A Tasting Across Terroir with Willamette Valley Vineyards

Revisiting 2010 Across the Willamette Valley

Drink from the Tap

Spring Barrel Tasting in Lake Chelan AVA

A Love Letter to the 2007 Vintage

Soléna Estate and Domaine Danielle Laurent

Peep the Hustle

Jasper Sisco

Rockstars Don't Make Wine

Don't Sleep on Real Talent

Who We Are

The staff of the Northwest Wine Anthem, we're good

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Perfect 10s: A Look Across the Valley and Vintage from Willamette Valley Vineyards

The 10s were 10s they said, somehow, through all of that. 

 The 2010 vintage in Oregon was tough, it was a year for the birds if you remember, a cool vintage, rainy and then there were those damn birds. In the Willamette Valley, in 2010 people were a bit on the nervous side come harvest, but not because of the condition of the fruit, it was damn near perfect. The cooler vintage meant that folks had to leave the fruit out there quite a long time, with many folks picking 2 plus weeks later than they did in 2009. Unfortunately it went long enough that most of it was still out there when birds started migrating south for the winter. That made the Willamette Valley a popular stopover for birds moving through for destinations in California, or as far south as Chile.

The other factor at play was the impeding rain storms. Few vintages, even cool wet years are marked with a nearly universal end date. For 2010 it was October 23rd. The valley saw serious storms that day that lasted a few days, that was more or less the end of harvest 2010. Fortunately, most of October was just about perfect, and so, it may be argued are the Pinot Noirs.

The previous cool vintage for Oregon to that point was 2007 and while those remain my favorites, what made them starkly different from the 2010s was that the 2007s were not so obviously fantastic so early. The 2010s were such a darling because the media loved them, from the jump. The same media that more or less damned 2007 loved the 2010s for the same characteristics, only the media has zero patience and the 2010s were good for people with the patience of a 5 year old, people like Harvey Steiman

In 2013 I wrote this about the 2010s I had been tasting: Alcohol levels are low across the board but the wines were plenty ripe from a flavor standpoint, thanks to that long hang-time and the lower yields, many vineyards produced half of what they would in a normal year. The result generally, is medium bodied wine, with lots of red and blue fruits, and really fine, pretty tannin structures. As great as they're drinking now, the acidity allows you to hold onto some favorites, it appears to be a very age worthy vintage.

As it turns out, I'd have the opportunity to taste through the vintage, across the valley, nearly three years later to see how they were doing. Willamette Valley Vineyards is one of the Valley's greatest champions. Not in that they like one a contest, but in how they conduct themselves. I liken them to the role that Chateau Ste Michelle plays in Washington state, while they are a fraction of the size of CSM. Like that big winery in Washington, Jim Bernau is committed to the quality not just of his wines, but of his region. Willamette Valley Vineyards makes quality wines across the board, but more than that, they use their resources for good, not just their good, but the good of the rest of the Oregon Pinot industry. They're also concerned with the good of my curiosity and to that end sent my a cross section of the Willamette Valley in 2010, a study in that instantly delicious vintage, and an opportunity to see how it's fared. (For brevity's sake I am going to start using WVV, I'm not paid by the word, in fact, I'm not paid, which is a great explanation for why you don't see me publishing nearly as much as I used to on this site.)

The winery has plenty of estate fruit but they also do an AVA series bottling to showcase the site specificity all across the Willamette Valley.

Let's start in the north and work our way southward.

2010 Willamette Valley Vineyards, Ribbon Ridge AVA
 Ribbon Ridge along the Chehalem Mountain AVA mark the coolest parts of the Willamette Valley and are reliably earthy, at least in my experience. This 2010 bottling from WVV is from Redman Vineyard, which was a bit of a surprise to me because I was unaware that the New Jersey rapper had any stake in vineyards in Oregon, or anywhere for that matter. There's a lot to like in this wine, the structure comes to the fore, with great tannin and texture. This was a cool vintage but the palate is mouth filling and elegant, not the least bit meek, while it remains a bit angular. Aromas of brambleberry, turned earth and dried violets and a palate that is a core of blue fruit, wrapped in earthen minerality and dried fig. 

