I’ll follow up with a full tasting report for each visit soon, but for the time being enjoy a snapshot of the Willamette!
Willamette Valley image via Shutterstock
Domaine Drouhin turns out some of the top wines in the region, period. The focus on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir is hardly surprising since the family is one of the finest producers in Burgundy, the historic home of both grapes.
Obviously DDO, as Domaine Drouhin Oregon is known, is more associated with Pinot Noir, as almost every winery in Oregon is. The truth is that DDO is in no small part responsible for this fame and recognition since they have devoted great resources to their operations from the very beginning. In those early days of the late 1980s, the Willamette Valley was still a footnote in most wine books. The majority of wineries, many of which produced fabulous wines, simply didn’t have the resources necessary to take things to the next level either in production or in marketing.
DDO did, and they shared much of their efforts and rewards with the entire region community. Today, DDO continues these efforts and as much as they did for Pinot Noir, they are gradually helping to put the Willamette Valley on the map for Chardonnay. It would be easy to point out the luxury Cuvee Arthur as being worthy of note, but even their basic Willamette Valley bottling is absolutely delicious and helping to establish a style for the region (lean, fresh and focused).
De Ponte Cellars
De Ponte seems to fly under the radar, but maybe the fans of these wines just want to keep them a secret. Their claim to fame, once one deals with the fact that everyone in the Willamette produces some mighty fine Pinot Noir, has to be their Melon de Bourgogne. This is the grape responsible for Muscadet.
Here, one finds a wine with a bit more fat and a bit less minerality, but it is none the worse for it. In fact, it remains one of the country’s finest white wines if you’re looking for crispness and tension. Under normal circumstances, I would continue to talk about it here, but the one wine that gave me the clearest indication of the style and quality of the 2010 vintage in Oregon was De Ponte’s 2010 Dundee Hills Pinot Noir.
If you are looking for an elegant, clear and precise expression of Pinot Noir with all the spicy character that Dundee Hills is famous for, this is the wine for you. A wine that epitomizes the expression of grape and place for me. This needs a year or two in the bottle, but it is simply a great wine.
Eyrie is where it all started, with David Lett’s dream and what must have been years of unrecognized effort. Someone else would have eventually decided to try making Pinot in the Willamette, but David did it first and he succeeded. Today, David’s son Jason continues down the path which his father blazed.
The wines of the Eyrie Vineyards haven’t changed much over the years, preferring understatement to ostentation and remaining firmly in the camp that values terroir and winemaking as much as fruit. The results tend to be subtle, complex wines that reveal much of their personality after several years in the bottle. That holds true for both the red and white wines that Jason is producing.
While Pinot Gris is an important wine for both Oregon and Eyrie, I tend to prefer Pinot Blanc, both in general and specifically from Eyrie. There’s less weight and more detail in your typical Pinot Blanc and the grape suits the understated Eyrie style perfectly.
Brooks has an interesting history that has seen the winery through the loss of its founder and the ensuing years of difficulty and uncertainty, right through to the present day when winemaker Chris Williams has firmly established the winery as a premier producer.
Like many producers in Oregon, you will find that Brooks produces a full and varied selection of Pinot Noir. The real surprise here is the range of the white wines and, in particular, the Rieslings. Oregon has been promoting Riesling as its great white grape, though the sheer popularity of Pinot Gris can make that difficult. Brooks is poised to change that, at least on a small scale. The Rieslings here are fabulous and the style is electric with even modest residual sugar eclipsed by the succulent acidity that Chris puts in the bottle. The 2011 Bois Joli Riesling is the finest Oregon Riesling I’ve had. Even with 4 percent residual sugar, it drinks like a dry wine. This is a Riesling for acid freaks, but it is pure joy in a bottle if you’re one of them!
Brian O’Donnell is Belle Pente’s resident beard, winemaker and owner. If you catch him shortly after his bi-annual trimming, you might miss one of the natural wonders of Oregon. His wines are worth the effort of seeing him anyway, but they just go so hand in hand with that beard that it seems a shame to have one without the other.
Belle Pente’s Pinot Noirs can be stunning. They are fairly rich, in a style that shows what one can achieve with a perfectly positioned site in Yamhill-Carlton. A lot of people make great Pinot in Oregon, but what a lot of people do not do is make great Pinot Gris. Brian is a master with this potentially pedestrian variety. Instead of taking the easy road, Brian produces a traditionally styled Pinot Gris, fermented and aged in large oak fuder. The results speak for themselves whether you’re drinking the off-dry 2006 Pinot Gris Reserve, which remains the most impressive Oregon Pinot Gris to have passed my lips, or his more recent 2007 Estate bottling, which is almost dry and shows the fine blend of freshness and complexity these wines attain.
It’s easy to think of Oregon as the land of Pinots, and maybe even a little Riesling, but this is as multifaceted and compelling of a region as there is in the U.S. Andrew Rich seems to be on a one-man quest to prove it, whether that means venturing across the Columbia River for some Malbec or Syrah or staying closer to home for some Sauvignon Blanc.
Yes, the Willamette Valley produces Sauvignon Blanc, of all things, and Andrew has set out to make a rather unique version of it. Fermented in a tank and then finished in lightly toasted, cigar shaped barrels, this is not your father’s Oregon Sauvignon Blanc. I can say that quite decisively, since your father didn’t drink Oregon Sauvignon Blanc. You see, there just wasn’t any being, oh forget it. Go and check out this unique example of the fringes of Oregon’s wine culture!
2011 Andrew Rich Sauvignon Blanc Croft Vineyard
After tank-started fermenting, went into a lightly toasted, cigar shaped barrel