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Cristom Vineyards: Calera Heritage

It seems only fitting to follow a feature on Calera Wine Company with an article on Cristom Vineyards. Steve Doerner was the first winemaker at Calera Wine Company and has been Cristom’s winemaker since the winery’s first vintage in 1992. He is now a partner in the winery with Paul Gerrie. Doerner graduated from the University of California Davis in 1979 with a degree in biochemistry. His interest in winemaking came from his scientific curiosity. He studied under Jacques Seysses, the owner and winemaker at Domaine Dujac in Burgundy, and spent 14 years at Calera Wine Company before arriving at Cristom. He names Burt Williams, the co-founder and original winemaker at Williams Selyem, as one of the vintners who greatly influenced him. He was the first high-profile California winemaker to exit California for Oregon (Steve’s photo below).



When engineer Paul Gerrie acquired the defunct Pellier Winery site in Polk County near Salem in 1992, the vineyards were in disarray and all but one had to be restored. Gerrie and his wife Eileen admit they bought the property on nothing more than a hunch. On his travels to France, Paul had learned about the traditional growing practices of Burgundy and the importance of terroir. After attending the 1991 International Pinot Noir Celebration, he decided the time was right to leave the East Coast and bring his family to Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

Cristom, which is located in Eola-Amity Hills AVA, farms eight estate vineyards with Marjorie the only vineyard not restored after purchase of the winery. From 1993 to 1996, the vineyards were replanted and the first wines from estate fruit came from the 1994 vintage. Vineyardist Mark Feltz oversaw the replanting and has managed the vineyards since its founding in 1992. All vineyards are dry farmed and relatively high density planted.

Cristom farms a total of 75 acres (48.5 acres of Pinot Noir) spread over eight estate vineyards. Seven of the vineyards are named after women in Paul Gerrie’s family including his wife Eileen. The vineyards are as follows: Marjorie (8.5 acres of Pinot Noir first planted in 1982; first designated release was in 1994), Louise (9.5 acres of Pinot Noir; first designated release was in 1996), Jessie (11.5 acres of Pinot Noir; first designated release was in 1998), Eileen (15.25 acres of Pinot Noir; 4.5 acres added in 2006; first designated release in 2000), Emilia (5 acres of Pinot Gris planted between 1993 and 1996), Germaine (named for Doerner’s maternal grandmother; 4.5 acres of Dijon 75 and 95 clone Chardonnay), and two unnamed vineyards, one planted to Viognier and one to Syrah. Pinot Noir clones in the estate vineyards include Wädenswil (UCD 2A), Pommard, and Dijon 113, 114, 115, 667 and 777.

Cristom produces vineyard-designated Pinot Noirs from the four vineyards, Marjorie, Louise, Jessie and Eileen. The wines represent a selection of favorite barrels from the vineyard. Because of varying elevations, exposure and soil types, each vineyard produces a distinctive style of wine. Three Pinot Noir blends, all reasonably priced and produced in quantity are also offered: the Mt. Jefferson Cuvée (about 3,500 cases) which includes purchased grapes, the Sommers Reserve (about 1,250 cases) which is a selection of the best barrels intended for the Mt. Jefferson Cuvée, and the Signature Cuvée. Syrah, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Viognier are also available. Total production is about 10,000 cases annually. All Cristom estate wines, and the winery, are certified sustainable by L.I.V.E. and the single-vineyard Pinot Noirs have received the O.C.S.W. seal of approval (Oregon Certified Sustainable Wines).

Doerner uses about 50% whole clusters making his wines which is unusual for Oregon producers. I am a sucker for properly vinified whole cluster fermented Pinot Noirs because I find the resulting spice, the tannin structure and the age ability particularly appealing. Not surprisingly, native fermentations are the rule for Doerner as he was one of the first proponents of natural yeast fermentations for Pinot Noir. Acid additions are employed to achieve balance when necessary. Both press and free-run juice are combined and sent to barrel where the single vineyard Pinot Noirs receive a relatively high percentage of new oak (58% to 67% in the 2008 vintage). The wines undergo egg white fining but no filtration. Not surprisingly, the winemaking regimen is very similar to that initiated by Doerner at Calera Wine Company which is still in place at that winery today.

