Clones and Suitcases: Pinot Noir in the Willamette Valley

Pinot clonesToday’s offer on rare “Heritage Pinots” from Patricia Green Cellars includes two made from Pinot Noir’s Wadensvil and Coury Clones, clones that arrived early in the Willamette Valley’s history. So, you might ask, what’s all the fuss about Pinot Noir “clones”? So glad you asked!

A Primer on Grape Vine Propagation
Grape vines intentionally produce seeds that are genetically different from their parent plant. It’s a defense mechanism – when a bird or bear eats a grape, wanders around, and then “deposits” the undigested seed with plenty of fertilizer so it can start a new plant, the new plant will have different characteristics than its parent. Which means it can thrive in different soils and climates and not be susceptible to the same diseases.

But it also means the grapes taste different and make different wine. So, for centuries, grape growers have planted new vineyards not by seed, but instead by taking cuttings from vines and vineyards that already produce good wine. Over the centuries, some “flavors” of each varietal – e.g. Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, etc. – were identified as being especially good for wine growing. So those flavors of vine – or “clones” – were preferred for taking cuttings and planting new vineyards.

Whether it’s because Pinot Noir is more susceptible to genetic mutation than other grape varietals or because it’s older than almost grape varietals, there are more identified clones of Pinot Noir in production around the world than almost any other grape. And, since the 1960s, these clones have been identified, given numbers and names, and offered for sale by nurseries to folks who want to plant a vineyard.

However, a vine from a “good” clone is not necessarily a great scion from which to plant a vineyard. Individual grape vines can catch viruses that impact vigor, yield, and ripening. If you use a virused grape vine as the source of your cuttings for planting your vineyard, then you’re going to have virus in all the vines.

David-Lett-with-cuttings-from-UC-Davis-2x

David Lett

From Burgundy to Willamette
When David Lett decided to plant the first modern Pinot Noir vineyard in the Willamette Valley back in 1965, he turned to the nursery at California’s UC Davis. At the time, Davis had the one and only stock of non-virused Pinot Noir available for propagation in the entire USA. It was a Burgundian Pinot Noir clone that had been isolated and cleared of virus at nursery in Wädenswil, Switzerland. They called it UCD 1A, but it soon became commonly known as the Wadensvil clone.

Lett loaded up his car with Wadensvil, drove south, and planted what would become Eyrie Vineyards. A few years later, Dick Erath and Charles Coury acquired the newly de-virused UCD 4 clone at Davis, a selection of Pinot Noir that originated in Burgundy’s Pommard vineyards. Erath, Lett, and others soon found that Wadensvil and Pommard were highly complementary, with Wadensvil giving floral aromatics and bright red fruit to match Pommard’s dark, earthy, character and higher levels of tannins.

So, through the 1980s, the vast majority of new Willamette Valley vineyards were planted to mixtures of Wadensvil and Pommard.

Charles Coury

Charles Coury

Coury Clone: A “Suitcase Selection?”
At the same time, growers were also planting what came to be known as “Coury Clone.” Charles Coury liked to claim that planting Pinot in the Willamette Valley was his idea. It wasn’t, but he did come to the Valley with Dick Erath in the late 1960s after completing his Masters at UC Davis and spending a year at the Colmar Research Station in Alsace, France.

First with Erath and then on his own, he ran a nursery that sold vines to many early Oregon grape farmers. One batch of vines he sold produced uncommonly dark, powerful Pinot Noir. Coury refused to say where he’d gotten the clone, and over the years, growers began to refer to it as Coury Clone.

For years, the assumption was the Coury Clone was a so-called “suitcase selection” that Coury had carried back from Alsace. As the only non-virused Pinot Noir clone in Colmar at the time was Clone 538, most assumed that it was the real Coury Clone. But Coury was a terrible record-keeper, and he frequently sold growers a wild mix of vines including various Pommard clones, Wadensvil, and more. So some plantings of “Coury Clone” in the early days were really mixes.

Dijon … and a Wadensvil Renaissance
When a new assortment of virus-free Pinot Noir clones arrived in Oregon from Burgundy’s Dijon Research Station in the mid-1980s, growers rushed to use them to add variety and character to their vines. And, while Pommard remained popular, the new Dijon Clones began crowding out Wadensvil Clone in vineyards both new and old.

