Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Oregon Pinot the French Translation; 1789 Wines

I participated in the Northwest Wines To You Tasting Games and was able to taste a vertical of the 1789 wines from 2007 through 2009 and participate in an online question and answer session with the winemaker.  

Winemaker Isabelle Dutartre came from France to Oregon's Willamette Valley to make Pinot Noir.  With a substantial background in Burgundy, studying there as well as working for Joseph Drouhin for 12 years, Isabelle began a long commute back and forth between France and Oregon several times a year.  In 1993 she decided to quit fighting the trans-Atlantic traffic and settled in the Willamette Valley. With about 28 years of winemaking experience she's finally come out with a wine all her own.

While Isabelle continues to make wine for established wineries within the Valley. she also has started her own venture, a "personal revolution," in her 1789 Wines. (She's currently the winemaker at De Ponte Cellars.)  For Isabelle, the label is a nod to her French heritage (marking the year of France's great revolution) but it wasn't "too French-y" in her words. Isabelle is putting a French accent on the Oregon fruit, and hoping produce a more Burgundian style of wine. Finesse, elegance and complexity are what she appreciates in the Pinot Noir from her home country and she's hoping to emulate that here in the Willamette Valley.

For her first vintage in 2007 Isabelle was able to source fruit from my personal favorite Oregon AVA, the Chehalem Mountains.  She only made about 70 cases that year from the acre of fruit she got and for Isabelle this marked a special moment, it was all hers, the label, the wine all of it.  In many ways, it was like "another baby" that she had to take all the responsibility for. (Isabelle is a mother of three.)

By now many people know the story of the 2007 vintage in the Willamette Valley.  It was a challenging one, with late season rainstorms making for a very perplexing and stressful harvest. Ultimately, with the way these wines are now drinking, I hope we have many more vintages like that, but of course, I don't have to go through all the stress of actually making any decisions about whether to pick, or wait.  In 2007 this was an enormous factor. With pending rains on the way, many wineries picked before the rains came, not willing to risk the fruit this late into the growing season. For Isabelle, the decision was to wait, and ultimately it was the right decision for her, as she believes that as a winemaker she can taste that decision in Willamette Valley wines of that vintage.

"The tannins were not ripe, it was not there. There's a bit of greenness on the wines that were picked early." For Isabelle waiting out the rain resulted in a beautiful wine with fantastic aromatics. "The aromas are clean, elegant and the palate follows the nose."  To me the wine is a classic of this cool, challenging vintage and that AVA with loads of earthen aromas, gunpowder minerality and fresh ripe raspberries. For Isabelle the 07 vintage is what a classic Oregon vintage is, despite all its stresses.

These wines were provided as samples and are all available from Northwest Wines to You. They are all really, very good, and the 2007 is bordering on brilliant.

1789 Wines 2007 Chehalem Mountain Pinot Noir A classic and my favorite of the bunch with rich and haunting aromatics of dried violet, black tea, gunpowder and forest floor.  The wine delivers the same character on the palate with elegant raspberries and red currants. An absolutely beautifully balanced, acid driven Pinot Noir. $60

1789 Wines 2008 Chehalem Mountain Pinot Noir From a warmer and what Isabelle calls an "easier vintage," the aromatics are not as forward, highlighting early season blackberry and clove.  The wine is more fruit forward and broader in body than its younger sister.  Black fruit flavors along with clove and baking spices carry through the finish. The warmer vintage is handled deftly by a talented winemaker and the more muscular fruit is balanced with an elegance and finesse through the finish.  $60

1789 Wines 2009 Chehalem Mountain Pinot Noir "The middle child" in terms of taste among the three Pinot Noirs.  Aromatics of red fruit and sweet notes. The acidity is slightly less obvious, the palate is elegant with red fruit and herbal notes, the wine has a very pretty mouth-feel and is beautifully balanced.  $48


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