Cristom Vineyards wines are sold through the winery website at www.cristomwines.com, the tasting room, and distribution through fine wine retailers. The tasting room at 6905 Spring Valley Road NW in Salem, Oregon, is open Tuesday through Sunday, 11:00 AM to 5:00 PM March to December, and by appointment January and February. Several of the wines are available in half bottles which are ideal for earlier consumption. Magnums and library wines are sold through the winery’s online store.



I recently sampled a few older vintages direct from the winery, a ¡Salud! Cuvée Pinot Noir from 2007, as well as the four single vineyard Pinot Noirs and two blend Pinot Noirs from the 2008 vintage. The 2009 Mount Jefferson Cuvée has been released and is reviewed here as well. The 2008 vintage wines offer robust extraction of very ripe fruit, significant tannins and limited approachability at this stage. All the single vineyard Pinot Noirs are in very heavy bottles.


2009 Cristom Mt. Jefferson Cuvée Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

14.2% alc., pH 3.70, TA 0.54, 5,936 cases, $30 (often discounted). From 12 vineyard sites in the Willamette Valley including 38% estate fruit. The first of the Cristom Pinot Noirs to be released each year. Produced at Cristom since 1994. It is named for Mt. Jefferson in the Cascade Range due east of Cristom and visible from the winery’s tasting room. · Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. The nose offers aromas of attractively spiced dark red berries and cherries, broadening over time in the glass to even deeper autumnal notes of wet leaves and truffles. Moderately intense flavors of berry jam and Hoison sauce with hints of oak, anise, mushrooms and earth, nicely framed by firm, dry tannins and lifted by crisp acidity. A juicy wine that is easily drinkable now, but will benefit from a modest time in the cellar to further soften the tannins. Can work as an everyday drinker or can dress up the dinner table on a special occasion. Very good.

2008 Cristom Sommers Reserve Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

14.2% alc., pH 3.77, TA 0.55, 2,058 cases, $41. Fruit from four estate Pinot Noir vineyards (73%) combined with purchased fruit for a total of 14 vineyard sites and 7 Pinot Noir clones. First produced in 2004, ‘Sommers’ is Jessie’s (of Jessie Vineyard) maiden name. 47% whole clusters. Aged 17 months in 59% new oak barrels. · Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. Muted nose initially, opening slowly to reveal appealing aromas of red cherries and berries, fruitcake and spice. Light in weight and wanting a little in the attack and finish, the wine still has charm and reasonably good approachability. There are still prominent dry tannins that need time to recede. The wine gets better in the glass over time, picking up some flavor intensity, suggesting further cellaring is necessary. Good (+).

2008 Cristom Eileen Vineyard Eola-Amity Hills Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

14.0% alc., pH 3.82, TA 0.54, 659 cases, $50. Highest elevation and youngest of the estate Pinot Noir vineyards. Vines are planted at high density in primarily Jory soil. First of the estate vineyards to be farmed entirely by organic methods. 43% whole clusters. Native yeast exclusively. Aged 17 months in 59% new Burgundian oak barrels. · Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Subdued and mysterious perfume of black fruits, spice and stem. Fresh and juicy on the palate with very impressive extraction and a prodigious tannic backbone. The flavors of fresh blackberries, Hoison sauce and Asian 5-spice are reserved and take a back seat to the tannins. Still, there is amazing grand cru quality persistence on the huge finish. Tremendous potential here but will take years to fulfill.