2010 Willamette Valley Vineyards, Yamhill Carlton AVA
In the Yamhill-Carlton AVA the closest thing to a rapper is probably Byron Dooley and he owns the Luminous Hills vineyard which is one of the AVA's most dynamic. It's a kaleidoscope of soil types and exposures and as a result allows him to grow fruit with a variety of different characteristics. I tasted Byron's own 2010 bottling in 2013 from this vintage and it's interesting to taste the wine from a different winemaker and winery. The aromatics on this wine include a fair bit of clove and maybe even a note of cinnamon, all backed with a sweet blueberry note. The palate is more of an intensity of fruit than it's northern (sort of) counterpart. Flavors of black plum, fennel and a slight kiss of fresh mint that brings on the finish. 

2010 Willamette Valley Vineyards, Dundee Hills AVA
The Dundee Hills is pretty much the sweet spot for the whole Willamette Valley, it's damn near the bullseye and it's of course where David Lett set-up shop and paved the way for the best wine in all of America (Oregon Pinot Noir), if you ask me anyways. The Dundee Hills bottling from WVV is out of the Winter's Hill vineyard, which is just west of the Stoller estate. This is an impressive wine from one of the Valley's greatest AVAs, it is so loaded with floral and mineral aromas as to make you think it came from the Chehalem Mountain AVA. Red fruit intensity and minerality mark the palate of this wine, which I imagine was singing upon release. The structure has further buoyed it over time.

2010 Willamette Valley Vineyards, McMinnville AVA
Heading south to McMinnville AVA we land in the Momtazi vineyard, another growing site in the valley that has established a reputation for excellence. The vineyard itself is managed using holistic farming that integrates a lot of biodynamic practices. The wine shows up, six years on, with outstanding structure, and intense aromas of moss, earth and dried fig. Flavors of candied blueberry, herbs and soaring acidity.

2010 Willamette Valley Vineyards, Elton Vineyard, Eola-Amity Hills AVA
The WVV has most of its vineyard holdings in the Eola-Amity hills area around Salem, and so it makes sense that this is the first of the their single vineyard serious that is from estate fruit. There's an intensity of blue and black fruit aromas, dusty blackberry and clove. The palate is rich, lush and full of fruit. Black cherry, currant and black plums along with clove and cola notes. The finish is elegant, fresh and lively. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Straight from the Barrel in Lake Chelan

from Marty Sparks 

Lake Chelan’s Spring Barrel Tasting Weekend is coming up on May 21st and 22nd.   This event provides a great opportunity to get a sneak peak at upcoming releases, meet the area’s winemakers and escape to the East side of Washington state for some glorious Spring time weather.
The Lake Chelan AVA has been growing in acclaim, and number of wineries, since being recognized as an AVA in 2009.   The area has been known as a family vacation destination for many generations.  Our current generation is seeing the region gaining notoriety for their wineries.  As of 2016, Lake Chelan is home to 25 wineries.  Many have estate vineyards where the winemakers oversee the entire winemaking process from tending the vineyard to bottling the wine that winds up on your table.  
The Spring Barrel Tasting weekend is a great opportunity to discover the wines from the wineries that surround Lake Chelan.  The majority of the wineries have something special planned for the weekend.
Here are three wineries to visit:
South Shore – Fielding Hills
Fielding Hills has been making wine made from grapes grown on their Wahluke Slope estate vineyard since 2000.  They are a relative new comer to the Lake Chelan area with a gorgeous tasting room that opened on the South Shore of the lake in September of 2014.   The views from the tasting room and the wines are both fabulous.  
The Fielding Hills 2010 Wahluke Slope Syrah is dark, lush and full bodied with notes of dark blue fruit, dusty cracked pepper and cocoa powder that all come together in a well integrated tannin and barrel spice driven finish.
North Shore - Cairdeas
Charlie Lybecker started making wine in his West Seattle Garage.  He moved to Lake Chelan about 4 years ago and has settled into his current location on the North Shore of the lake just off highway 150.  He is making some excellent Southern Rhone style red and white wines.
The Cairdeas 2013 Nellie Mae is a blend of Marsanne, Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Rousanne and Picpoul.  The nose shows great minerality with notes of white flowers, honey dew melon and lemon zest with a palate featuring similar flavors along with some smoky herbal notes backed with a mean streak of acidity.
Manson – Hard Row to Hoe
Judy and Don Phelps are the Wine Maker and Vineyard manager, respectfully, at Hard Row to Hoe.  They combine serious wine making with local history that has a slightly naughty twist.  You will have to visit their vineyard and tasting room in Manson to hear the story and see some mementoes of the area’s ribald history.
The Hard Row to How 2012 Burning Desire Cabernet Franc has a nose featuring dark berries, dried herbs and flower petals with a palate of dried dark fruit, white pepper and funky herbal notes that are followed by a pencil lead and tannin spice fueled finish.

