Sips of Oregon Pinot Noir
One of my New Year’s resolutions is not to over hype any one vintage for California or Oregon Pinot Noir. I
made a big deal about the 2010 Oregon vintage and I still believe that it is a stellar vintage that produced many outstanding wines,
despite the challenges the weather provided. However, I have found some Pinot Noir wines from that
vintage of late that are pleasant, but seemingly unripe and somewhat dilute. These wines speak to tart red fruit
and the austere style of Pinot Noir that appeals to some, but will disappoint those looking for a rush of fruit
on the palate.
I am a big fan of this winery and the wines crafted by Maggie Harrison, and buy the wines every year. The
2010 Botanica bottling from Shea Vineyard was one of my 2012 Pinot Noir All-Americans. I expected big
things from the estate Pinot Noir, Antikythera, as well, but found it to be curiously unfulfilling at this early stage.
It was made in very small quantities because of the vintage challenges, and is now sold out, so I may not be
spot on in my evaluation of this one bottle. Time will tell. The Antica Terra wines are sold through a mailing list,
with additional limited retail distribution of the Antica Terra Willamette Valley bottling. Maggie is also crafting
some interesting wines including a sparkler and a white Rhone, and many surprises are in store down the road.
Visit www.anticaterra.com. Listen to a recent conversation with Maggie on Grape Radio, “Life with Maggie -
Part 2”: www.graperadio.com/archives/2012/08/17/life-with-maggie-part-2/.
2010 Antica Terra Antikythera Eola-Amity Hills Pinot Noir
13.1% alc., $100.
Released November 1, 2012.
Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass.
Aromas of dark red cherries and berries, bramble, stem, rose petal and toasty
new oak. Light and soft on the palate featuring red fruit flavors with a slight
green, herbal undertone. Seamless, with gossamer tannins and a very long,
slightly tart red cherry finish. Tasted later in the day, the wine still had a slight
vegetal and floral tone. I suspect this wine needs more time for full expression
and to fully integrate the oak. Not sure how it will turn out. Good.
Planted between 1977 and 1979, Bethel Heights Vineyard was one of the first vineyards in the Eola-Amity Hills
region. The initial wines were released in 1984. Bethel Heights now turns out approximately 10,000 cases
yearly, most of which comes from the 49-acre Bethel Heights Vineyard and the more recently planted nearby
Justice Vineyard. The winery produces several Pinot Noirs including block-designated bottles which are very
special. Founded by twin brothers Ted and Terry Casteel and their wives Pat Dudley and Marilyn Webb, the
winery now is largely in the hands of the second generation, cousins Mimi (viticulture) and Ben (winemaking)
Casteel. The winery tasting room is open year round, but the hours vary seasonal. Visit
www.bethelheights.com. I tasted the entire 2010 lineup of Pinot Noirs at the winery last summer (Volume 9,
Issue 11). The 2010 Bethel Heights Pinot Noirs reviewed here have impressive color, aromatic expression, fruit
intensity, and finishing length, and are among the most notable of the 2010 wines I have tasted from Oregon.
2010 Bethel Heights Estate Casteel Reserve Eola-Amity Hills Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
12.8% alc., pH
3.45, TA 0.75, 270 cases, $60. A blend of select barrels from several blocks in Estate vineyards and is meant
to represent the best expression of the vintage. This is the only Bethel Heights Pinot Noir that carries the
Casteel family name rather than a place name. In recent years, more of the chosen barrels have come from
the second generation Pinot Noir blocks that are reaching fifteen years of age (The second generation vines
and second generation winemaking team is reaching maturity together!). 50% clone 114 planted in 1996, 20%
667 from Justice Vineyard planted in 1999, and 30% from old vine Wädenswil clone planted in 1977. 100%
destemmed fruit. Barrel aged 11 months in 60% new French oak barrels.
Moderately dark reddish-purple
color in the glass. Fresh aromas of black cherries, black raspberries, grilled plum and rose petals. Mineralcharged
middleweight flavors of red and black stone fruits and berries with beautifully balanced tannins and a
refreshing riff of nervy acidity on the finish. Does not have the intense fruit flavors or density of the three block
bottlings, but its vibrancy and focus is more reflective of the vintage. Very good.