Today, more and more growers have returned to appreciating Wadensvil’s perfume and elegance, especially when it’s grown on marine sedimentary soils as are found in Ribbon Ridge (where Patricia Green Wine Cellars’ estate vineyard sits). And now Coury clone is seeing a slight renaissance as well. The two most important plantings of Coury Clone are at Hyland Vineyard – where the current own-rooted vines were planted in 1989 – and at Freedom Hill – which used cuttings from Hyland to start its own Coury plot.

For the most part, Willamette Valley winegrowers continue to make their best wines from a mixture of clones – Pommard, Wadensvil, the Dijon clones, etc. – but occasionally a single-clonal plot is so interesting and compelling that it’s worth bottling on its own. Which is what we think you’ll find in these wines here.

A Labor of Love: Willamette’s Walter Scott Wines

A good friend and customer introduced us to Walter Scott wines a few years ago, long before they became available on the East Coast. She proclaimed them her very favorite wines in the Willamette Valley – high praise from a discerning taster. That led us to see what others were saying.

Here’s what Wine Advocate said after tasting Walter Scott’s 2012 releases:

“When I am asked if there were any “great discoveries” in Oregon, I would mention “Walter Scott Wines” without hesitation. This is a small bijou operation run by Ken Pahlow and Erica Landon and their story is one of essentially risking everything to pursue their dream. If their wines are of this quality, then their sacrifices have been worthwhile.” Neal Martin, Wine Advocate, March 2015

Two years later, after visiting with Ken and Erica again and trying their 2014s, Martin was even more impressed:

“And bloody good they are as well. I just like how Ken and Erica roll – nothing fancy, no blockbuster or pretentiousness – just killer Pinot Noir with purity, intensity and personality…That leaves me to say if you have not tried these wines yet, do yourself a favor.” Neal Martin, Wine Advocate, June 2016

And the wines keep getting better and better!

Deep Experience in the Willamette
Walter Scott Ken and EricaWalter Scott is a labor of love from the husband/wife team of Ken Pahlow and Erica Landon. Ken caught the Oregon wine bug in the early 1990s and soon began showing up at Mark Vlossak’s St Innocent winery in the Eola Hills offering to do anything that needed doing. Eventually, in 1995, he wore Mark down and started helping out at harvest and in the winery on a regular basis, ultimately taking on sales responsibilities there too.

During his 14 years working at St. Innocent, Ken took a second job handling sales for a leading Oregon-based importer. In 2002, he first met Sommelier Erica Landon. Erica had started in the wine business in Portland and at a Mount Hood resort before becoming the sommelier and GM for the Ponzi family’s Dundee Bistro (that’s where Ken first met her in 2002). She went on to earn a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence at Ten 01 back in Portland (while beginning to date Ken in 2007) before becoming Wine Director for a Portland restaurant group and becoming a wine instructor for the trade.

Ken and Erica married and decided to give winemaking a try, emptying their retirement accounts to make 165 cases of wine in the great 2008 harvest. In 2009, Ken traded labor for enough space at Patricia Green Cellars to make 650 cases. In 2010, Ken took a new job heading up sales at Evening Land Vineyards in the Eola Hills that allowed him to make his next two vintages there.

Evening Land was a great place for Ken and Erica to take the next step. The Evening Land story is complex, but the key points are that an investor group acquired one of Oregon’s greatest vineyards, Seven Springs, in 2007 and brought in Burgundy’s Dominique Lafon to consult. Ken was able to soak up Lafon’s expertise and also get to know current owner/managers Rajat Parr and Sashi Moorman.

In 2012, Ken and Erica signed up long-time fans Andy and Sue Steinman as partners and, with their help, leased and converted a cider house on the edge of Justice Vineyard in the Eola Hills. Then, in 2014, the biggest step yet – they welcomed a new partner (daughter Lucy) to the venture and left their day jobs to focus on Walter Scott full time.

As Neal Martin reported in The Wine Advocate, “their story is one of essentially risking everything to pursue their dream. If their wines are of this quality, then their sacrifices have been worthwhile.” With influences ranging from Mark Vlossak, Dominique Lafon, the Ponzi family, Sashi Moorman and more, it’s hardly surprising that their Walter Scott wines are good. It’s the way they’re good that’s so delightful.