Make a plan to visit Lake Chelan the weekend of May 21st and 22nd to get a sneak peak at the upcoming vintages from this up and coming Washington state AVA.  You will be met by some down to earth people making seriously delicious wines in one of the most beautiful places in our state.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Domaine Danielle Laurent: A Love Letter to 2007

When I was roaming the Willamette Valley back in 2010 I had already fallen in love with Oregon's Pinot Noir.  I'd become pretty smitten back in 2005, a few years after moving across the country to the Pacific Northwest and discovering wine.

It was in 2010 that I fell in love with a vintage, the much maligned 2007 Oregon Pinot Noir. It was not an easy year for grape growers and vineyard managers. A cooler vintage with a a mild summer was further complicated by a deluge of rain. What happened then was the determining factor; did the wines become a huge mistake, or were they other-worldly delicious. Those who waited out the rain, as opposed to picking too soon were well rewarded.

While the vintage was a bit panned in the media, a result of so many of those wines picked too son, those who know get it, and you'll find several of us who note this as our favorite vintage from Oregon, ever.

For me, the well made wines of 2007 have become a sort of archetype of cool vintage, cool climate Pinot Noir. For me that vintage is quintessentially Oregon and the Willamette Valley. It's my favorite, in spite of 2010, and 2011, the latter maybe aspiring to 2007 but not really coming close in terms of beauty and elegance.

As I was tooling through the Willamette Valley I paid a visit to a new facility at Soléna Estate. In my recollection, I knew very little about the label at the time. I was given a short tour of the really impressive facility and then we got down to tasting. One of the seminal moments in that love affair with that 07 vintage came in a few minutes at that tasting bar. The 2007 Domaine Danielle Laurent remains one of my favorites of the vintage.

Here are a few notes from the article I wrote for The Oregon Wine Blog on my visit:

All of their Pinots are quite nice but for the sake of time I have to focus in on the Domaine Danielle Laurent Pinot Noir ($45). I strongly suggest you spend some time with this wine. First off, we had the 2007. The mystery continues for me about how people who supposedly know anything about wine could have poo-pooed this vintage for Oregon Pinot Noir. This wine is beautiful. I picked up some burnt gun powder on the nose. 

The wines from this estate vineyard, which was a wedding gift from the owners,Danielle & Laurent, to each other, is planted with several different Pinot clones. The wine is handled with kid gloves, and in small lots. Punchdowns are done in rotary barrels and all fermentation is done in small batches. "

Domaine Danielle Laurent is the estate vineyard at Soléna Estate, which is a part of a larger operation owned by Laurent and Danielle Montaleiu. It's small at just over 20 acres in the Yamhill Carlton AVA but it produces premium fruit from a few different clones. The elevation is good at Domaine Danielle Laurent, topping out at shy of 700 feet on Willakenzie soils. 

The wines coming out of DDL (my abbreviation) exude an elegance, and that was certainly emphatic in the 2007, there's a accented quality in the Soléna bottlings, despite the Montelieus having their hands in a lot of different pots. In addition to Soléna Estate, they produce another label Hyland Estates and the custom crush NW Wine Co as well as at least one value label making Willamette Valley wines under $20. The quality on this label and the wines from the DDL vineyard in particular remains quite high. 

