelsheim property lies in the Chehalem Mountain AVA. With plantings that start at 200 feet along the slope to nearly 1000 feet, the different elevations create variances in temperature and rainfall that permits the winemaker to harvest at different times.

This ensures that significant care can be taken when bringing the fruit to the crush pad. This diversity avoids the calamity that ensues when large blocks of fruit demand harvest at the same time.

White wine grapes are whole-cluster pressed, then undergo a long, cold fermentation to preserve the fresh fruit character. A portion of the juice is fermented in neutral oak barrels to enhance texture. After fermentation, they are aged sur lies for several months to promote complexity. While most whites remain in stainless steel tanks, some Chardonnay lots are fermented and aged in barrel (Caitlin’s Reserve and Stoller Vineyard bottlings).

Grapes for red wines are hand-sorted and destemmed into small, open-top fermenters. The juice is then fermented and aged separately choosing the best techniques for each vineyard block. Small oak barrels are used to age the wines for 8-10 months before the blending process takes place. Some single vineyard wines are produced as well including Elizabeth’s Reserve.

Adelsheim Chardonnay, Willamette Valley, 2015

Adelsheim Breaking Ground Pinot Noir, Chehalem Mountains, 2014

Adelsheim Elizabeth Reserve Pinot Noir, 2013

Abecela

Photo: David Skinner

In the early 1990s Earl and Hilda Jones planted their first vines in an experiment worthy of their science background. Not knowing much about the art of winemaking at the time, they learned quickly but they most certainly understood the science behind turning grapes into great wine.

They brought their research curiosity to bear on the selection of land and grape varietals and the result is something that clearly sets Abecela winery apart from most wineries in Oregon.

When Earl’s career in medical science led him to Europe for study, he discovered many Old World wines of class and distinction and these travels lit a fire that eventually was fanned into a burning desire to make wines that rivaled those he found in Spain. Today, he and Hilda produce some of the best Tempranillo wines outside Rioja.

Situated in the Umpqua Valley, the Jones’s selected this southern extent of the state because it exactly matched the latitude of northern Spain and provided a similar Mediterranean climate in which to grow some of the best example of Spanish varietals.

Tempranillo vines continue to form the backbone of Abecela but, over time, plantings of other warmer climate grapes ensued. Garnacha, Syrah, Malbec and Tannat evolved to fill out the red wine offerings and there are limited plantings of the five port-style grapes from which they make their fortified wine.  Albariño has gracefully gained prominence in their portfolio as a superior white wine grape.

The site climate for this unique venue may prove prescient with global climate change leading to potential difficulties for cooler climate varieties. This foresight may not be entirely coincidental since Earl and Hilda’s son Gregory Jones is one of the leading experts on climatology and its effect on viticulture.

Abecela  Albariño, 2016

Abecela Fiesta Tempranillo, 2014

Abecela  Reserve Syrah, 2013

Abecela Paramour, 2005

Brandborg Vineyard and Winery

Photo: Brandborg Winery

The Umpqua Valley is mainly a warmer region than most of Oregon but the AVA of Elkton has a cooler microclimate within the Umpqua giving rise to its own designation in 2013.

With this special terroir aligned more with the Willamette Valley in the north, Pinot Noir makes a comfortable home here. But Terry and Sue Brandborg realized the potential, not only for this grape, but the opportunity to produce a wide selection of wines by accessing the best of both the warmer Umpqua and cooler Elkton conditions.

Terry and Sue met at a wine tasting in 1998 and after a year together they set their sights on making wine in the coastal river valleys of Oregon. To their good fortune, they met Earl Jones (Abecela) who told them about the Elkton and they set out in 2002 to fulfill their dreams.

Only Pinot Noir is grown at the Elton estate property (mostly Dijon clones with some Pommard) but Brandbourg’s wine offerings extend to many single varietal wines. They craft their white wines from Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Riesling while reds include Sangiovese and Gamay Noir.

Brandborg Fleur de Lis White Pinot Noir, 2015

Brandborg Gewurztraminer, 2013

Brandborg Bradley Vineyard Pinot Noir, 2013

Benton-Lane

Photo: David Skinner

Steve and Carol Girard have spent their lives together making great wines of distinction.

After many years in the Napa Valley they decided that they wanted to dedicate their talents to making Pinot Noir and Chardonnay that are complex, luscious and driven by the best environmental conditions possible. That quest landed them in the heart of the Willamette Valley.

The parcel of land that was once a sheep farm, is particularly suited to their sustainable viticultural practices. Those many years of sheep grazing upon the gentle slopes preceding the plantings, left a legacy of fertility on the Jory soils that yielded crops of exceptional vigor early on.

With an exceptional property to cultivate, the Benton-Lane wine team’s stewardship is supported by the decision to work the land by hand with meticulous attention to ensuring that only the best grapes make it into the final bottlings.

And this team approach to managing soil, vines and fruit continues into the final stages of winemaking. The palates of Steve, Carol and other individuals from Benton-Lane make the final decisions to arrive at a consensus about what the final product will be.

Everything at this property is nurtured by a gentle hand and innovative techniques designed to minimize damage to the delicate nature of Pinot. For example, in 1998 they began using an innovative fermentation technique of “pneumatage”.

This method gently extracts the flavor and color from the grape skins during fermentation, while minimizing the amount of potentially harsh, bitter tannins from the grape seeds that can enter the wine.

Barrel aging also plays a strong role in creating outstanding wines and their barrel selection process is no less rigorous than everything else that goes into their winemaking.

Pinot Noir typically spends between 10 and 15 months in both new and old oak to achieve the right secondary characteristics essential for superior quality. Gentle lees incorporation for the Chardonnays makes use of barrels set upon rollers so that there is no need to mechanically stir the wine to get the full lusciousness they are seeking.

Benton-Lane Chardonnay, 2012

Benton-Lane Rose of Pinot Noir, 2016

Benton-Lane Estate Pinot Noir, 2014

Benton-Lane First Class Pinot Noir, 2014

 

Acknowledgements: Thanks to Michelle Kaufman and the Oregon Wine Board for arranging visits to some of the best of Oregon’s wineries.

 

 

 

David Skinner
Wine & Travel Columnist, Sommelier

David Skinner’s passion is to share extraordinary food and wine experiences with those in search of flavorful memories. That first led him to the Algonquin College Sommelier Program where he graduated with the Sommelier Award of Excellence.

He then attended master classes at London’s prestigious Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) to build a stronger appreciation for the grape. However, becoming a certified sommelier was just the beginning of a search for a stronger understanding of what the wine and food world has to offer.

Searching for even more challenging wine experiences, he studied at the University of Californian at Davis (UC Davis) to become a certified California wine judge. That experience in the heart of Napa and Sonoma bred a hunger for wine-related travel that continues today.

Travelling the world in search of great wine experiences gives David the opportunity to share his favourite stories of the vine on NatalieMacLean.com as well as in Outdoor Magazine.

 

 

 

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