2010 Bethel Heights Estate West Block Eola-Amity Hills Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
12.8% alc., pH
3.31, TA .0645, 132 cases, $50. The heart of the West Block is a 5-acre section of Wädenswil (UCD 1A) clone
vines planted in 1977 on their own roots and are the oldest Pinot Noir vines at Bethel Heights. The Wädenswil
tends to be late ripener with higher acidity and darker color. 100% destemmed fruit. Barrel aged 11 months in
50% new French oak barrels.
Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Alluring aromatics bursting
forth from the glass with notes of dark berry preserves, black currants, dark cocoa, truffle and subtle herbs.
Quite earthy, featuring rich black fruit flavors with hints of black tea leaf and tar, finishing with impressive fruitdriven
intensity and length. The wine offers a mild grip of tannin and well integrated acidity. Quite typical of
Wädenswil clone. Better two days later from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Very good.
2010 Bethel Heights Estate Flat Block Eola-Amity Hills Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
12.8% alc., pH 3.45, TA 0.66, 167 cases, $58. The
Flat Block is one of seven different sections of Pinot Noir planted over
37 acres in the estate vineyard. It was planted in 1979 on a flat table of
the vineyard and is 100% own-rooted Pommard clone. The soil is
gravelly and of a different mineral composition than the neighboring
Southeast Block. This 3.3-acre block consistently has a distinctive
character, usually offering the most refined and elegant Pinot Noir.
Wines from Flat Block have been bottled separately since 1991.
dark reddish-purple color in the glass. This is one of those wines that makes
you sit up and take notice. Marvelous aromas of black cherries, damp earth, and warm s’mores. Earthy,
exotic, and erotic black cherry and black berry flavors with a compliment of spice. The fruit is robed in ripe, firm
but polished tannins, invigorated with bright acidity, and blessed with a charge of black cherry flavor on the
dancing finish. Seduction.com.
2010 Bethel Heights Southeast Block Eola-Amity Hills Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
pH 3.45, TA 0.65, 135 cases, $50. From a 6-acre section of the estate vineyard planted in 1979 in
deep red clay soil that is volcanic in origin. The vines are 100% own-rooted Pommard clone. 100%
destemmed fruit. Aged 11 months in 50% new French oak barrels. Wines from Southeast Block have
been bottled separately since 1991.
Moderately dark reddish-purple hue in the glass. Scintillating
aromas of dark cherries, raspberry jam and cardamom spice. Intensely flavorful, tasting of ripe black
fruits including cassis, and brewed black Oolong tea. The fruit has remarkable staying power in the
mouth and finishes with pleasing crispness and length. An immensely satisfying wine.
Big Table Farm
A collaborative effort between artist Clare Carver and her winemaker spouse Brian Marcy. The pair moved to
Oregon from Napa, bought a 100-year-old farmhouse and property in Gaston, and started a winery in 2006
producing wines from purchased grapes. Marcy has an impressive resume, having winemaking experience at
Turley Wine Cellars, Neyers Vineyards, Blankiet Estate and Marcassin, all in California. Along with producing
wine, the couple have established a working farm where they raise poultry, pigs, cows and egg-laying chickens.
The wines are sold through a mailing list and a small tasting room at their home. Visit the very informative and
well-designed website at www.bigtablefarm.com. Original art by Clare appears on every label each year and
the hand lettered and pressed labels are affixed to each bottle one at a time.
2010 Big Table Farm Wirtz Vineyard Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
alc., 90 cases, $45. Label features hazelnuts from the neighboring field.
Inaugural offering from this vineyard. The vines from this multigenerational site
in the northern part of the Willamette Valley average 40 years of age.
garnet color in the glass. Complex nose offering aromas of cherries, plums,
spice, and toasty oak. Soft and elegant on the palate with restrained tannins
and a good spark of acidity. Lighter weight dark red fruits are featured,
especially cherry, with a topcoat of smoky oak. A pleasant wine that needs more
time to integrate the oak. Good.
2010 Big Table Farm Cattrall Brothers Vineyard Eola-Amity Hills Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
118 cases, $45. Label features an old truck from the vineyard. Sourced from the oldest certified organic
vineyard in Oregon that was planted in the early 1970s.
Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass.
Bright aromas of black cherries, stem and new oak. Rounded cherry core with an herbal, savory riff, offering a
silky mouth feel, supple tannins and impeccable balance. Still carrying a substantial load of oak. Needs more
2011 Big Table Farm Wirtz Vineyard Willamette Valley Pinot Gris
12.6% alc.,110 cases, $28. An “orange”
wine created by taking a traditionally white grape and leaving it on it’s skins to add color and texture, then
pressing and finished by fermenting to dryness in neutral French oak barrels. Full MLF, unfined and unfiltered.