2013 Soléna Estate, Pinot Noir, Domaine Danielle Laurent
Evocative of the six years older version of itself this wine from this particular vineyard exudes elegance and purity of fruit. The aromatics of fresh mint, black currant and turned earth, while not quite as feminine as the 2007 vintage, announce a very feminine 2013 Pinot Noir. The palate is bright and bracing with ample minerality, vibrant blackberries and dried figs. The finish is zippy with streaks of fresh mint and elegant acidity. A structure outlined by pretty tannin really accents this vintage for me. $50

2013 Soléna Estate, Chardonnay, Domaine Danielle Laurent
A tiny production Chardonnay from Soléna Estate (120 cases) that gives us a different look at this site from a white wine lens. The site again accents elegance with lemon creme and honeyed aromatics jumping out from the glass. The palate is vibrant with crystalline fruit flavors and incredible balance that have come to be the trademark of Dijon clone Chardonnay here in the Willamette. The palate is accented by lemon creme, nutmeg and ample apple and pear flavors. Pretty, balanced rounded but very,very fresh. Sold Out

Monday, February 08, 2016

Can't Knock the Hustle... Jasper Sisco

Jay Z said a lot of things that rhymed in the track Can't Knock the Hustle, but most appropriately he said "I sip wine and spit vintage flows, but y'all don't know... you can't knock the hustle."

Justin Paul Russell rhymes with hustle. Coincidence? I don't think so.

When we first met Justin he was already hustling, trying to cobble together some funds via an Indiegogo campaign so that he could launch his label, Jasper Sisco named for his great grandfather. That was then and this is now, and if nothing else, we've all gotten older. Time is brutal like that. I caught up with Justin after sampling some of his new releases.

The hustle is still strong with this one, in case you weren't sure, starting a winery is not exactly a picnic. "I wish that I could say I was running a full time wine game at this point but currently I'm still juggling two part time gigs to make sure labels make it onto bottles and the lights stay on. But there have been lessons a plenty. If anything the wine game has taken my normally creative focused thinking and shifted it into high set analytical gear. And by that I mean there a lot more grey hair that has developed just from planning out the next move in the cellar, for the winery, and for Jasper Sisco in general. But it get's me up in the morning.  And I hope to be able to focus full time on it by the end of the year."

While he's still "grindin'" as the kids say, (Do the kids still say that?) Justin is moving Jasper Sisco onward, and upward. There have been plenty of recent, substantial developments besides his grey hair. When the label got started he was working out of a corner of the Maysara winery's cellar and credits the Momtazi family with helping him get his start in the business. Once he moved to the SE Wine Collective location in Portland his production went from 84 cases to the 1,100 neighborhood. And now Justin and Jasper Sisco are onto a new neighborhood as he's setting up new digs in Portland's Sellwood neighborhood on his own. He's hoping to open the doors in May. Justin is also diversifying his wine offerings, and will be up to eight wines with his next release, including a sparkling Muscat, as well as a Cinsault rosé and a Pinot Noir from the eastern side of the Willamette Valley.

Justin's current releases include some different sources for Pinot Noir and a little white wine gem, fancied after the Edelzwicker style. Good luck coming up with a rhyme for that one Mr. Carter. 

Like all good stories, the Edelzwicker-esque story began with too much booze at a barbecue. Justin had been tipped off by Cana's Feast winemaker Patrick Taylor that Washington was the spot for  the Muscat grape with a proper concentration of flavors and so Justin set his sights there. The results gave Justin the same sort of family feeling that got him into this business in the first place. 

" I found Muscat for sale in Fruitland, WA. I agreed to visit the site before opening google maps to the realization that the site was more than a 6 hour drive from Portland.  But not one to go back on my word, I made the trek in early summer of 2104. The place is magic, 1400 ft elevation directly above the Columbia river. nine acres managed by the Benson family who also run the only gas station/postoffice/coffee shop/ food store/auto body shop within an hour or so drive. After spending the weekend with the family it was apparent that we were at the same place in our journey in the wine world." 

