Pinot Noir is Ore­gon’s sig­na­ture wine,

Chicago Sun-Times - - TASTE - BY W. PETER HOYNE

“We talk about Caber­net as we talk about sports, but when we talk about Pinot Noir, we talk about re­li­gion,” wine writer Terry Theise once said.

And true to that com­par­i­son, in Ore­gon, they are deeply reli­gious when it comes to Pinot Noir. About an hour west of Port­land, Ore­gon, in the Wil­lamet­teVal­ley, lies a Pinot Noir oa­sis. The ma­jor­ity of Ore­gon’s Pinot Noir is grown in the Wil­lamet­teVal­ley, yet only 1 per­cent of Amer­i­can wines come from this re­gion.

Pinot Noir thrives in the red, Jory, vol­canic soils and sed­i­men­tary rock and gravel that were de­posited by the Mis­soula floods more than 10,000 years ago. The cool, coastal in­flu­ence of the Pa­cific Ocean cou­pled with mild, wet win­ters is ide­ally suited for this cool- cli­mate grape. The rel­a­tively cool sum­mers and pro­longed ex­po­sure to sun­light al­low the fla­vors to ripen slowly with the re­sult­ing wine show­cas­ing fi­nesse and a nat­u­ral bright­ness.

Grape grow­ing in Ore­gon dates back to the early 1800s, but it was the be­liefs of some grad­u­ate stu­dents from the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia- Davis in the early 1960s that changed the course of this in­dus­try for­ever.

Against the bet­ter judg­ment of their pro­fes­sor, David Lett and Charles Coury be­lieved Pinot Noir would ex­cel in this chal­leng­ing en­vi­ron­ment. Lett, a Chicago na­tive, was cred­ited with plant­ing the first com­mer­cial vine­yard of Pinot Noir within the Dundee Hills of Wil­lamette Val­ley in 1966.

With 13 acres of vine­yards, Lett es­tab­lished Eyrie Win­ery. Af­ter­ward, fol­low­ers in­cluded Erath Win­ery, Ponzi Vine­yards, Adelsheim Vine­yard and count­less oth­ers. Cal­i­for­nia vint­ners also mi­grated to Wil­lamette Val­ley in search of the holy grail. Upon the ar­rival of Bur­gundy pro­ducer Mai­son Joseph Drouhin in 1968, the Pinot Noir revo­lu­tion con­tin­ued at a brisk pace.

Within Wil­lamet­teVal­ley, camps of con­ven­tion­al­ists and young tra­di­tion­al­ists all are try­ing to in­ter­pret this grape. They have matched the spe­cific clones with the site and cli­mate, with many us­ing or­ganic and bio­dy­namic farm­ing prac­tices.

Get­ting ac­quainted with Ore­gon Pinot Noir re­quires some pa­tience, as they are more re­strained and com­plex wines that evolve over time. They lack the big, fruity per­son­al­ity of those from Cal­i­for­nia’s North Coast, and many pro­fess there are dis­tinct sim­i­lar­i­ties in Pinot Noir from Wil­lamette Val­ley to those from Bur­gundy, France.

What started out in 1970 as five bonded winer­ies and 35 vine­yard acres of Pinot Noir in Wil­lamet­teVal­ley has today mul­ti­plied to more than 500 winer­ies within 21,793 acres. Here’s a look at some of the best bot­tles.

2015 Rex Hill Ja­cob Hart Es­tate Vine­yard Pinot Noir: From a fam­ily- owned win­ery with a three-decade his­tory in Wil­lamette Val­ley, this sin­gle- vine­yard re­serve- style Pinot is sourced from a bio­dy­nam­i­cally farmed es­tate. A wellde­fined bou­quet leads to lay­ers of black plum compote. It shines through with some bay leaf and tar­ragon. The fruit con­cen­tra­tion in this Pinot is meant for the long haul.

2014 An­gela “An­gela Vine­yard” Es­tate Pinot Noir: Wine­maker Ken­Wright planted this vine­yard in 2006. Ex­pres­sive aro­mas of wild straw­berry soda with an essence of cherry blos­soms are packed into this bot­tling. This wine is framed with vanilla bean and anise, mak­ing it very se­duc­tive.

2015 Ruby “Lau­rel­wood Blend” Pinot Noir: This juicy bot­tling has cran­berry, pome­gran­ate and rhubarb over­tones. It shows more el­e­gance than mus­cle.

2014 Et Fille “Kal­i­taVine­yard” Pinot Noir: The palate is lay­ered with dark mulled fruits and struc­tured ripe tan­nins. The sa­vory el­e­ments of black tea and all­spice are wel­com­ing and pull this wine to­gether.

2014 Y am hill Val­ley Vine­yards Re­serve Pinot Noir: This de­li­cious wine is framed with crushed black­berry fruits and leather. It has a well- struc­tured mid­dle and a fine, sup­ple fin­ish.

2015 Pike Road Pinot Noir: This medium ruby Pinot Noir has fresh sweet cher­ries and red rasp­ber­ries. It is a del­i­cate wine with sup­ple tan­nins and a nice fol­low through.

Pinot Noir tast­ing event

Mor­gan Man­u­fac­tur­ing in Chicago will host the “Pinot in the City” tast­ing event from 6: 30 to 9:30 p.m. May 15. The event will in­clude 70 Wil­lamet­teVal­ley winer­ies show­cas­ing their award- win­ing wines. Mor­gan Man­u­fac­tur­ing is at 401 N. Mor­gan St. in the city’s Ful­ton Mar­ket area. For more in­for­ma­tion or to make reser­va­tions, visit www. willamet­tewines. com or call 503- 297- 2962.

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