Oregon Pinots: Plenty of Personality

Finally! My chance to go to Oregon Pinot Camp had arrived. “Camp?” My friends’ incredulous faces stare back at me. “Your work takes you to Oregon to drink wine for four days?” Well…..when you come right down to it, yes! Every year 50 of Oregon’s wineries band together and invite over 250 wine/hospitality professionals to explore Oregon wine country.

In the last thirty years, Oregon’s pinot noirs have gone from being unknown to receiving international acclaim from industry professionals. Wine lovers who had previously only stocked Burgundies in their cellars are now adding pinots produced from grapes grown in Willamette Valley, Dundee Hills, and Yamhill County.

We participated in six workshops ranging from the history of Oregon winemaking to exploring vintages and styles as well as discussions and tastings of Oregon’s white wines. Winemakers took us to their vineyards to discuss terroir. You know, there’s nothing like squeezing dirt clods (oops, excuse my indelicate faux pas..shall I say soil samples…?) to really understand the difference between sedimentary and volcanic-based earth.

The star of the show? Pinot Noir, bien sûre. That persistently persnickety grape which perpetually puzzles and perplexes even the most devoted winegrower. In order to make that wonderfully elegant and silky wine we call pinot, our growers of the vine dedicate their lives to combating this thin-skinned grape’s proneness to rot. They will stay up at all hours of the night zipping through their plots tasting, chewing, spitting and tasting again until the grapes finally whisper to their caretakers that they have achieved full ripeness and the moment has arrived to begin harvest.

The pinot tastings focused on the 2006 vintage, a year that pleased many winemakers and yielded high quality fruit. It is clear that winemakers strive to produce wines true to pinot’s varietal characteristics. Though the wines are very young, they display a variety of aromas and flavors ranging from bright fresh red berries to riper, dark blackberries and plum. The various uses of oak were apparent and wines ranged from the more subtle flavors in Domain Drouhin’s elegant pinots to the fuller-bodied, spicier versions expressing more cedar, vanilla and tobacco from Panther Creek and Witness Tree. As a group Oregon pinots display a mouthwatering acidity, firm tannins, fruit complexity and a lengthy finish which are all important elements of quality and ageability.

As for the whites pinot gris is the reigning queen; her wines are deliciously crisp, clean, refreshing and can accompany many a dish (gee, why do I have this sudden craving for seared scallops, asparagus..but, I digress..). Winemakers are being creative and experimenting with other varietals such as chardonnay. A wonderfully refreshing example is Soter/Argyles’s sparkling Blanc de Blanc. Ponzi Winery makes a lovely arneis and others are dabbling with more aromatic varietals such as riesling and gewürztraminer.

How could the French not be attracted to this region? French owned Willakenzie Winery had fun in mind when producing their Plaisir à Trois, a unique blend of pinot noir, pinot meunier and gamay noir.

As we floated over the vineyards of Oregon in our hot air balloon one morning (mais, oui..) my thoughts took me to the winemakers. Though they have looked to Burgundy for inspiration, their goal is to focus on discovering their own style and unique expression of terroir to the world. Praise for Oregon, a picture of powerful potential for people with a predisposition for particular pinots.

Written by Agi Toth, DWS

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Comment by Agi Toth on August 21, 2008 at 11:16pm
Yes, Caitlin. We had the'06 and I even had a tasting of some of their older vintages from the 80's. Good stuff. Also, I stand corrected with my earlier comment. King Estate was represented and I tried the '06. Great year in general.
Comment by Caitlin on August 21, 2008 at 3:12pm
Every tried this '06 by Domaine Drouhin in Willamette Valley- ripe cherry deliciousness. :)

Comment by Agi Toth on August 1, 2008 at 9:18am
Point well taken. I enjoy King Estate's wines. Unfortunately, for some reason, King Estate was not a sponsor of Pinot Camp and, therefore, I didn't taste any of their wines. That's why there is no mention of them in my article. I'm in Vegas so I can get it. I will include it in my next pinot class. Thanks for the tip!
Comment by Curlzzz2002 on August 1, 2008 at 12:04am

If you're as big of a fan of Oregon pinot as I am, I highly recommend trying King Estate 2006. We have had it on our wine list for about a year now and cannot keep it in stock. They can't ship to all 50 states (for some reason), but if you live where they can ship, BUY a bottle, or two. In fact, because of this particular pinot, we won 2nd place "best short wine list" in 2007 by Restaurant Magazine. Not too shabby for a small restaurant in the middle of Illinois.
Comment by Agi Toth on July 30, 2008 at 6:55pm
Thanks, Debra. I agree that the pinots in 2006 represent one of the better vintages and I look forward to tasting them again in five years.




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