Vineyard Focus
willamettevalleyFirst, there’s a strong focus on great vineyards here, mainly in the southerly Willamette Valley appellation of the Eola Amity Hills and including one of America’s greatest Pinot Noir sites, Seven Springs. Their vineyards are all dry-farmed and feature predominantly marine sedimentary soils. This kind of dirt brings out the minerality and elegance of Pinot Noir paired with ripe cherry/raspberry/strawberry fruit – what I’d argue is the essence of great Oregon Pinot Noir.

Ken and Erica work with their farming partners to ensure that yields are appropriate to the vintage – lower in cool harvests like 2010 and 2011, higher as needed in warmer years like 2014 and 2015 – and that the fruit is allowed to ripen slowly, without excess sugar and with vibrant acids.

Complexity from an Old-Fashioned Harvest
Second, in these climate change days, ripeness is pretty easy to achieve – but complexity can be harder. So Ken monitors all of his vineyards as a single unit, tasting and testing the grapes until he’s confident that all his blocks and clones are about 95% “there.” And then he picks. The mixture of some under ripe, some over ripe, and mostly perfectly ripe grapes of all different clones gives Walter Scott wines an extra layer of complexity and integration and phenomenal depth and freshness.

I remember tasting these wines from barrel in February 2018 and hearing Ken call them “Perfectly pleasant wines.” Which proves that winemakers are as inept at evaluating the quality of young wine in barrel as are critics (and retailers) – because the bottled 2017s from Walter Scott are simply stupid good.

Last year, Willamette Valley legend Ken Wright wrote that vintage 2017 produced “Wines that are quickly agreeable. 2017 was a throwback to the classic vintages we have experienced over 30 plus years in the Willamette Valley. … This is a year that reminds me of 1988, which aged so effortlessly (and is still amazing), though this year has more power and concentration.”

That’s my – and now Ken and Erica’s! – assessment of the 2017 vintage as well. These are delicious wines you’ll be able to drink right away for their purity, fresh fruit, and food-friendly structures. But don’t drink them all right away! Because – like the 1988s that are still going strong nearly 30 years after harvest – these beautiful 2017 Walter Scott wines have plenty left to give after time in a cool cellar.

Get to Know Walter Scott Willamette Pinot

walter-scott-ken-and-erica.pngA good friend and customer introduced us to Walter Scott wines last year, long before they became available on the East Coast. She proclaimed them her very favorite wines in the Willamette Valley – high praise from a discerning taster. That led us to see what others were saying.

Here’s what Wine Advocate said after tasting Walter Scott’s 2012 releases:

“When I am asked if there were any “great discoveries” in Oregon, I would mention “Walter Scott Wines” without hesitation. This is a small bijou operation run by Ken Pahlow and Erica Landon and their story is one of essentially risking everything to pursue their dream. If their wines are of this quality, then their sacrifices have been worthwhile.” Neal Martin, Wine Advocate, March 2015

Two years later, after visiting with Ken and Erica again and trying their 2014s, Martin was even more impressed:

“And bloody good they are as well. I just like how Ken and Erica roll – nothing fancy, no blockbuster or pretentiousness – just killer Pinot Noir with purity, intensity and personality…That leaves me to say if you have not tried these wines yet, do yourself a favor.” Neal Martin, Wine Advocate, June 2016

A Labor of Love
Walter Scott is a labor of love from the husband/wife team of Ken Pahlow and Erica Landon. Ken caught the Oregon wine bug in the early 1990s and soon began just showing up at Mark Vlossak’s St Innocent winery in the Eola Hills offering to do anything that needed doing. Eventually, in 1995, he wore Mark down and started helping out at harvest and in the winery on a regular basis, ultimately taking on sales responsibilities there too.

During his 14 years working at St. Innocent, Ken took a second job handling sales for a leading Oregon-based importer. In 2002, he first met Sommelier Erica Landon. Erica had started in the wine business in Portland and at a Mount Hood resort before becoming the sommelier and GM for the Ponzi family’s Dundee Bistro (that’s where Ken first met her in 2002). She went on to earn a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence at Ten 01 back in Portland (while beginning to date Ken in 2007) before becoming Wine Director for a Portland restaurant group and becoming a wine instructor for the trade.

