I was able to take a trip to Oregon in May to do a little bit of wine tasting as well as a little bit of bike riding with a group of friends. I had 2 take aways from the trip; the wines of the Willamette Valley have never been at a higher quality, though many of the prices have increased commensurately and the gravel riding around the area is spectacular and a great way to balance the trip out from becoming too wine soaked! Here are some tasting notes and overviews on the places I visited:
Lingua Franca: this is the project of Larry Stone, a renowned master sommelier; he purchased this vineyard in the Eola Amity Hills AVA in 2012 and released the first vintage in 2015. The wine maker is Thomas Savre who trained in France, and Dominique Lafon, from famed Burgundy domaine Comte Lafon, is a consultant. They have a lovely estate vineyard which given the youth of the project is really still in the process of being understood and also source some grapes from a few places. The wines are well balanced, show very typical Eola spices for the pinots along with lovely fruit, and overall are excellent. I particularly like the chardonnays here as they have a lovely freshness. The oldest wine I’ve had yet is a 2016, but based on that it seems like these will age very gracefully.
- Chardonnay Chers Amis 2019 – the nose shows rich and ripe orchard fruits with a bit more spice and rounded notes compared to the Bunker Hill; develops more floral and lift with air; the palate is a bit riper and richer with more depth and a long finish; this has excellent potential for aging.
- Chardonnay Bunker Hill 2019 – (sourced fruit, but they have a large amount of control over the farming) the nose is very floral and initially driven by lemon zest and green apple with some floral notes and mineral notes underlying; with air a hint of spice and pear; the palate is fresh and vibrant with crisp acidity and a lovely finish. Very good.
- Estate Pinot Noir 2016 – lots of spice and dark fruits with notes of underbrush and an almost peppery hint; with air some minerality and more fruit emerges; the palate shows some tannins and good concentration and it seems like this has several years of positive developement ahead of it
- Pinot Noir La Belle 2019 – from fruit more towards the bottom of the estate vineyard; a bit more soil and clay here; the color here is a more clear garnet; the nose is riper and spicier than the Plow with liqueur like cherry and raspberry, lots of spice (clove and anise) and underlying rose petal; with air this becomes earthier and fresher; the palate is more structured than the Plow, but long and lovely with the richer fruit standing up nicely.
- Pinot Noir The Plow 2019 – from a small block selection at the top of the vineyard; vivid purple in color with a high toned and floral nose; mineral notes, bing cherry, red raspberry, red currant and lilac with more air; the palate is fresh and lifted with juicy acidity and a lovely elegance, but also very persistent. Very good.
Beaux Freres: located in Ribbon Ridge which is a sub-AVA of the Chehalem Mountains; Beaux Freres has been around since the late ’80s and has been producing excellent wine for decades. Mike Etzel founded the winery along with some investment from his brother in law Robert Parker (founder of the Wine Advocate and a very influential wine critic). He has now passed the reins to his son Mikey who is the head winemaker. They partnered with a French Champagne family, Henriot in 2017 who assist in the finances and management. The wines here are top class. The pinot noirs are definitely designed to age and in my experience generally show best after 8-10 years in bottle. I would say in the last few years they have become more elegant and balanced which has made them even better. The chardonnay is lovely and fresh, with great depth. The wines here are not cheap, but they are no doubt some of the best in the WV
- Beaux Freres Chardonnay 2019 – sourced fruit from Chehalem Mountains; the nose showed lemon peel, wood spice, ripe red apple, with lovely high toned floral notes; the palate was crisp and fresh with good depth and balance; very long finish. Lovely
- Beaux Freres Sequitur Pinot Noir 2018 – from fruit grown by Mike Etzel Sr directly next to the Beaux Freres vineyard; the nose here shows red currant and raspberry, candied strawberry and some floral notes; very bright and fresh; the palate has lovely balance and good concentration; needs some time as the finish tightens up
- Beaux Freres Vineyard Pinot Noir 2018 – this has some CO2 initially makes the nose difficult to read; with 5 minutes of air this blows off and reveals ripe almost liqueur like red berry fruits with rose petal and lilac; some earthy underbrush and black tea and with more air a bit of orange peel and bright cherry; the palate has excellent concentration and balance; this should age beautifully
- Beaux Freres Belle Soeurs Pinot Noir 2018 – this is a barrel selection from the various sites farmed by Beaux Freres and designed to showcase a more elegant and delicate style; the nose is so lifted and bright with elegance and an ethereal nature; beautiful red berry fruits with bergamot oil, oolong tea, and a hint of minerality; the palate is fresh and impeccably balanced with a long lingering finish; excellent and will drink well earlier than the Beaux Freres vineyard
- Beaux Freres Upper Terrace Pinot Noir 2018 – very young and definitely needs time; the nose has some gas initially, but quickly opens to show ripe raspberry and black cherry, baking spice, floral notes, and just a hint of cola. The palate has good balance and good depth with good structure and acidity. Very good development potential
Colene Clemens: this is one of the most beautiful tasting areas in the WV; a ridgetop view with a gorgeous vista and a beautiful winery creates quite an atmosphere. This vineyard was founded by Joe and Vicki Stark and named after Vicki’s mother. They are both local to the area and founded the property together after a successful business career. The property was an abandoned farm/orchard and has some very cool old barns located on it. The wines here in general are a little bigger and riper, possibly due to the southern exposure that many of the vineyards have, but still have good balance.