Medium blood orange color in the glass. An unusual wine that is challenging to describe properly. Aromas of
citrus peel, melon and herbs. An easy drinker that is very light and extremely dry on the finish showing flavors
of white stone fruits, white raspberries, vanilla, orange peel and toast. A welcome aperitif if chilled, or a good
accompaniment to shellfish. Good.
NV Big Table Farm NV Work Horse Red
12.9% alc., 140 cases, $48. A blend of 90% Resonance Vineyard Pinot
Noir (2011) and 10% White Hawk Syrah (2009). Label features Clare’s plough horse. Fermented with some whole cluster. Aged in about 30% new French oak.
Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Intensely fruity on the nose featuring aromas of cherry pie
glaze and black raspberry jam, with hints of pipe smoke and oak. Rich and full-bodied on the palate with a lush
core of black cherry and black raspberry fruits accented with spice and oak. Amazing amount of fruit flavor and
soul packed into a wine with very low alcohol. Good.
Robert Brittan is a former renowned winemaker from California who moved to the Willamette Valley in 2004
and bought a 128-acre forested tract near McMinnville. He replanted 18 acres of vineyards on the property,
retaining some Swan clone plantings, and established an additional 3.5 acres of Pinot Noir in 2008. His first
vintage was 2006. Two Pinot Noirs are offered: a Basalt cuvée and a Gestalt cuvée, the difference being the
type of soils the vines are grown in. The wines are sold through a mailing list with some retail distribution. Visit
www.brittanvineyards.com. Brittan is also the consulting winemaker for a number of Willamette Valley wineries
2010 Brittan Vineyards Basalt Block Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
alc., $50. Sourced from parts the vineyard with the heaviest concentration of
broken sub-marine basalt, resulting in low yielding vines that produce intense
flavors. Primarily Pommard, blended with 667, 777 and 115. Aged 9 months in
25% new French oak.
Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass.
Aromas of dark red berries including cranberries, vitamins, and seasoned oak.
Dark red raspberry, red plum and red cherry flavors are featured underlain with
soft tannins. Finishes with a rush of sour cherry fruit and grapefruit-driven
acidity. Not particularly pleasing on its own, but acid can be your friend at the
dinner table, and this wine should work nicely with a salad dressed with vinaigrette, deep-fried foods or fish
dishes with creamy sauces. Good.
Founder and winemaker of Brooks Wines, Portland native Jimi Brooks, passed away in 2004, and his winery
was bequeathed to his young son, Pascal, who was 16 years of age in 2012 and is the youngest owner of a
winery in the U.S.. Jimi’s sister, Janie Brooks, leads winery operations. In 2006, Chris Williams became the
winemaker and continues Jimi’s wish to produce affordable Pinot Noir and Riesling wines. About 8,000 cases
of wine are produced annually at a winery built over 40 years ago by Oregon wine pioneers Don and Carolyn
Byard. Organic and biodynamic farming practices are paramount at Brooks which owns a 20-acre vineyard in
the Eola-Amity Hills, formerly the property of the Byards. Tasting, which had only been available by
appointment, is now offered Tuesday through Sunday at 9360 SE Eola Hills Road in Amity. Visit
2009 Brooks Janus Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
13.8% alc., $35.
The winery’s flagship bottling.
Moderately light reddish-purple color in
the glass. Nicely perfumed with aromas of dark red cherries and
berries, forest floor and sandalwood. Tasty core of dark red cherries
with a hint of savory herbs in the background. Light on its feet with
good acidity and mild tannins, finishing with some power and intensity.
2009 Brooks Rastaban Eola-Amity Hills Pinot Noir
13.8% alc., $50. Rastaban is a star, the eye of the
dragon in the constellation Draco. This wine is composed of the most complete and intense barrels in the
cellar and represents the best effort for the vintage. 100% estate fruit.
Medium reddish-purple color in the
glass. Aromas of very ripe black cherries, sassafras, prune and a slight medicinal note. Moderately lush core
of dark raspberry, black cherry and dark chocolate flavors creating quite a noticeable mid palate impression
and finishing long and powerful. A juicy wine with lift from good acidity in the background. Soft in the mouth
with balanced tannins. Bogged down with slightly jammy fruit and ripeness. Good (+).