Ken and Erica married and decided to give winemaking a try, emptying their retirement accounts to make 165 cases of wine in the great 2008 harvest. In 2009, Ken traded labor for enough space at Patricia Green Cellars to make 650 cases. In 2010, Ken took a new job heading up sales at Evening Land Vineyards in the Eola Hills that allowed him to make his next two vintages there.

Evening Land was a great place for Ken and Erica to take the next step. The Evening Land story is complex, but the key points are that an investor group acquired one of Oregon’s greatest vineyards, Seven Springs, in 2007 and brought in Burgundy’s Dominique Lafon to consult. Ken was able to soak up Lafon’s expertise and also get to know current owner/managers Rajat Parr and Sashi Moorman.

A Converted Cider House
In 2012, Ken and Erica signed up long-time fans Andy and Sue Steinman as partners and, with their help, leased and converted a cider house on the edge of Justice Vineyard in the Eola Hills. Then, in 2014, the biggest step yet – they welcomed a new partner (daughter Lucy) to the venture and left their day jobs to focus on Walter Scott full time.

As Neal Martin reported in The Wine Advocate, “their story is one of essentially risking everything to pursue their dream. If their wines are of this quality, then their sacrifices have been worthwhile.” With influences ranging from Mark Vlossak, Dominique Lafon, the Ponzi family, Sashi Moorman and more, it’s hardly surprising that their Walter Scott wines are good. It’s the way they’re good that’s so delightful.

First, there’s a strong focus on great vineyards here, mainly in the southerly Willamette Valley appellation of the Eola Amity Hills and including one of America’s greatest Pinot Noir sites, Seven Springs. Their vineyards are all dry-farmed and feature predominantly marine sedimentary soils. This kind of dirt brings out the minerality and elegance of Pinot Noir paired with ripe cherry/raspberry/strawberry fruit – what I’d argue is the essence of great Oregon Pinot Noir.

Ken and Erica work with their farming partners to ensure that yields are appropriate to the vintage – lower in cool harvests like 2010 and 2011, higher as needed in warmer years like 2014 and 2015 – and that the fruit is allowed to ripen slowly, without excess sugar and with vibrant acids.

A Great 2016
And in a more “classic” and balanced year like 2016? Once again, Ken and Erica’s wines are fully ripe and bursting with fresh (not cooked or dried) fruit flavors, deliver vibrant acids, and went into bottle at remarkably moderate alcohols ranging from 12.5 to 13.9% (vs 14% and higher at many fine estates).

If minerality, freshness and precision are themes that cut across all of the Walter Scott wines, those attributes are always presented in terms of each vineyard’s unique character. Freedom Hill is dark, smoky and powerful. And Seven Springs is at once velvety and weightless, generous and full of tension.

The 2016 Walter Scott releases have yet to be presented to the critics. If big scores matter to you, then buy these now and then brag how you scored some of the top wines of a great vintage while you still could. Because in 2016, I think most critics will echo Neal Martin’s summation of Walter Scott’s 2012s:

“Here were wines with great precision and poise, wines that embraced the opulence of the 2012 vintage but hammered any excesses down with a prudent approach in the winery. The modest acidification ensured that these wines feel natural and refined, the kind of wines that I would take home to drink following a hard day’s tasting. With two partners coming on board, and presumably steadying what can be a financially precarious venture when starting out, things look bright for Walter Scott Wines. Pick up the phone and try them yourself.”

Ribbon Ridge AVA: Old Vines, Old Soils, Great Wine!

Ribbon Ridge AVA.png

Willamette Valley’s Ribbon Ridge AVA

Our Patricia Green offer this week focused us on Willamette Valley’s Ribbon Ridge and why it produces such great wines.

Patricia Green’s 30 acre estate vineyard lies within the heart of the Willamette Valley’s Ribbon Ridge AVA – perhaps the single most exciting slice of this great Pinot Noir region and home to famed estates like Beaux Freres, Brick House, Penner-Ash, and more.

