Pinot Noir is Oregon’s signature wine,
“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.