Eyrie is probably my favorite winery in the United States (the tag picture is a bottle of Eyrie in the foreground of my wife and I kissing at our wedding!). No I can’t say I’ve had the opportunity to try every wine made in the US to give a complete comparison, but I’ve had a lot. And a lot of it has been very good so I don’t make the statement lightly. Eyrie simply has a philosophy and style that speaks directly to me. Not to mention they were the founding winery of Oregon; and WV pinot noir is my favorite US wine in general. I still remember when I got hooked. I had tasted Eyrie’s wines once or twice and very much enjoyed them. So in August of 2009 when I headed west to meet friends for a week of relaxing on the Oregon coast, we planned a few stops along the route from Portland to Newport including Eyrie. The tasting room is not impressive on an architectural or tourism scale to be sure, but it is quaint and completely adequate to serve phenomenal wine in. Pierre was the manning the tasting room and as my friends and I tasted, each wine seemed perfectly balanced, delicious, unpretentious, and simply fabulous. The 2006 Original Vines Pinot Noir completely stunned me. I had never had a wine that was so light and ethereal on its feet, yet so filled with flavor and complexity. The taste lingered on for what seemed like minutes. I distinctly remember buying 6 bottles total of wine for a grand total of $300 which was by far my biggest numerical and cost purchase in my young wine drinking life. I still have a bottle of that ’06 Original Vines and I’m not sure I’ll ever drink it given the nostalgia… but damn it was good. So needless to say I’ve been hooked on Eyrie ever since and while initially I was just into their pinot noir, I’ve slowly come to realize that their whites are just as stellar and world class. So I thought I’d spend a bit of time and give them a little press here on my highly trafficked site 🙂
Eyrie was founded by David Lett in the 1965. He received wine training at UC Davis which is now one of the world leaders in enological sciences and viticulture. Of course most folks at that time would simply head somewhere in California and try to grow Cabernet and Chardonnay, but David was a pinot noir guy and he didn’t think California had the right climate to produce the wines that he wanted. So he headed north and settled on the Dundee Hills in Oregon’s beautiful Willamette Valley. Hard to believe now, but the story goes that he couldn’t even get a bank loan to start his winery because people thought he was crazy to try to grow grapes in Oregon! Clearly, the financial folks are not all knowing… Luckily for us he was able to get up and running and he planted pinot noir, pinot gris, chardonnay, and small amounts of some other grapes such as pinot meunier, pinot blanc etc. The first bottling was in 1970 and from what I’ve read, David was so disappointed in the color of the wine (it was essentially rose colored) he ended up labeling it as “Oregon Spring Wine” because he thought people would not believe it was actually pinot noir! Things improved from there and in 1979 David entered his 1975 South Block Reserve pinot noir into international tastings of pinot noir in France. Tasted against the best Burgundies out there, the Eyrie did exceptionally well and placed in the top 10. A subsequent tasting was organized in Burgundy in 1980. Robert Drouhin, a famed Burgundian wine maker, personally selected the wines and Eyrie placed second! This laid the groundwork for Oregon taking off and the Drouhin family finally believing the results bought land in the Dundee Hills.
Eyrie is now run by Jason Lett, David’s son. David passed away in 2008, but laid the foundation for what is now one of the best regions in the world for pinot noir. Jason largely follows the same winemaking and farming style that his father did. The farming and winemaking is as natural as possible letting the terroir and the vintage come through in the bottle. They do not make blockbuster wines with deep color and big tannins from new oak. These are wines of finesse and elegance, with a purity that is striking. The pinot noir wines produced here have always seemed to me to be the essence of the grape. Seductive and silky, elegant and ethereal; like a beautiful woman walking effortlessly through a park… but I digress. Let’s discuss the wines a bit more!
Eyrie makes a nice range of wines with several different whites and a couple different reds. I’ll list some of my favorites below:
Eyrie Pinot Gris – I drink this wine at least 2-3 x a month, probably more frequently than any other wine out there. This is because it is excellent, versatile, and very affordable. One of the best white wine values in the world this wine is simply fabulous. Ripe stone fruit, hints of lees and loads of floral notes, just a hint of mineral. The palate is rich and round, yet has beautiful energy and vibrancy with a long and harmonious finish. I pair this with anything from chicken to fish to Thai noodles to Indian curry.