2014 Jasper Sisco Gratus Bynum, Fruitland Valley Vineyards
A blend of Riesling, Pinot Gris and Muscat from this little known Eastern Washington vineyard offers a twist on varieties you may be familiar with on their own. Justin sees it as a place to be excited about "This site has a ton of potential, 2014 was the first year of viable fruit and this year I'm seeing better concentration of flavor and acids across all the varietals."For those who don't know, (Or couldn't be bothered to click the link above, lazy.) an Edelzwicker is German for "noble-blend" and is a mainstay style of wines from Alsace. This wine hints at sweet ripe honeydew and honeysuckle, maybe hey even a little honey, and to throw off our theme, sweet hay, but hey. There's a fair bit of sweet fruit on the palate as well and the rounded mouthfeel comes from the skin contact used on the Muscat. Great acid zips along as an undercurrent to sweet lychee fruit. $18

2014 Jasper Sisco James Clifton Pinot Noir, Zenith Vineyard
This is the first 2014 Oregon Pinot Noir I've tried and while a bit youthful it's apparently a vintage for my palate which prefers zip, herbal elements and earth to black on black on blackberries. Aromas of dried violets, peat and dried fig and an accompanying flavor profile of black fruit, yet quite fresh with strong mineral elements and a zippy fresh mint finish.  I've found Zenith to be more concentrated fruit in the past but I love the dichotomy at play here, ripe fruit really loaded with a strong mineral streak. "Zenith for me feels like one of the heritage sites in Oregon,so when Vincent Fritzsche connected with me Tim Ramey who manages Zenith, I jumped at the chance to work with the fruit. Eola-Amity Pinot noir is something that I've always been drawn to and the wines of Vincent, St. Innocent, and John Grochau from that site have always been some of my favorites.  I love the classic violet, sage, floral, more feminine style of wines that come out of that AVA. It felt like a great counter point to the depth and heft of Momtazi." $34

Monday, January 18, 2016

Don't Sleep on John Grochau and Grochau Cellars

(I don't know if Dee Snider is still a live, but come on man. For the love of God, those eyebrows look like hell.)

The "rockstar winemaker" concept makes me want to vomit in my mouth, by the way. I may be alone at this party, but I doubt it. Unfortunately there's plenty of this sort of back-slapping, pseudo celebrity anointing in the wine world.  Even in this quiet corner here of the Pacific Northwest. There are folks, 1,050 Google results for that term "rockstar winemaker." More than a few of those named winemakers from Washington and I did find one for Oregon. After page 7 I got bored. There were tons of entries from Paso Robles.

There are some folks out there who are uber-talented but they're winemakers. They ain't rockstars.

Sure there are some wineries that have dialed in their marketing. They've got a great vibe, slick packaging and tons of hipster street cred. Just as there are some wineries playing to the score formula as well. Tons of tannin, new oak out the wazoo, chasing that highfalutin' Robert Parker score. That doesn't make them rockstars, just unoriginal and frankly, in some cases, insufferable.

One cat who is making super nice wines that I feel never gets enough attention, is that dude John Grouchau at the eponymous Grochau Cellars. John is not a rockstar, he'd be the first to tell you. When you think of John in fact, terms like humility and humble are the first to come to mind. While his label while not be on the lips of those who speak of what's hip and hot in Oregon wine. The wines are really some of the most consistently high quality coming out of the Willamette Valley and at a very fair price-point. (Grochau Cellars reminds me of the Portland area indie record label, Kill Rock Stars, formerly of Elliot Smith fame; John lives in Portland. Coincidence?)

I was proud to write a feature article about John in Peloton Magazine and I'll borrow a few quotes from it for this piece. The fact is I've known John now for a few years and his wines, and the way he talks about them have never changed. Except that they change every vintage as they should.

"I feel that you get the best translation of site from the wines that you do the least amount to.  The more you manipulate, the more you add, the more “same” the wines can become.  I don’t set out to make the same wine every year, the wine needs to reflect from where and when it came.  Sameness is boring, while it is a necessity for a large winery, it is not what I want to do.  There are many right ways to make wine, and a few wrong ways; everything in between is style.

For Grochau Cellars, who opened a new tasting room last Spring in the Eola-Amity Hills, it's about those sites, special places tended by dedicated farmers that make the Willamette Valley such an outstanding place to make wine. "As I started working with more vineyards I realized it is all about the place from where the grapes come.  The vineyards have their own signature, their own style; and pinot noir is such a transparent grape when it comes to showing where it was grown.” To allow the wine’s signature to really come through, John works closely with the vineyard manager, paying close attention to how the fruit ripens, and sometimes agonizing over when to pick. Being hands on with the fruit in the vineyard allows him to be hands off in the winery.  

