It’s Willamette, Dammit: exploring Oregon Pinot.

In Oregon, in July, it’s cool and crisp in the morning, and warm in the afternoon. Driving through Central Willamette Valley, we pass by apple orchards, vineyards, wildflowers, and farms. You can see the thick green hills in the distance, gently swaying in the NW breeze. It’s like a post card, really, except the speed limit is 55 and there’s no sense of urgency. It’s a strange feeling: not being in a rush. We kind of don’t know how to handle it. The hills and valleys are typical of other West Coast wine regions; small country roads intertwine at the plateaus overlooking rows of bright green vineyards.
The wineries have such small productions compared to other areas, so each vineyard has something special to offer. Durant Vineyard’s style reminded me of drinking Cote Du Beaune, a light Pinot, so of course it was our favorite. The winemakers are very focused, as they have been since 1973, the oldest vines in the valley. In addition, the tasting room staff was more than educated on styles, climate, specific soil content, and tons of other questions the sommelier threw
at them. My favorite was the 2011 Ava Lucia Pinot Noir: light and slightly fruity and very smooth, it was obvious these guys know what they are doing. Only 355 cases produced. Available online for $35.
(source: Made In Oregon)
Brooks Winery, humble to its core, was a nice change to the hustle and bustle of Durant. It consists of 23 labels, one of which was featured in an Obama White House Dinner. The 2011 Janus Pinot Noir, just recently bottled, is very typical of a Willamette Valley Pinot, subtle, easily drinkable, and much less fruit forward than its Southern Cousins in California. Brooks is a small, family winery, focuses on keeping traditions alive, and raising winemakers. They have a wonderful story, beautiful wine, and a laid back attitude. While the 2011 Janus is not yet available for purchase, the 2010 is available online for $35.
Because the commercialization of wine highways are kept to a minimum, the most beautiful thing about Oregon can be kept natural. The scenery itself is worth the visit. I know we’ll definitely be trying more Oregon Pinots from now on. Oh, and then there’s Portland. You can’t miss it.


what are you drinking tonight? …try a 2010 Oregon Pinot Noir.

Let’s face it, extreme weather has affected the entire United States the past few years. Everything from droughts to flooding, tornadoes to nor’easters has dominated the weather news. This was no different in 2010, where the cooler weather in the Willamette Valley forced vintners into a compressed harvest schedule, with very late blooms, and rainy picking conditions.  This is what winemakers call a “cool vintage.”  In regions with traditional cooler climates and shorter growing seasons, like the Northwest, early ripening varieties like Pinot Noirs thrive.   Winemakers got aggressive early, and thinned leaves, then fruits, several times over.  Most wineries on average had 100 days post bloom for the flavors to develop, which produced less opulent fruit and low alcohols, lower pH, and higher acidity.

(photo credit @TEXSOM, twitpic)

Welcome to the 2010 Oregon Pinot Noir.  According to Jerry D. Murray, Winemaker at Vanduzer Vineyards, this vintage is the prime example of what a Oregon wine should be.   Specifically, “…elegant, structured, layered, nuanced, not big..”  In fact, this vintage is so ideal that TEXSOM (the largest sommelier conference in the US) dedicated a whole session to it.  Nate Ready and Fred Dame, Master Sommeliers, hailed the 2010 Oregon Pinot not only as a great vintage, but very food friendly as well, pairing with mostly anything on the menu.

Where can you find a good, ready to drink wine, right now?  Honestly, restaurants are your best bet.  In fact, at our last Foodiemamas outing, we found a 2010 Oregon Primarius Pinot at Biga on the Banks, and while admittedly very light, paired well with both salmon and beef short rib.  My plan is to start scanning  the aisles of Gabriels, Joe Saglimbeni’s, or HEB for incoming varietals.  The sommelier suggests the 2010 Balcolmbe Vineyard Pinot from Patricia Green Cellars, which will set you back about $36, and which you can buy directly online from the winemaker.  In addition, start asking your local retailers to stock such wines as Eyrie Vineyards Dundee Hills or Brickhouse “Cuvee du Tonneliere.”  In due time, we will see some amazing wine come onto our local shelves.

Be ready!  Cheers!