Oregon - Where Pinot is king -  Tasting Report 2019 

Oregon is a young wine region. Just over 50 years ago, David Lett planted the first Pinot Noir cuttings in Willamette Valley. No one expected the wines to work, however, he was determined, and over 50 years later, the region boasts 700 wineries which call Oregon home. Yet, travelling around Oregon you still feel the crowds are still to arrive. There are no huge chateaux or tasting rooms, Domaine Serene is an exception, but expect to drive up and knock on the door of an old pig farm or taste on an old picnic table. Tasting rooms are starting to pop up, however, this is nothing like their Californian cousins down south. This is rural and rustic, and the wines show this same distinct character. And I love it!

Oregon Tasting Report - Domaie Serene

Oregon is predominantly first-generation, history is short, and the best terroir, soil and location are still be discovered. This though, is Pinot Country, 4-5 times Pinot Noir grows here than any other variety, yet don't let that put you off trying other varieties. I have tried some excellent Chardonnay and Pinot Gris.

Oregon is unique for a few reasons. It is the same latitude as the Cote de Beaune in Bourgogne, the climate is continental with hot days in the summer months along with coolish nights due to the proximity to the sea. I found the most unique attribute was the soil. In Willamette Valley, there are generally two different characteristics of soils, Volcanic and Marine sediment. Vines grown on Volcanic soil tends to produce wines which are fruit-driven, crisp, clean along with crushed stones. Marine sediment produces wines which are more floral and savoury driven with notes of dried spices.

When deciding which wineries to visit, I like variety. Domaine Serene, Patricia Green, Beaux Freres and Evening Lands got me that variety. A full report will be published in the coming weeks, however, I wanted to share my initial thoughts. Has anyone ever been in a tasting group or performing a blind tasting and got an Oregon Pinot Noir and nailed it? I doubt it. I have tried so many different styles of Oregon Pinot Noirs, from Burgundy rustic styles to fruit driven to oaky styles. Oregon has it all.

Domaine Serene

Domaine Serene was the largest winery I visited. It was found by Grace and Ken Evenstad in 1989 and was named after their daughter Serene. They had international success by winning two top 10 'Wine Spectator Awards' as well as several recognitions at the Decanter World Wine Awards. They recently purchased a vineyard in Burgundy and now produce several bottlings under their French label Château de la Crée. The majority of their wines are estate grown, and they sustainably grow their grapes. They also operate a very popular club membership with over 2000 members, which have access to a variety of single vineyard designated wines. I was quite excited about the visit and tasting. I am always objective when I write about wine, and I found their wines to have quite a lot of oak and the alcohol quite high. Their wines are driven by the integration of both the fruit and the barrel ageing. I have a personal preference towards showcasing the terroir from where the vines are grown, and I feel this is lost with the high oak on these wines. Yet, I understand how some consumers like these bigger and bolder Pinot Noirs. 

The highlights included Domaine Serene 'R' (93 points), a very Provence style of rose. Quite floral with fresh strawberries, raspberries, fresh lavender and a good backbone of acidity. As well as, the Domaine Serene Chardonnay Evenstad Reserve 2017 (92 points), with a nose full of butter popcorn, caramel and Asian pear. This seriously textured wine was fully layered with a sweet and elegant finish. Along with the Domaine Serene Pinot Noir Evenstad Reserve 2016 (92 points), The palate had soft elegant tannins yet was rich along with a full palate, the fruit felt creamy with multilayers of vanilla, spice and a little cocoa. Finally a word on the Domaine Serene Grand Chaval, a blend of Syrah and Pinot Noir, textually this does not work in my eyes. I understand certain consumers enjoy this, however, a grape as light as Pinot Noir should not be blended with Syrah. I was not a huge fan of this blend. 

Patricia Green Cellars

Patricia Green Cellars started in 2000 when friends Patty Green and Jim Anderson purchased a 52-acre estate in Willamette Valley. Their philosophy of winemaking is as they state 'Do what needs to be done'. When great fruit is produced, from great terroir, very little is needed to be done in the winery to make great wine. Patricia Green wines are produced by showcasing individual clones, sites, soils and terroirs. In my eyes this is what needs to be done along with careful oak ageing which brings is a true expression of a specific vineyard. Understanding the relationship between soil type and clones is very important. For those not familiar with Pinot Noir clones, I recommend this fantastic article to bring you up to speed. Patricia Green owns a larger number of vineyards but also purchases fruit from certain growers. However these growers need to keep the quality high, or they will be dropped. I came away highly impressed by the high quality of different expressions of Pinot Noir available in Willamette Valley, and Patricia Green was able to showcase many expression of this wonderful grape variety. Attention should also be made on their Chardonnays which even though are less popular than their Pinots, are of the same high standard. They remind me hugely of Chablis and Cote de Beaune. 

