Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Youngberg Hill; Site and Scenery in the McMinnville AVA

A short drive out of McMinnville and a steep sharp right hand turn leads the way up and up to Youngberg Hill. The sight and site is one to behold in terms of viewpoint, and Pinot Noir, it turns out.  The bed and breakfast, owned and operated by Wayne and Nicolette Bailey, is smack dab in the middle of Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris vineyards that certainly add romance to the sweeping views of the Willamette Valley as well as points north and south.

The inn is reason enough to make both the trip and that steep climb. My room had views of the vineyards below and the rolling hills of the McMinnville AVA. On a clear day Mt. Hood, Jefferson and the Sisters add to the show. The place is all sorts of charming, and in addition to the views and hospitality it grants you, the location would put it on the shortest of short lists in terms of rooms with a view for exploring Oregon's Willamette wine country.  

While Youngberg Hill is a Valley gem in terms of  accommodations what is most interesting about the place is their Pinot Noir, particularly from the Jordan Block.  The site, which lies slightly outside of the panorama visible from the front porch, sits on a steeper angle than the rest of the property at between 750 and 800 feet elevation. The block is a "field blend" of Pommard and Wadenswil clones on the well draining, sedimentary Steiwer soil.

Back in 1989, while Ken Wright owned Panther Creek, he convinced the property's owners to plant Pinot Noir in what is today the Jordan Block, (named for one of the Bailey's daughters). Wright bought the fruit exclusively until 96 when he sold Panther Creek. That winery continued to buy the Jordan Block Pinot until Wayne bought the Youngberg Hill property in 2003, he was tipped off to the place by Jimi Brooks. Wayne moved the vineyard in the direction of what he calls "holistic farming." For Wayne, holistic farming is "not quite biodynamics." He's not following the moon per se, but it's about creating a closed system, allowing for biodiversity and taking an approach that considers the entirety of the farm, not just the grapes.

Wayne treated myself and a few other writers to a vertical tasting of the Jordan Block Pinot Noir beginning with the 2006 and wrapping in 2010. For Wayne, 06 is three years into his holistic farming approach and the wine would show "the essence of this place." As we moved toward the most recent vintages, Wayne suggested we'd see vintage variation but perhaps an evolution in the site.  My overall impression of the Jordan Block as a site is of one that brings a lot of minerality (read "earthiness"),  tannins and acidity to Pinot Noir. Fruit character and aromatics are more subdued, except perhaps on the cooler vintages, 2007 and 2010 showed elegant and slightly more fruit forward aromas. The site produces fine Pinot Noirs, including one of the most enjoyable and vibrant 2008s I've had to date, thanks to that acidity.  (I have included my tasting notes at the end of this piece on each vintage.)

Youngberg Hill is already pretty much booked through the high season a year out, so if you go visit (and you should consider it) go in the Winter and take your bicycle, if you're so inclined. The driveway makes for a nice challenge. What's special to me is that they clearly have a beautiful place, it's a destination within wine country to be sure. Often times "destination wineries" put a lazyperson's emphasis on the wine part of the equation. Wayne Bailey does not, he is making serious and intellectual Pinot Noirs worthy of anyone's consideration.

2006 Jordan Block- Fainter aromas of crushed stone and forest floor and a flavor profile that includes mushrooms, hints of blackberry, clove and white pepper. Great balance and tannins show this wine as only really just getting started.

2007 Jordan Block-Lots of vibrancy and bright acidity in this cool site, cool vintage pairing. Aromatics of early season red raspberry, and flinty stone took some time to coax from the wine. Brighter berry flavors, and a mineral finish.

2008 Jordan Block-The fullest bodied Pinot from Youngberg's tasting that night but I found it to be one of the most redeeming examples of the vintage. I am finding, at least as I'm drinking them now that the 08s are a little clunky, and dull. The Jordan Block however gets a great lift in vibrancy from the acidity that this site imparts.Substantial tannins, and roundness as well as dark fruit flavors. Aromas of cedar and baking spices.

2009 Jordan Block-This wine was a bit of a departure from the others. Not the least of which was the substantial improvement in the label change. The nose was quite closed up and the wine felt a bit angular. High acids and flavors of white pepper, chalk, eucalyptus and a touch of red fruit. This vintage of Jordan Block perhaps needs more time, I'd love to revisit it in a year.

2010 Jordan Block- My love affair with 2010 in Oregon continues with this Jordan Block Pinot Noir. The elegance of the aromatics do the job with aromas of violets and sweet candied fruit. The wine was also quite pretty to drink, with a soft mouthfeel, more demure acidity and loads of blue fruit flavors. While my favorite of the flight was the 2008 this one has the most glaring potential.

I stayed at Youngberg Hill as a guest of the Inn and Winery.


Great post Clive. The wine and Inn combo at Youngberg Hill is hard to beat. Only 5 minutes from McMinnville and dinner at Nick's Italian Cafe. Worth a trip for any reason.

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