2010 Brooks Temperance Hill Eola-Amity Hills Pinot Noir
11.8% alc., 200 cases, $45. Old vine vineyard.
Light reddish-purple hue in the glass. Enticing aromas of spiced dark red fruits, brier, forest floor and earth.
Light, but pleasantly flavored, featuring crisp, red cherries and cranberries, finishing with a citrus note. Mild
tannins and easy drinkability. Good.
2010 Brooks Sunny Mountain Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
12.9% alc., 100
cases, $45. Old vine vineyard.
Moderately light reddish-purple color in the
glass. The bright nose really reels you in with aromas of fresh, dark red cherries
and berries and dried herbs. A little more body and a little less acid-driven than
the Temperance Hill bottling, with hi-tone red cherry flavor. A seamless wine
with supple tannins that has enough intensity to create a lasting impression.
2010 Brooks Janus Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
12.2% alc., $35.
Light reddish-purple color in the
glass. The nose offers shy aromas of dark red cherries, and oak-driven espresso. Elegant, relatively
light and feminine, but offering a pleasing assortment of red and black berry fruits with a savory soul,
wrapped in gentle tannins. Plenty of vim and vigor due to bright acidity which makes for refreshing
drinking. A perfect food wine. Very good.
The site of the first plantings of Pinot Noir in Oregon in 1961 by Richard Sommer who founded this winery. It is
Oregon’s oldest estate winery. Dyson DeMara took the reigns of the vineyard and winery in 2003 and today
produces a variety of wines from estate and bought fruit, available for tasting and purchasing in the winery’s
tasting room only. Dyson likes to say, “Good wine tastes like a grape, but great wines taste like a place.” Read
the full history of this winery in Volume 8, Issue 39 of the PinotFile. Visit www.hillcrestvineyard.com.
2009 HillCrest Vineyard Memorial Estate Umpqua Valley Pinot Noir
(unlabeled, inquire about availability). From old, non-irrigated, lowyielding
Medium reddish-purple color in the glass. A very
distinctive wine with appealing aromas of black cherries, spice,
sarsaparilla, chocolate mint, and smoke. Striking fruit core of ripe dark
cherries, black raspberries, cherry cola, dark chocolate, spearmint,
spice and sassafras with good tannin support and a generous fruit-filled
finish. Definitely speaks of place and is nothing like any Pinot Noir from the
Willamette Valley or anywhere else in Oregon for that matter. Drink or hold.
This estate consists of 85 acres of vineyards in the heart of the Willamette Valley in the Van Duzer corridor.
Norwegian Dag Johan Sundby, a descendent of a long line of soil tillers, came to the Willamette Valley in 2004.
Dan Rinke has been the viticulturist and winemaker at Johan since 2007. His background includes stints at
Domaine Alfred and Rhys Vineyards in California. The winery offers Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Vin Gris and
Pinot Noir. Visit www.johanvineyards.com.
2009 Johan Vineyards Estate Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
12.5% alc., pH 3.86, TA 0.55, 1,083 cases, $28.
Native yeast fermentations, 42% whole cluster. Aged 11 months in 32% new French oak barrels.
reddish-purple color in the glass. Aromas of wild berries, bramble, lilac with a subtle green (stem) and
medicinal note. Earthy dark red cherries and blueberries are featured in a middleweight style with a green,
vegetal underpinning. Whole cluster just didn’t work in this savory wine. Decent.
2008 Johan Vineyards Estate Nils Reserve Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
12.8% alc., pH 3.77, TA 0.56, 330 cases, $45. A barrel selection of clones 114,
115, 667 and 777. Native yeast fermentations, 50% whole cluster, aged 18
months in 40% new French oak barrels.
Moderately dark reddish-purple color in
the glass. Very shy initially, opening nicely over time in the glass to revealing
uplifting aromas of very ripe dark plum and berry with notes of brown spice and
exotic woods. Impressive mid-palate presence of dark plum and berries with a
hint of spice, balanced nicely by firm tannins and citrus-driven acidity. Well composed
and still young, I would hold for a few more years. Very good.
2009 Johan Vineyards Estate Reserve Willamette Valley Chardonnay
12.5% alc., pH
3.36, TA 0.59, 142 cases, $33. Released November 2011. A winemaker selection of a blend
of Dijon clones 76 and 95. Fermented with native yeasts in 50% new French oak with lees
stirring, and aged 18 months where it underwent 100% MLF. The wine was bottle aged an
additional 7 months before release. Minimal sulfite additions. Unfiltered.