My highlight of the Chardonnay range was the Durant Vineyard 2017 (92 points), which was full of well-textured lemon, crushed rocks and oyster shells. This was very Chablis style with piercing acidity and a strong backbone to match. As for the Pinots the Patricia Green Cellars Mysterious 2016 (95 points), was beautiful with near velvety like textures along with creamy and rich fruit along with good structure, the hero here is the fruit and the terroir. Along with the Patricia Green Cellars Coury Clone Hyland Vineyard (95 points), quite burgundy in style yet had that Volcanic soil which gave the palate that fruit-driven yet crushed rock texture, this really showcased the Coury clone perfectly. Finally, the Patricia Green Cellars Weber Vineyard 2017, which had both a serious yet joyful side, this had a pleasant uplift of fruit and spice cake which gave the wine a structured and elegant finish. Patricia Green is very much an under the radar winery producing world-class Pinot Noirs,, for those who are not in the know you are missing out!  

Beaux Frères

Beaux Frères was started by Michael Etzel and his brother-in-Law Robert Parker, Jr in 1986, when Michael saw a pig farm on Ribbon Ridge and purchased it. The first vines were planted in 1991. In 2017 Henriot partnered with Beaux Frères to make it a second-generation winery. Beaux Frères winery uses a biodynamic approach to winemaking along with producing their own compost and do not use any fertilizers. They produce mostly Pinot Noir with a little Chardonnay.

Their three estate vineyards are 'The Beaux Freres Vineyard', 'Upper Terrace' and 'Sequitur'. They are also researching an old-world technique called 'Palissage'. This technique turns back the vines which would normally be hedged underneath the canopy. This is another way to control the canopy and to reduce the lateral shoot growth which allows for fewer shoots and leaves around the clusters. This technique leads to more work in the vineyard, yet initial studies show better quality fruit is produced.

Highlights included Beaux Frères Star Mooring Chehalem Mountains 2017 (94 points), full-on fruit with dark cherries, strawberries along with a little spice, crushed stones and a lean, straight finish. The Beaux Frères 'Beaux Frères Vineyard' 2017 (94 points), layers of fresh ripe fruit, fresh herbs a little spice and pepper, but it was the layers of velvety tannins that got me. Finally, the highlight of the tasting was the Beaux Frères Palissage 2017 (96 points), I was impressed to see such a difference in the concentricity along with certain floral and deep red fruits characteristics and a long elegant finish. I really enjoyed the Beaux Frèress range of wines, they had good purity, concentration and elegant length, and all of this with a sustainable and organic approach. Amazing

Evening Land

Evening Land was one of the projects of Rajat Parr, one of my idols and probably one of the best blind tasters in the world. All wines come from the Seven Springs vineyard, located Eloa-Amity hills. The Eloa-Amity hills tend to be slightly higher in altitude than other sub-appellations in Willamette Valley, for this reason, the wines tend to have higher acidity and lower in alcohol. One of the issues I encountered across Oregon was the rising temperatures, however, for now, this is not an issue for Evening Land. Since 2007, Evening Land is also certified organic. 

Evening Land was one of the projects of Rajat Parr, one of my idols and probably one of the best blind tasters in the world. All wines come from the Seven Springs vineyard, located Eloa-Amity hills. The Eloa-Amity hills tend to be slightly higher in altitude than other sub-appellations in Willamette Valley, for this reason, the wines tend to have higher acidity and lower in alcohol. One of the issues I encountered across Oregon was the rising temperatures, however, for now, this is not an issue for Evening Land. Since 2007, Evening Land is also certified organic. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Gamay are produced. I am consistently impressed by the number of wineries which are sustainable and/or organic in Oregon compared to other regions I have visited in the world. Evening Land wines stood out with their minerality, chalkiness and subtle fruit characteristics. 

Bottom Line

This was my first time in Oregon, and I have to say I was impressed by the quality and more than that the sustainability and care they take about producing some of the best Pinot Noir in the world. Oregon is a very very New World country, yet the quality which is being produced makes me think they have been producing wine for over 100 years. Oregon has taken inspiration from Burgundy, and are making different styles of Pinot Noir. I only have one concern: Global Warming. Everyone is worried about it in Oregon, they can't control it and it will mean they have to work harder in the vineyard by controlling the canopy etc. to control the ripening of the grapes. They have challenges in the coming years, but as long as they stick to their roots and don't try crazy blends or 100's of different varieties, I know they will be fine. Oregon is going through a 'wine rush' at the moment, as more and more consumers are finding out what Oregon has to offer. For now, it is still under the radar, but I expect this to change in the coming years. I am looking forward to what the future will hold for Oregon and their wine scene. 

