The Willamette Valley has proven it's mettle as a region that produces world class Pinot Noir, and many say that before too long it's Chardonnay will be similarly lauded. The valley's climate and soil types do indeed bear a resemblance to those elements found in the hallowed grounds of Burgundy. Oregon however has made a style all it's own. The singularity of Pinot Noir's success has been a boon to Oregon's wine industry in the Willamette creating an international reputation.
That success however has also led to a homogeneity within the Willamette Valley. Pinot Noir for so many logical reason is by far the most planted grape, and with much of the new influx of California money and size, more Pinot vines are going into the ground all the time. They didn't buy vineyards in the Willamette Valley to produce Riesling. Which is too bad, frankly. Of the over 25,00 acres planted in the Willamette Valley (a number in flux given the rapid growth), well over half of that acreage 15,000 is Pinot Noir, and only Pinot Gris comes close at 3,000. Which actually isn't close.
Chardonnay is well underway and in my opinion should eventually surpass Pinot Gris and frankly the sooner the better, and we know that Riesling can do very well in the Willamette Valley.
That does not mean however that there isn't some broader variety and if you look around there some really cool stuff to be found. One example of folks going off script are the Single Acre wines from the Stoller Estate Vineyard. On their 190 acre estate vineyard over 120 acres is planted to Pinot Noir, with over 50 acres of Chardonnay. The remaining few acres are split between 5 different varieties with most of it going to Pinot Gris. That leaves us 5 and a half acres to work with and 4 varieties. The Single Acre wines at least in this first release, are Riesling, Tempranillo and Syrah, and they give you every reason to be excited about something outside the Willamette Valley box.
For Stoller Family Estate winemaker Melissa Burr it's a cool climate thing for all three but perhaps most notably for the Syrah and Tempranillo . "I think our cool climate site makes these varieties serious and less opulent. They are wines that will hopefully age well. I keep both of them in barrel longer than our pinot; approximately 16 months to develop. It will be interesting to see over time how they reflect our vintages that pendulum so drastically from year to year."
For Stoller vineyard manage Rob Schultz there are elements of the Willamette Valley's growing conditions that make these outsiders both well suited, and a bit challenging. "I definitely see a role for Tempranillo and Syrah in the valley. I've been very happily surprised with how they ripen here at our estate, and are able to hang late in the season with great disease resistance. I don't think that they're varieties that could be as widely planted as Pinot or Chardonnay; one would definitely need a lower elevation, a warmer spot, and the ability to farm them the right way."
"They're challenging because of their varietal idiosyncrasies. For instance Syrah, is more prone to water stress because their stomata, unlike Pinot noir, stay open and the leaves continue to lose water in temperatures above 95. Tempranillo, because the clusters can be so big, requires some tricky canopy management and thinning practices to get a balanced fruit set."
The folks at Stoller plan on adding an additional acre of Syrah for a cofermentation ala the Northern Rhone, with Viognier. The danger in drinking these wines is that you get to thinking crazy thoughts like: "Why don't they pull out some of that Pinot and plant Syrah or Tempranillo?" Maybe I shouldn't get carried away but the vibrancy and angularity of these wines make for a couple of very refreshing takes on Syrah and Tempranillo. The Riesling is outstanding and for me further cements the case that the grape is under planted in the Willamette. (I never feel this way about Pinot Gris for what it's worth.)
The acidity on these wines is insane, and the zip and freshness really only has the wines opening up to you on day 2 and the Riesling continues to zip along on day 3. The ageability that Melissa refers to is evident in the wines' acidity. (Decant forever or pop them well in advance of serving or just let them unwind over time, the latter really worked for me.)
2013 Stoller Single Acre Riesling Well made Riesling like this one continues to make the case for more planting of this grape in the Willamette Valley. This wine is aromatically effusive the way any good Riesling should be with white peach, apple blossom and coriander. The palate is loaded with zesty acid and a load of minerality and ripe stone fruits. $25 (Worth every penny.)
2011 Stoller Single Acre Tempranillo I want to love Tempranillo and I keep hearing how amazing it should be. I generally continue to be somewhat let down. This wine is a game changer. Aromatics of black tea, earth and berry fruit. The wine is austere in an old world way, it's saying, give me time, but to drink it now is to experience some serious freshness and vibrancy in a Tempranillo. High acidity and tangy fruit flavors and great mouthfeel. This is not a mouth-coating oak bomb in the style of Parker, this is fresh, zippy Tempranillo. $40 Sold Out. (Frankly that's a damn shame if you haven't had this wine.)
2011 Stoller Single Acre Syrah The new hotness needs to be cool climate Syrah. Serious. This is an example of how well this grape shows and why people who pass on it are fools. Fools! Syrah gets to terroir for me as well as Pinot Noir and Riesling and climatically it can really make wines that show an amazing range. Perhaps better than any grape. This Syrah is vibrant and loaded with awesome. Black fruit, white pepper, a sort of garrique which is a french way to say lots of herbal notes. Rob worked with this fruit in section 45.3 of the vineyard which given it's lower elevation was a great match for a typically warmer climate grape. $40 Sold Out (I weep for you if you haven't tried this.)
Sadly these last two incredible wines are sold out, but I would encourage you to call the people at Stoller and find out who might have them,, this is an any means necessary situation. They are outstanding on a level that I believe continues to prove the mettle of the partnership between grower and winemaker in Rob and Melissa and shows Melissa's chops as a winemaker. They also make an amazing case for Syrah and Tempranillo in the Willamette. (The case has already been made for Riesling.)
These wines were provided as samples.