Eyrie Pinot Gris Original Vines – I have not had as much of this as it is a little pricier and harder to come by, this is more reminiscent of Alsatian pinot gris as it is a littler bit
riper and more exotic. Pineapple, mango, ripe pear, apple, saffron, jasmine, and exotic spice leap from the glass. The palate is incredibly dense and ripe, yet again still maintains a beautiful vein of acid that drives it. A fabulous wine that I have no doubt will age incredibly well.
Eyrie Chardonnay – this is another incredible value when you consider how much some chardonnay sells for. I drank a bottle of the 2014 last week and I am fairly certain blind I would have called it a Puligny-Montrachet. Ripe peach, pear, and red apple, with lovely mineral and white floral notes, just a hint of spice. The palate was simply delicious… I drank 2 glasses before I even realized it. Each sip just led to another. To be able to get a chardonnay like this for $25ish is astonishing and awesome.
Eyrie Chardonnay Original Vines – this takes the above wine to another level. Again, I have not tasted this as extensively as I would like given my relatively speaking new found appreciation of the Eyrie whites, but the bottles I’ve tasted are fabulous. I was served a bottle of the 2013 blind about 2 months ago and guessed it as 1er cru Chablis!! It is not always Chablis like, generally more like a great Puligny or Meursault, but the cooler vintage played perfectly for Eyrie and I could have sworn I was tasting a bottle of Dauvissat. If you like classically styled chardonnay that will age for years, this is the wine for you.
Eyrie Pinot Noir – this is what used to be labeled the “estate” pinot noir. No longer labeled as such because they source some grapes from outside the estate vineyards. The sources are reliable as they are growers that Jason worked with previously. This is definitely one of the best value pinot noirs out there. I have had the “entry level” pinot noir at 20-25 years of age and it is stunning. I drank a 1990 this past spring that blew my mind. I would have sworn it was a Chambolle-Musigny 1er cru from a great domaine. And it is still only about $30!? Tart cherry, cranberry, red raspberry, black tea, orange peel, hints of incense and earth, just a touch of savory smoky notes. The palate feels almost like you are drinking air, it just floats and dances across your tongue you don’t even realize you have swallowed it…
Eyrie Pinot Noir Original Vines – this wine is made from the first pinot noir vines planted in Oregon; the history alone makes it fun to taste, but the wine itself stands on its own easily. This is more towards the powerful side for Eyrie with more structure and density than the estate and other single vineyard bottlings. The nose is as complex as they come and depends on the age of the bottle. Bright red fruit when younger with
floral and damp earth it becomes more savory with dried cherry, mushroom, iron, and dried violet. The palate seems to have a life of its own with incredible energy and depth. It seems I can still taste the 2006 I had years ago… This is also a wine that seems to age indefinitely. Vintages 30-40 years old are still showing incredibly well. I just hope I can keep my hands off of enough of mine to let them get there!
Eyrie Pinot Noir Daphne Vineyard – this is my favorite of the single vineyard offerings that Eyrie now makes. They occasionally bottled this separately in the past, but now do so regularly. This is incredibly reminiscent of a top class Volnay to me; the higher elevation of the vineyard yields incredibly high toned and airy red fruit with bright floral and even some citrus notes. The palate is fabulously concentrated, yet so vivacious that it doesn’t feel that way. Each sip lingers and begs another.
Eyrie Pinot Noir South Block Reserve – David Lett recognized this particular block as a special micro “terroir” early on and began to bottle it separately. This is part of the original parcel planted and is only 10 rows. I have been lucky enough to try a few bottles and it is phenomenal. Definitely up there for greatest pinots I’ve been able to have, including Burgundy. If you have the chance to try one, don’t miss it.
Eyrie makes some other bottlings and I can honestly say I have yet to be disappointed by any of their wines. From the trousseau to the pinot meunier to the muscat ottonel they are all well crafted and delicious. And for the most part they are great values. As wine prices continue to sky rocket, these wines remain for the most part very affordable which I respect and appreciate. One of the great small “domaines” of the US, Eyrie will always be a special winery and will hold a special place in US wine history.