Ribbon Ridge is a spur of uplifted marine sediments off the northwest end of the Chehalem Mountains. The soils here are very fine, almost powder like, and rest on top of a porous sandstone base. With little surface water available along the ridge, dry farming is more or less required. But, the sandy soils drain freely and quickly, forcing vines to drive their roots down 20-30 feet or more in search of water from the deeply buried aquifer below.

Deeply Rooted Plants Offer Up a Special Wine
Old vines with well-developed root systems have a big advantage here, which is one of the reason’s Patty’s Old Vines Estate cuvee always shines. It’s from several blocks of mainly Pommard clone planted from 1984-1990. As Patty’s partner, Jim Anderson, explains, these 25-30 year-old vines deliver a wine that always “shows the red fruit profile, minerality and refined texture that the deeper rooted plants are able to offer up.”

If you enjoy Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, I simply cannot image how you won’t love this. And, if you’re just starting to explore Oregon Pinot, you will not find a better introduction or a stronger argument to get to know these marvelous, food- and sipping-friendly wines.

And, to make stocking up on great Patricia Green wines as easy as possible, you can mix-match the 2015 Estate Old Vine Pinot with the great value 2016 Pinot Noir Reserve and rich and darkly-fruited 2016 Pinot Noir Freedom Hill as well. Enjoy!

(See also our vintage-by-vintage assessment of Willamette Valley Pinot Noir.)

‘Bloody Good:’ Introducing Willamette Valley’s Walter Scott Wines

Willamette Valley newcomer Walter Scott has wowed the critics, and the 2015s wowed us when we tasted them in Oregon in February. On sale now; on tasting this weekend.

Walter Scott WinesA good friend and customer introduced us to Walter Scott wines last year, long before they became available on the East Coast. She proclaimed them her very favorite wines in the Willamette Valley – high praise from a discerning taster.

The critics agree with her. Wine Advocate’s Neal Martin called Walter Scott a “great discovery” in the 2012 vintage, and called the 2014’s “just killer Pinot Noir with purity, intensity and personality … if you have not tried these wines yet, do yourself a favor.”

And then we got to visit and sample the 2015s – most not rated yet, but even better than 2014! And while these  would be great wines no matter what, great people and a great story adds to the delight!

A Labor of Love

Walter Scott Ken and Erica

Walter Scott is a labor of love from the husband/wife team of Ken Pahlow and Erica Landon. Ken caught the Oregon wine bug in the early 1990s and soon began showing up at Mark Vlossak’s St Innocent winery in the Eola Hills offering to do anything that needed doing. Eventually, in 1995, he wore Mark down and started helping out at harvest and in the winery on a regular basis, ultimately taking on sales responsibilities there too.

During his 14 years working at St. Innocent, Ken took a second job handling sales for a leading Oregon-based importer. In 2002, he first met Sommelier Erica Landon. Erica had started in the wine business in Portland and at a Mount Hood resort before becoming the sommelier and GM for the Ponzi family’s Dundee Bistro (that’s where Ken first met her in 2002). She went on to earn a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence at Ten 01 back in Portland (while beginning to date Ken in 2007) before becoming Wine Director for a Portland restaurant group and a wine instructor for the trade.

Learning at Patricia Green, Evening Land
Ken and Erica married and decided to give winemaking a try, emptying their retirement accounts to make 165 cases of wine in the great 2008 harvest. In 2009, Ken traded labor for enough space at Patricia Green Cellars to make 650 cases. In 2010, Ken took a new job heading up sales at Evening Land Vineyards in the Eola Hills that allowed him to make his next two vintages there.

Evening Land was a great place for Ken and Erica to take the next step. The Evening Land story is complex, but the key points are that an investor group acquired one of Oregon’s greatest vineyards, Seven Springs, in 2007 and brought in Burgundy’s Dominique Lafon to consult. Ken was able to soak up Lafon’s expertise and also get to know current owner/managers Rajat Parr and Sashi Moorman.

In 2012, Ken and Erica signed up long-time fans Andy and Sue Steinman as partners and, with their help, leased and converted a cider house on the edge of Justice Vineyard in the Eola Hills. Then, in 2014, the biggest step yet – they welcomed a new partner (daughter Lucy) to the venture and left their day jobs to focus on Walter Scott full time.