- Colene Clemens Chardonnay 2019 – this shows very ripe apple and pear, hints of pineapple and mango, oak spice and vanilla. The palate is rich and ripe, but has good acidity to add some freshness. A little ripe for me personally, but still pretty tasty
- Colene Clemens Pinot Noir Margo – very ripe dark fruits, plum, blackberry, black currant, some oak spice and violet; the palate is rich and structured and has very good depth; definitely a bigger scaled pinot, but good
- Colene Clemens Pinot Noir Adriane – the most elegant of the offerings here this has more red fruit on the nose with ripe cherry, raspberry, and mulberry, a hint of orange peel; very floral and a hint of earth; the palate is lighter in body and extraction and shows lovely balance and lift with a juicy and fresh finish; my pick of the bunch here
- Colene Clemens Pinot Noir Victoria – the darkest and ripest of the bunch, but this has loads of power and aging potential; black cherry, mulberry, marionberry, violet, and oak; the palate is hugely endowed with power and concentration, yet remains overall in harmony. Needs probably 10+ years
Cameron: founded in the early ’80s by the now legendary John Paul Cameron this place is a WV standout and has been for many years. John Paul partners with Bill Wayne who owns the Abbey Ridge vineyard just up the road from the winery in the Dundee Hills. John Paul planted the Clos Electrique vineyard to pinot noir and chardonnay and has more recently added some nebbiolo and some additional white Italian varietals. John Paul is constantly experimenting and looking for new projects which keeps Cameron exciting and vibrant. The wines here are standout as they are a singular style and clearly show a sense of place. I can’t speak highly enough of them!
- Cameron Clos Electrique Blanc 2019 – barrel sample; this was exquisite; very floral, lemon peel, ripe red apple, pear, hints of spice; the palate is fresh and juicy, yet also so long and deep; the finish is killer and lingers for a long time; great stuff
- Cameron Abbey Ridge Pinot Noir 2019 – barrel sample; this was tasted in 2 different samples; 1st Wadenswil clone which is very floral and lifted, very red fruited and fresh; long finish with cherry and red currant; 2nd Pommard clone which shows a bit richer and darker fruit, just a hint of forest floor, a bit more dense here in the middle; John Paul notes that he finds the Pommard provides the mid-palate density that the Wadenswil lacks; both samples were excellent
- Cameron Clos Electrique Rouge 2019 – barrel sample; this shows ripe dark fruits, hints of forest floor and sauvage and sanguine hints, floral notes with more air; the palate is dense and full, but so juicy and lifted; long and balanced finish
Patricia Green: – the namesake of this winery sadly passed away a few years ago in 2017; she was a free spirit and great proponent of expressing site and one of the first to focus on specific vineyards. Thankfully her legacy lives on with her current team. Jim Anderson is now the owner/winemaker, but he was partner with Patty Green for many years. Their estate vineyard is in the Ribbon Ridge, but they also source grapes from other quality vineyards around the area. These are certainly classic Ribbon Ridge wines with ripe delicious fruit, sweet baking spices, and very good balance. Many of them also offer very good balance.
- Patricia Green Weber Vineyard Pinot Noir 2018 – floral start with underlying ripe fruits, hints of pepper and a whiff of green likely from some stems, there is good balance and a lovely finish
- Patricia Green Pinot Noir Durant Bishop Block Pinot Noir 2018 – very fresh red fruit with strawberry, cherry, and red currant, some sweet baking spice and floral notes; very good balance and density with a lovely finish
- Patricia Green Estate Vineyard Wadenswil Block Pinot Noir 2018 – very floral nose with high toned red fruit and a hint of earth; the palate is lovely and fresh, elegant and very nicely balanced; long and lingering finish
- Patricia Green Olenik Vineyard Wadenswil Pinot Noir 2018 – this is a bit more dark fruited compared the estate Wadenswil, some orange peel with air and anise along with other spices; the palate is bigger and a bit more structured; very good
- Patricia Green Estate Vineyard Etzel Block Pinot Noir 2018 – lovely complex nose of orange peel, black tea, high toned red fruit, floral notes, and some sweet spices. The palate has more structure and definitely demands some time in bottle to fully show its stuff; this and the Estate Wadenswil were probably my two favorites here
- Patricia Green Pinot Noir Ana 2007 – this was a library release straight from the winery; fully mature nose with forest floor, black tea, mushroom, a hint of game meat, orange peel, and a hint of spice. The palate is fully resolved, no tannins left, but beautiful balance and a lovely elegant feel. This has matured very nicely.