Beaux Frères Pinot Noir Palissage 2017

96 points

Palissage in a technique which brings the vines back under the canopy, it helps to reduce vegetation growth. I was impressed to see such a difference in the concentricity along with certain floral and deep red fruits characteristics on the nose, on the palate I found freshly picked ripe strawberries, lavender, spring herbs and forest floor, a little more earthy than other Beaux Freres sites, the palate was joyful yet with complexity and a long elegant finish. One for the cellar and probably their best bottling.

Patricia Green Cellars Pinot Noir Mysterious 2016

95 points

The name mysterious rallies around the secret of where this fruit is sourced from. This is some of the best fruit in Dundee Hills, I found aromas of darker red fruit such as black cherries and some ripe strawberries and blackberries? The palate was beautiful with near velvety like textures along with creamy and rich fruit along with good structure due to the tannins coming from both the whole cluster fermentation along with the 17% new oak that this wine saw. The hero here is the fruit and the terroir, 100% Pommard clone, this is a wine which is just going to get better and better. Wow!

Evening Land Vineyards Chardonnay Summum Seven Springs Vineyard 2014

95 points

There is so much going on in this wine, full of peaches, Asian pears and quince, along with a full smack of acidity and sweet spices on the finish really put this head and shoulders above the other Evening Land wines. Interested to see how this develops in 10+ years. This has to be one of the best Chardonnays out of Oregon.

Evening Land Vineyards Pinot Noir La Source Seven Springs Vineyard 2016

95 points

A classic, this Pinot is grown at the top of the Seven Springs vineyard. Bold creamy fruit fills the palate with wild herbs, crushed stones and soft tannins along with good acidity. This is a joy to drink now but should be saved for at least 5 years. Alcohol is always kept in check due to the coolness of the Eola-Amity Hills.

Patricia Green Cellars Pinot Noir Coury Clone Hyland Vineyard 2017

95 points

One of my favourites from today's flight, quite burgundy in style yet had that Volcanic soil which gave the palate that fruit-driven yet crushed rock texture, the palate was firing on all cylinders with spicy tart red cherries, strawberries, herbs along with an acidity that was higher than normal really made this wine stood out. This really showcased the Coury clone, which is not used enough in my opinion.

Beaux Frères Pinot Noir Beaux Frères Vineyard 2017

94 points

Really enjoyed this, loads of layers of fresh ripe fruit, fresh herbs a little spice and pepper, but it was the layers of velvety tannins that got me. This is one for the cellar. 94+

Patricia Green Cellars Pinot Noir Weber Vineyard 2017

94 points

One of the highlights of the tasting and a benchmark for the Dundee Hills appellation. Located on Jory soil, this vineyard was planted solely with 100% Pommard. This wine had both a serious yet joyful side. On the nose, I found aromas of wild red strawberries and floral characteristics, yet on the palate, I found a slightly more serious gamy side, yet with that pleasant uplift of fruit and spice cake which gave the wine a structured and elegant finish. This is one for the cellar.

Beaux Frères Pinot Noir Star Mooring Chehalem Mountains 2017

94 points

Planted in 2014 on thin volcanic soil, this is the first vintage and wow what a first vintage, full-on fruit with dark cherries, strawberries along with a little spice, crushed stones and a lean and straight finish. This vineyard has a huge potential. Looking forward to future vintages. Planted on Volcanic soil.

Domaine Serene "R" 2018

93 points

Proprietary blend a very Provence style of rose. Quite floral with fresh strawberries, raspberries, fresh lavender and a good backbone of acidity. This is as good as it gets for Oregon roses, fresh, crisp and easy drinking.

Patricia Green Cellars Pinot Noir Notorious 2017

93 points

A more rustic and old world style of Pinot. There were aromas of bright red cherries yet with forest floor and spice. There was a delicate and elegant finish to this. More for the Burgundy style drinker.

Patricia Green Cellars Pinot Noir Wadensvil Block Estate Vineyard 2017

93 points

Bright red fruits on the nose, for some reason I can only smell strawberries, also a little forest floor and pepper but not overly, the palate was full of lush fresh fruit, spice, fresh earth, black pepper with medium+ tannins and a smooth finish which has not fully settled out yet, this is one for the cellar, needs 5+ years to settle down.

Evening Land Vineyards Pinot Noir Anden Seven Springs Vineyard 2016

93 points

100% Whole Cluster and 100% new oak, very Dujac style yet not overly spicy or oaky, good fruit concentration yet a strong backbone. This will need time to show its full potential drink in 2022.

