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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.