Abbott Claim: this was a winery I had never tasted prior to this trip and what a treat this was; the Abbott Claim vineyard, located on the Savannah Ridge within Yamhill Carlton, was actually initially planted by Ken Wright in 2001; the vineyard was subsequently purchased by the Beck family who make sparkling wines in South Africa. The vineyard was expanded in additional pinot noir plantings in 2003-2007 and most recently some chardonnay plantings have been established. The winery itself is stunning in design and functionality and I must say I was impressed by the wines. Winemaker Alban Debeaulieu trained in France prior to coming to Oregon and his goal is to make elegant and balanced wines that age on their balance rather than density alone. Based on this tasting, he is doing that already and I can’t wait to follow the wines over the years. Simply put, this was an incredible tasting experience that was in its own league. The place, the conversation with the staff, the tour, all were essentially just wow! If you’re in the area definitely check this place out as the experience is epic and the wines are excellent.
- Abbott Claim Vineyard Pinot Noir 2018 – the nose here is exquisite and complex; pale in color the initial notes are earthy forest floor, bright cherry and red currant, floral notes, earl grey tea, and a hint of citrus peel; the palate is elegant and ethereal yet does not lack concentration; there is some structure, but the balance is so good you don’t notice it. Should develop beautifully for 10+ years.
- Abbott Claim Vineyard Due North Pinot Noir 2018 – this is from the 3.5 acre block at the top of the vineyard first planted in 2001 by Ken Wright; it is actually in a hollow at the top, but protected by trees on 3 sides; the nose here shows black tea and orange peel, clove and rose petal, ripe cherry and raspberry; a bit more intense and concentrated than the straight estate; the palate is definitely more intense, but still feels so ethereal it just floats on your palate; excellent and will age effortlessly
- Abbott Claim Orientate Pinot Noir 2018 – Barrel selection from the estate vineyard; the nose here shows a bit more spice and underbrush with ripe red fruits and bergamot oil; rich and floral with more air; the palate has great intensity and power and yet still feels very elegant. Lovely long finish.
- Abbott Claim Chardonnay 2018 – (sourced fruit) ripe citrus to start followed by orchard fruits, hints of spice and just a hint of minerality; the palate is fresh and vibrant with sweet orchard fruits and a long finish. Delicious
- Abbott Claim X-Omni Chardonnary 2017 – (fruit sourced from X-Omni vineyard) this was slightly riper with a bit of tropical fruit notes followed by sweet spice and orchard fruits; a hint of melon and with more air some mineral and almost saline notes; the palate is rich and lifted and has very good intensity and power; very long finish.
Rose and Arrow: the final place I tasted, this is the project that involves Louis Michel Liger Belair who is a Burgundy legend. I was curious to taste here to explore how he was performing in the states. The tasting room unfortunately is in a little strip mall area right off of the 99W so not really what I would call a great experience, but the wines are actually quite nice. That said they are also quite pricey. The wines seemed to have a little bit of reduction on the 2017’s, but not totally obscuring the fruit. That said, if drinking young I’d probably decant them.
- Rose and Arrow Worden Hill Pinot Noir 2017 – some funk on the nose initially, likely reduction with underlying sanguine and game notes, followed by ripe red fruits and a bit of spice. The palate is suave and lovely. Ripe yet balanced.
- Rose and Arrow Black Walnut Pinot Noir 2017 – this has a little less funk, but still plenty of sanguine and wild game notes, a bit brighter fruit and initially, but gains weight with air and closes with a long finish
- Rose and Arrow Hopewell Hills Pinot Noir 2017 – this is more floral and darker fruited than the wines from the Dundee Hills; a bit richer and more flesh on the palate, but still quite fresh on the finish
- Rose and Arrow Highland Close Pinot Noir 2016 – explosive nose of ripe, almost candied fruit, floral notes, and some sweet spices; the palate is full of ripe berry fruits and saturates every part of your tongue. The finish is beautiful; this has many years of good development ahead.
Overall it was a great trip. The number of very high quality wineries in the WV now is incredible. The farming has improved, the focus has improved, and the wines have never been better. It is a great time to explore the region and enjoy some world class pinot noirs and increasingly excellent chardonnay. While there are plenty of places that are quite high end now from a price perspective, there is still a lot of value to be found in the region as well. Hope you can enjoy some excellent Oregon wines soon!
J. Newman, CSW