Patricia Green Cellars Pinot Noir Dijon 115 Freedom Hill Vineyard 2017

93 points

Pale red in the glass, this wine is all about the plush and lush fruit, due to the exclusive use of the Dijon 115 clone, originally from Burgundy. There are strong aromas of freshly picked wild strawberries, ripe cherries, raspberries and fresh herbs. On the palate, I firstly found a little spice, probably due to the whole cluster fermentation, then little red fruits took centre stage, this wine had a good fruit concentration, yet was soft and elegant at the same time. I feel this will just get better in the coming 5+ years.

Evening Land Vineyards Chardonnay La Source Seven Springs Vineyard 2016

93 points

The Source vineyard is a plot located on the Seven Springs vineyard. It is the best part of the slope, the nose is a little more reductive and you get this Burgundy style reduction that you would find in Puligny or Meursault. Notes of ripe stone fruit, confit lemon, toasty brioche and bright acidity. The finish is elegant and this has great potential to age. 93-94

Domaine Serene Pinot Noir Evenstad Reserve 2016

92 points

I found aromas of soft cherries, strawberries, cola. The palate had soft elegant tannins yet was rich along with a full palate, the fruit felt creamy with multilayers of vanilla, spice and a little cocoa.

Evening Land Vineyards Chardonnay Seven Springs Vineyard 2016

92 points

Terrific acidity with tart stone fruit, Asian pear, a little sweet spice and a touch of vanilla extract. This is excellent for the price.

Evening Land Vineyards Pinot Noir Seven Springs 2016

92 points

This wine showed ripe dark and red fruits,wild spring herbs along with good acidity, smooth tannins and an easy elegant finish. Excellent value for the price.

Patricia Green Cellars Pinot Noir Coury Clone Freedom Hill Vineyard 2017

92 points

Grown on marine sediment, this wine had more concentration than the Hyland Vineyard, with more vegetal, savoury, green pepper and a dried floral profile. The palate was slightly creamy yet gamy with a more rustic finish.

Patricia Green Cellars Chardonnay Durant Vineyard 2017

92 points

A very mineral and wet stone style of Chardonnay, I found aromas of sharp green apple, citrus peel, wet stone and concrete. The palate was full of well-textured lemon, crushed rocks and oyster shells. This was very Chablis style with piercing acidity and a strong backbone to match. The Durant vineyard was grown on Volcanic soil and a blend of both Dijon 96 and 76 clones. 10 months mainly in neutral barrels, this wine really shows the quality of fruit and vineyard characteristics of the Dundee Hill Appellation.

Domaine Serene Chardonnay Evenstad Reserve 2017

92 points

Full, rich and multilayered. This is the Russian River Chard of the North. A nose full of butter popcorn, caramel and Asian pear. This seriously textured wine was fully layered with yellow ripe fruit, vanilla bean, nutmeg, sweet spices with an elegant finish. 

Domaine Serene Pinot Noir Yamhill Cuvée 2017

91 points

Bright and ripe red fruit, I found a very youthful palate of fresh tart fruit, bubblegum, vanilla and wild herbs. This is a blend of all of their 6 estates. You will want to drink this in it's youth.

Winderlea Pinot Noir Dundee Hills Vineyards 2014

91 points

Deep, lush and full-bodied Pinot Noir from Dundee Hills. There were aromas of red cherries, vanilla bean and liquorice, the palate was composed of soft red fruits, with characteristics of bright tart red cherries, cola fresh herbs along with a soft, delicate and creamy finish. Has this peaked? Drink now.

Beaux Frères Pinot Noir Sequitur 2017

90 points

A blend of multiple clones (up to 17) on this one site. This Pinot is very earthy with forest floor, green pepper and medium spice which fills the aroma in the glass. On the palate, I found dried red fruit, pepper and a gamy profile, there was a medium finish which fell a little short. Still a young vineyard, this will improve in the years to come.

Oregon Trails Wine Co. Pinot Noir 2017

90 points

For the price this is probably one of the best buys in Oregon, with tart bright red fruit, fresh earthy notes and crushed rocks, the body was medium to full with fresh acidity and a bright finish. Drink now

A to Z Wineworks Pinot Noir 2015

88 points

So this is fine, nothing special, don't think too much when you drink this. Sour red fruit along with wild herbs, cola and a sharp but fine finish. Acidity feels a little unbalanced.

Wine By Joe Pinot Noir Joe to Go NV

88 points

Who would have though they would put Pinot in a can. Well surprisingly enough, this stuff ia not that bad. No it does not have any depth, concentration or lingering finish, but zippy red fruits, nice acidity and a fresh finish.

Domaine Serene Grand Cheval 2016

87 points

A blend of Syrah and Pinot Noir.  Lots of Dark fruit, meaty, espresso a little smoke, this is very much a steak wine. I am not sure what the Pinot brings to this blend and to be honest, feels unbalanced

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