John does a number of single vineyard and AVA Pinot Noirs and they all typically have one thing in common, whole cluster fermentation. John uses the stems and rachis to add structure to his wines. John first came to appreciate wine working in the restaurant industry and has always believed a proper food-wine needs structure.

2012 Dundee Hills Pinot Noir, Grochau Cellars
A side by side tasting of two of John's 2012 Pinots demonstrates the variance of his Single AVA wines, even in a warm vintage that's been consistently well received by the wine public (while it's not necessarily my favorite). With a growing season as ripe as 2012 there's a bit of fear that consistency and fruitiness might wipe out variance and diversity. Fear not! The Dundee Hills Pinot is effusively aromatic with lots of earth and peat notes, dried violets and hints at graphite. John always uses a fair bit of fruit from Anderson Family Vineyards, one my favorites, and one that's somehow stayed fairly under the radar over the years. The wine veers toward floral as well as bramble berry, with notes of blackberry and black tea, and a touch of gunpowder on the palate. While I've not been in love with the 2012 vintage and its general ripeness, this wine's structure and elegance win me over. $33

2012 Eola-Amity Hills Pinot Noir, Grochau Cellars
Further to the south of Dundee John's 2012 Eola-Amity Pinot is a study in black fruit and earth. Aromas of ripe black plums, fennel, and turned earth. The palate balances more inky blackness with touches of minerality and firm tannin. Again, a pretty wine but notably riper and rounder than its northern neighbor in the Dundee Hills. The wine opens over a couple of hours to show a bit more depth with clove and cola also coming to the fore. $33

2014 Melon de Bourgogne, Grochau Cellars
Pinot Gris can be so ho-hum and so I'm happy to report that Grochau Cellars doesn't even produce one. Instead try a Melon de Bourgogne, as the name implies the grape originated in Burgundy but it's been made famous in the Loire as Muscadet. The Grochau Cellars' Melon is a departure from the heavy influence of lees you'll often find in Muscadet. This Melon is angular, lively and pulsing. Aromas of crushed stone, cut apple and citrus fruit. A palate that zips with nerves and high acid, lime, and wet stone dominate. $18

All wines provided as samples.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

40 is the New Awesome at Willamette Valley Vineyards

photo of Tualatin Estate courtesy of Willamette Valley Vineyards
Forty is the age when men make really bad financial decisions that involve over-priced sports vehicles. I'm not really sure what drives that, I bought an expensive bicycle instead when I turned forty just last year. But what I've found about being forty, (I just turned 41) is that you're only as old as you feel.

Bill Fuller is perhaps a name that more of us should be familiar with especially those of us who follow Oregon Pinot Noir.  Bill came to the Willamette Valley from California already established as a winemaker in Napa at Louis M. Martini. He was a pioneer in his own right in that regard as those few who proceeded him were more aptly tagged as "upstarts" as opposed to the experienced Fuller who was perhaps best prepared to hit the fresh ground in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, running.

Fuller planted his vineyards, that would be called the Tualatin Estate Vineyards over a July 4th weekend in 1973. His early wines, both a Pinot Noir and Chardonnay won acclaim in Europe in the early 80s and his 1989 estate Chardonnay was the first wine from Oregon to crack into Wine Spectators Top 100 wines. (All of this was pre-Oregon's Chardonnay revival on the strength of the Dijon clone.)

Bill's Tualatin Estate was merged with Willamette Valley Vineyards in 1997 and the wines grown at Tualatin have become a major part of the success and reputation for excellence that the winery has gone onto develop. Jim Bernau called the retired Bill Fuller who after working with Tualatin went on to become the house winemaker at the McMenamin's establishments and invited him out of retirement for a special project. The fortieth vintage of the fruit Fuller planted was coming in the 2013 wines and Bernau thought it would be fun to include Fuller in crafting the wines.

Bill was game for the project and so we have Vintage 40 from Willamette Valley Vineyards, a Pinot Noir and Chardonnay made from blocks of the Tualatin Vineyards that Bill prized most. The wines are made in uber-small lots of less than 200 cases and they're priced quite fairly given the quality and scarcity of the project.