2008 Cristom Jessie Vineyard Eola-Amity Hills Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

14.0% alc., pH 3.88, TA 0.54, 656 cases, $50. Steeply sloped vineyard planted to high density. Primarily Nekia soil of volcanic origin. Dijon 113, 114, 115, 667, 777 and Pommard clones. 44% whole clusters, native yeast used exclusively. Aged 17 months in 63% new Burgundian oak cooperage. · Medium reddish-purple robe in the glass. Aromas of jam on toast, woodshed and black cherry cola. Moderately extracted dark red and blue fruits with a touch of stem on the dry finish. The wine has a burly tannic backbone that is buffered by good acidity. Showing significant tannin and oak influence and reserved fruit now like so many young Pinot Noirs from Oregon’s 2008 vintage, several years will be needed for the wine to fully reveal its charms. Very good.

2008 Cristom Louise Vineyard Eola-Amity Hills Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., pH 3.86, TA 0.56, 575 cases, $50. Lowest elevation hillside vineyard planted to high density of 2300 vines per acre. Pommard, 2A, 114, 115 and 777 clones. 42% whole cluster and 100% native yeast fermentations. Aged 18 months in 58% new Burgundian oak barrels. · Medium garnet color in the glass. Very alluring aromatics offering scents of fresh red berries, particularly strawberries, with hints of fruit and oak spice. Moderately robust on the palate with sweet flavors of dark red berries and cherries, well-mannered ripe tannins, and a very long finish imbued with dark red berries. The most upfront charm of all the 2008 single vineyard Pinot Noirs. My only nit is that a little alcohol shows up on the nose and finish. Very good.

2008 Cristom Marjorie Vineyard Eola-Amity Hills Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., pH 3.70, TA 0.56, 440 cases, $65. Soils have highest percentage of Jory type compared to other estate vineyards. Pommard, Wädenswil, Dijon 114, 115 and 777 clones. 43% whole clusters. Native yeast fermentation in 1 to 5 ton open top fermenters. Aged 18 months in 67% new Burgundian oak barrels. · Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. A well-composed wine with complex perfume of dark red raspberry jam and cherry compote with hints of oak, damp earth and baking spice. Very smooth on the palate with moderately intense flavors of dark red fruits and plum sauce. The high-quality fruit is wrapped in firm, dry tannins, the mouth feel is all silk and satin and there is a good cut of acidity on the finish. The wine is a bit drab at present and only time will tell what the ultimate outcome will be, but I suspect the result will be very gratifying. Very good.

2007 Cristom ¡Salud! Cuvée Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., very limited production auction item. · Moderately light reddish-purple hue in the glass. This wine is well-endowed with spice both in the aromatics and on the palate. The nose offers an interesting mix of red fruits, game and exotic woods. On the palate, lighter weighted flavors of red cherries have a slight green note in the background. The tannins are dusty and supple and there is a bright cut of acidity on the short finish. A delicate wine that is typical of the 2007 vintage in Oregon, showing subtle signs of unripeness. Still, a good quaff. Good (+).

2005 Cristom Eileen Vineyard Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., $65, sold out. · Dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Terrific aromatics offering plenty of whole cluster spice, dark red fruits and a hint of brioche. Delicious array of dark red and black stone fruits impress the mid palate with verve and intensity. Nicely proportioned fine grain tannins and acidity with a silky texture and a finish redolent of cherry skins. Still coming around and has plenty of life ahead.

2004 Cristom Louise Vineyard Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

13.5% alc. (14.5% on winery tech sheet), pH 3.77, TA 0.68, 583 cases, $65. 30% whole clusters, 100% native yeast fermentations. Aged 18 months in 63% French oak barrels. · Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. Faint aromas of black cherries, spice, humus and herbal tea. Relatively light in weight with appealing flavors of cherries and raspberries with subtle notes of spice and earth. Soft, but evident tannins provide substance and the finish ends on a high note with well-honed aromatic red fruits. Should last another 5 to 10 years. Very good.

2000 Cristom Eileen Vineyard Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

14.0% alc., $60, sold out. · Dark, inky in color in the glass. Brooding nose offering aromas of bramble, grass and earth. Rustic, loamy and brutish offering moderately intense dark berry fruits on the palate with very prominent oak tannins. Simply put, this wine offers little charm. Drink up. Decent.

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