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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