As Neal Martin reported in The Wine Advocate, “their story is one of essentially risking everything to pursue their dream. If their wines are of this quality, then their sacrifices have been worthwhile.” With influences ranging from Mark Vlossak, Dominique Lafon, the Ponzi family, Sashi Moorman and more, it’s hardly surprising that their Walter Scott wines are good. It’s the way they’re good that’s so delightful.

The Essence of Great Oregon Pinot Noir
First, there’s a strong focus on great vineyards here, mainly in the southerly Willamette Valley appellation of the Eola Amity Hills and including one of America’s greatest Pinot Noir sites, Seven Springs. Their vineyards are all dry-farmed and feature predominantly marine sedimentary soils. This kind of dirt brings out the minerality and elegance of Pinot Noir paired with ripe cherry/raspberry/strawberry fruit – what I’d argue is the essence of great Oregon Pinot Noir.

Ken and Erica work with their farming partners to ensure that yields are appropriate to the vintage – lower in cool harvests like 2010 and 2011, higher as needed in warmer years like 2014 and 2015 – and that the fruit is allowed to ripen slowly, without excess sugar and with vibrant acids.

In the very warm 2015 vintage, that means Walter Scott’s Pinot Noirs are fully ripe and bursting with fresh (not cooked or dried) fruit flavors, deliver vibrant acids, and went into bottle at remarkably moderate alcohols ranging from 12.5 to 13.9% (vs 14% and higher at many fine estates).

walter-scotte-pinot-noir-freedom-hill.pngMinerality, Freshness, Precision … and Character
If minerality, freshness and precision are themes that cut across all of the Walter Scott wines, those attributes are always presented in terms of each vineyard’s unique character. Freedom Hill is dark, smoky and powerful. And Seven Springs is at once velvety and weightless, generous and full of tension.

Most of these 2015 releases have yet to be presented to the critics. If big scores matter to you, then buy these now and then brag how you scored some of the top wines of a great vintage while you still could. Because in 2015, I think most critics will echo Neal Martin’s summation of Walter Scott’s 2012s:

“Here were wines with great precision and poise, wines that embraced the opulence of the 2012 vintage but hammered any excesses down with a prudent approach in the winery. The modest acidification ensured that these wines feel natural and refined, the kind of wines that I would take home to drink following a hard day’s tasting. With two partners coming on board, and presumably steadying what can be a financially precarious venture when starting out, things look bright for Walter Scott Wines. Pick up the phone and try them yourself.”   

News from Willamette Valley: New Pinot and … Chardonnay

Meg and I are just back from a quick trip to Oregon and meetings with some of our favorite Willamette Valley winemakers. We’re lining up new shipments of some of your favorites from vintages 2014 and 2015, including some real stunners from John Grochau, Patricia Green Cellars, and Belle Pente. And watch for small quantities of some new Willamette Valley Pinot Noirs from the culty, hard-to-find Walter Scott.

A New Focus: Chardonnay. But the real story in the Willamette Valley right now is that – after 40 years of ups and downs – Chardonnay has finally arrived! At pretty much every stop, we found Chardonnay that showcases some of the energy, minerality and complexity you’d expect from top Meursault or Chassagne-Montrachet married to the juicy, ripe, fruit flavors found in the best of California’s cool Sonoma Coast sites.

During my very first visit to Oregon’s Willamette Valley in the spring of 2009, Chardonnay was on the wane. More than one winemaker told me they’d not figured out Pinot Noir’s natural white grape partner and that they either had or were considering grafting over their Chardonnay vines to Pinot Gris or Noir.

Returning in the summer of 2013, I heard folks say that Chardonnay really should work in the Willamette Valley, but that the original plantings were in the wrong places or of the wrong clones. “We really ought to figure this out,” was a common comment. Coming back in mid-summer of 2015, we heard, “You know, maybe we can figure this out!” although compelling wines in bottle were few and far between.