Bill is not viewing this as a "one and done," and is back working with the winemaking team at 78 years young with 2015's harvest in the books, he looks forward to the wines of the 42nd vintage of Tualatin fruit.

2013 Vintage 40 Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley Vineyards, Tualatin Estate
Classic in all senses of the term for Oregon Pinot. Fresh, brambly fruit and earth aromas and a palate that pulses with great fruit, minerality and balance. The freshness carries through with a kiss of fresh mint on the finish and an elegance throughout. $45

2013 Vintage 40 Chardonnay, Willamette Valley Vineyards, Tualatin Estate
The Pinot is good but the Chardonnay might be the star of the show. Loaded with aromas of honey, sweet white flower and chamomile this is a complex Chardonnay aromatically and it really delivers on the palate. The wine is made from Draper Clone Chardonnay that Bill brought with him from California and in terms of the old vine Chardonnays in Oregon that remain of the California clones, it's the best I've had. I've been a huge champion of the Dijon clone Chardonnays as the only way to go in Oregon and this one proves me wrong. The palate is loaded with lemon creme, minerality, freshness and depth. $35

Monday, October 05, 2015

New School, Old Vines: Durant Vineyards at Red Ridge Farms

Durant Vineyards has been an establishment in the Willamette Valley since nearly the beginning. Founded in 1973 their Bishop's block Pinot Noir are among the oldest vines in the Willamette Valley. While the names on the bottle haven't always said Durant, Owen Roe, Patricia Green, Sokol Blosser, Big Table Farm and a long list of others have come to appreciate the special sites and the resulting Pinot and Chardonnay that the Durants have grown over those long years.

Originally Ken and Penny Durant came to the Willamette Valley thinking maybe they'd plant a nut orchard. At the time the valley floor was expensive as it was fertile farmland so the Durants bought what they could along a ridge that overlooks the valley in the Dundee Hills area. Little did they know at the time that it would be an incredible place to grow Pinot Noir.

With the 2003 vintage, the 30th anniversary of the establishment of the vineyards on Red Ridge, the Durant family decided that it was time that they released wines under their own label.

"These wines are a reflection of how we farm." Says Paul Durant "we don't blend, for better or for worse." At Durant Vineyards they say they're "true to the block." All of their wines are vineyard designate bottlings, blending is out, it's not an option. The nooks and crannies of their vineyards laid out along the ridge, produce individual wines, and the Durants are very, very particular about how those wines are made.

The Durants look for winemakers who believe in "adaptive" versus "prescriptive" winemaking philosophies. Instead of making a wine to a particular style, adaptive winemakers first seek to understand the fruit and site they're dealing with, and then make the wines that will best communicate that story. The folks at Durant have been selling their fruit to a number of the Valley's winemakers over a long time, and they've been able to see who does well with their fruit, who let's it be what it is.

"We've tried to match these winemakers and the skill-sets we feel like they bring to the table to these particular blocks" says Paul. At Durant they're working with six different winemakers, they don't have an executive winemaker or someone setting a sort of house style. Instead, they enlist the talents of a wildly varied group of six winemakers from the Willamette Valley. The list of names includes Marcus Goodfellow from Big Table Farm, Chad Stock of Minimus, Isabelle Dutarte from De Ponte Cellars, Joe Dobbes of Dobbes Family Wines and Jesse Lange, of Lange Estate as well as a few others.
2013 Durant Vineyard, Raven, Chardonnay,
Made by ADEA's Dean Fisher from the Raven block Chardonnay, planted to clone 96. Aromatics of key lime, white flowers and beeswax. The palate is balanced with bright citrus and stone fruit flavors that give way to rounded lemon creme and honey flavors. -$25

2013 Durant Vineyard, Bishop, Pinot Noir
These are old vine Pommard clones, the original plantings by the Durant family that dates to 1973. The oldest block on the property is entrusted to Isabelle Dutarte from De Ponte Cellars. She produces a nuanced and elegant Pinot Noir with aromas of red fruit, barrel spice and earth. The palate offers up layers of dark ripe fruit, dried herbs, clove and a kiss of fresh mint as the acid balances the finish nicely. -$65 (2012 is the current release.)