Initial thoughts on Oregon wines
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 is predominantly first generation, history is short, and the best terroir, soil and location is 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 produce 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 a 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. Some of my favourite discoveries can be found below
Domaine Serene was the biggest winery we visited, with an impressive tasting room and winery they produce some of Oregon's most bold and oaky styles of Pinot Noir out there. Having recently won the 'Best Pinot Noir in Show' at the Decanter awards, this really help to put Oregon and Domaine Serene on the map. Their Pinot Noir Reserve Evenstad Reserve 2016 (93 points) showed strong characteristics of soft creamy fruit along with elegant, fine tannins and multilayers of nutmeg, vanilla and sweet spices. Any rosé fans out there? They produce a fantastic Provencal style of Rose called 'R' (93 points) with fresh strawberries, cherries, wild herbs along with crisp acidity. What more could you want on a hot summers day?
Patricia Green Winery has a fascinating story of two friends who had a vision of creating the best Pinot Noirs in Oregon. They let the land and fruit talk, along with focusing on one or two clones depending on the sites. I really appreciate that approach, since you start to understand the personality of the soil along with the clone across the multiple wines that they produce. I appreciated their Notorious 2017 (93 points), a more rustic and burgundy style Pinot with aromas of bright red cherry, forest floor and a silky finish. The Patricia Green Cellars Pinot Noir Coury Clone Hyland Vineyard 2017 (95 points), really showcased the Coury clone, one which is not used enough in my opinion. This is grown on volcanic soil, and is beautifully balanced along with bright red strawberries along with crushed rocks and an elegant finish.
Beaux Frères vineyards was next, owned by Michael Etzel and Robert Parker, now owned by just Michael and the Henriot Champagne house. Beaux Frères produces some of the more earthy, concentrated yet elegant styles of Pinot Noirs in the valley. I found the Beaux Frères Vineyard 2017 (94 points) to be a great success with a palate full of freshly picked strawberries, cherries a little forest floor and and a velvety finish. The Beaux Frères Pinot Noir Palissage 2017 (96 points) was the standout of the range, with a wonderful floral component along with a fresh fruit concentrated profile and a long elegant finish. This will just keep getting better in the coming years.
Finally Evening Land, led by Rajat Parr and his team, The Seven Springs Vineyard is located in Eola-Amity, an appellation with a higher altitude compared to other AVA's in Oregon. This allows for a good amount of acidity and a lower alcohol that other wineries are struggling to control. The two standout wines were Evening Land Vineyards Chardonnay Summum Seven Springs Vineyard 2014 (95 points) which had amples of ripe stone fruit, sweet spices and jaw smacking acidity. This has to be one of the best Chardonnays in Oregon. Another favourite was the Evening Land Vineyards Pinot Noir La Source Seven Springs Vineyard 2016 (95 points). I tried the 2015 at the New York Wine Experience 2018, and the 2016 did not disappoint. A wine full of creamy fruit, wild herbs and crushed rocks with an elegant multilayered finish, this Pinot has to be on every Pinot lovers shopping list.
As always blind tasting is an important part of this trip, and confirms my initial thoughts I had in the wineries. Every wine lover should practice this!
If you love Pinot Noir then you need to try Oregon Pinot Noir, with over 700 wineries now in Oregon you are spoiled for choice. I will be publishing my full list of wines tried in the coming weeks, however hopefully you will be able to pick up some of my suggestions above, while you wait for the full report!