Last week, Chardonnay was a focus of conversation and tasting everywhere we went. Patricia Green has made their first Chardonnay in years, John Grochau’s Chards were zesty and rich, and newcomer Walter Scott has committed to making Chardonnay a full 50% of their production. No question, Chardonnay is on its way back in the Willamette Valley!

oregon-chardonnaysA Trio of Tempting Willamette Valley Chardonnays. Chardonnays from Grochau and Walter Scott are definitely on our “buy” list for later this year, and Chardonnay has clearly “arrived” at Belle Pente’s Yamhill-Carleton estate vineyard and in the old-vines Dundee Hills vineyards of Arterberry Maresh and Oregon Pioneer Eyrie.

Not much of any of these is made and less still is available. But all are well worth checking out to get a feel for why Willamette Valley Chardonnay is the “next big thing” for the world’s most popular white wine grape! Stop by this weekend for a taste!

Oregon 2012 – A (Limited) Vintage of a Lifetime

Evesham Wood vineyard

Evesham Wood in Willamette Valley

No major US wine growing region sees more variable vintage conditions than Oregon’s Willamette Valley. We think almost every Oregon vintage has its own unique charms, even if some, like 2007, are slow to reveal them. But fans of lush vintages like 2006 or 2009 are often surprised by the light, supple, elegant wines from years like 2010 or 2004.

The 2012 harvest joins 2008 as the rare vintage that will satisfy fans of almost every style of Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. Problems with flowering kept the crop small, but the weather remained wonderfully moderate throughout the growing season. Dry, sunny, days and cool, crisp nights in September and October let ripening complete while retaining vibrant acids and allowed winegrowers to harvest at whatever point and rate they preferred.

Weighing in on 2012. So – how good is the vintage? I’ve now heard a dozen or so winemakers echo Willamette Valley legend Ken Wright’s take on the harvest:

“After thirty-five years of winemaking experience in Oregon and California, I can count the truly great years on three fingers. 1979 in California’s Monterey County, 1990 in the Willamette Valley and, yes, 2012 in the Willamette Valley as well. … [T]here are years when we simply sit in awe as Mother Nature hands us remarkable fruit that only requires that we respect the gift we have received. 2012 is such a year. The intensity of color, aroma and flavor is inspiring…I may be dragged out of the winery by my Red Wing boots at eighty without seeing another year like this.”

Notably absent from Ken’s recitation of “truly great years” is the benchmark 2008 harvest. The farther we get from 2008, the more it’s clear that this year’s greatness is taking its own sweet time to emerge. More than a few critics have joined David Schildknecht in his Wine Advocate assessment:

“The obvious point of comparison for growers has been 2008. But having tasted many of the young [2008s] in barrel, I’m not entirely surprised that they have – thus far, at least – remained rather simply fruity; whereas the young 2012s – while lusciously ripe – display more energy, vivacity and interest than the 2008s did at a comparable juncture. The sole drawback looks likely to be 2012’s relatively small crop, conditioned not only by reticent flowering but by the vine’s natural reaction to the abundant set of 2011.”

When I first started encountering 2012 Pinots from Oregon, I was a bit on the fence. The nervy, high-acid 2011s really sung for me and the early-release 2012s seemed a bit too ripe and even heavy next to the tangy 2011s. But the more ‘12s I taste, the more impressed I get. And, the more impressed I get, the more frustrated I become.

Lower Yields, Higher Prices. With yields down 20-40 percent in 2012, there was always going to be a bit of competition for the top wines. But, strong demand for 2012s, lagging sell-through of 2011s, and a challenging set of 2013s waiting in the wings have all led wineries to both limit access to the 2012s and drive price a bit. In virtually every case, “front line” prices are up 5-15 percent over 2010/2011. And the multi-case deals that help us bring you big value bargains by buying in quantity are few and far between.

So, it’s a great vintage that every Oregon Pinot Noir lover is going to want to own and drink, but one that will require you to move quickly and be prepared to spend a bit more than in the past. We’re working hard to find you more opportunities like Evesham Wood Pinot Noir La Grive Bleue 2012, and we’re optimistic that at least a few fine deals will emerge this fall. When you see them, don’t delay!

If you’re a collector or fan who wants to be sure you don’t miss your favorites, just ask to be added to our Oregon 2012 Collectors List. You’ll learn about the best 2012 Pinots as they arrive – and before they’re all gone! To join, call 703.356.6500, email us at wineteam@chainbridgecellars.com, or stop by the store.