Pale straw color in
the glass with slight cloudiness (bottled with lees). Attractive scent of lemon custard and
buttered brioche. Fresh and frisky, with delicious flavors of lemon, pear, apple, pineapple
and yeasty goodness, silky textured, finishing with a good cut of acidity. One of the more
impressive Oregon Chardonnays I have sampled.
Raptor Ridge Winery
A specialist in Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris located in a modern winery facility and tasting room in Newberg,
Oregon adjacent the 18-acre estate vineyard. Owner and winemaker Scott Shull founded the winery in 1995,
which is named appropriately after the birds of prey that share the property. Wines are crafted from the Estate
Tuscowallame Vineyard and other well-known Willamette Valley winegrowers. Scott and Annie Shull donate 10
cents for every bottle sold to Salud The Oregon Wine Auction which supports vineyard worker health care in
Oregon. The tasting room, with scenic views of Mount Hood, Adams and St. Helen’s is open seasonally and by
appointment. The wines are available on the website at www.raptoridge.com and through limited retail
distribution. The Raptor Ridge Pinot Noirs are typically richly flavored but the 2010 vintage wines show light
color, more elegance, modesty and restraint. Back in 2002, Scott Shull said what still rings true today: “Focus
on flavor, mouthfeel, and aromas in Pinot Noir and let color fall where it may.”
2011 Raptor Ridge Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
12.5% alc., 2,200 cases, $25, screwcap.
Released December 15, 2012.
Light reddish-purple color in the glass. Darker fruits are featured on
the nose including black cherries with a touch of spice and oak. Light and elegant, with satisfying
cherry, blueberry and pomegranate flavors, finishing with an uplifting spiced cherry note. Gossamer
tannins and every easy to drink. An impressive Willamette Valley blend. Buy this by the case for
satisfying everyday drinking. Good (+).
2010 Raptor Ridge Olenik Vineyard Chehalem Mountains Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
13.0% alc., 100
cases, $38, screwcap. Released March 15, 2012.
Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. The
nose is appealing with an array of aromas including dark berries, sassafras, hickory, pepper and floral accents.
Tastes of the essence of blackberries with an oaky, earthy edge. Well-balanced dry tannins provide good
support and bright acidity on the finish infuses the wine with vigor. Good.
2010 Raptor Ridge Gran Moraine Vineyard McMinnville Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
13.0% alc., <200
cases, $38, screwcap. Released March 15, 2012.
Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. A
relatively austere wine with hi-tone acidity. Aromas of dark berry preserves, sweet pea and resin. Tasty core of
dark berries and black plum sauce with oak and a green thread running through. Light in weight with balanced
tannins and a bright finish. Lively acidity really elevates this wine. Good.
2010 Raptor Ridge Meredith Mitchell Vineyard McMinnville Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
13.0% alc., 175 cases, $38, screwcap.
Release early 2013.
Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass.
Nose-filling aromas of spiced red stone fruits. Discreetly concentrated
core of dark red and purple fruits including grapes, with a juicy finish
that lasts and lasts. Satisfying fullness and roundness with a very
appealing velvety mouth feel. Everything is in place with balanced dry
tannins, zippy acidity and perfectly ripened fruit. This vineyard performed
beautifully in this vintage.
2010 Raptor Ridge Shea Vineyard Yamhill-Carlton District Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
12.5% alc., 250
cases, $55, screwcap. Released November 15, 2012.
Light reddish-purple hue in the glass. The fruit hasn’t
emerged on the nose. Aromas of oak and coffee are at the forefront with deep cherry and berry aromas in the
background. Relatively light but satisfying featuring delicious dark berry fruit complimented by oak, finishing
very long. Very young and needs time to soften the tannins and fully integrate the oak, but the pedigree of the
fruit is evident. Good (+).
2010 Raptor Ridge Trig Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
13.0% alc., 50 cases, $41, screwcap. Released June
2012. A barrel select blend of 50% Shea Vineyard and 50% Meredith Mitchell Vineyard grapes.
light reddish-purple color in the glass. Nicely perfumed initially with aromas of cherry, cranberry and spice,
fading in appeal over time as aromas of tobacco, herbs and geranium emerge. Light and juicy on the palate
with cherry and red berry flavors, supported by fine-grain tannins and a lively riff of acidity. Decent.