Current Challenges at The Eyrie Vineyards
Challenge I: Cellar Certification
What do you do when you inherit a 6,000-case library of wine? In Jason’s mind, the challenge was clear once
his early assessment indicated noteworthy bottle variation in the library. While Eyrie library wines had been
stored in ideal conditions, it became apparent to Jason that there was bottle inconsistency, and he did not feel
comfortable in showing or releasing the wines unless pre-oxidation (premox), cork taint and bottle variation
could be dealt with. He found that 60% of the bottles were perfect, 30% showed premature oxidation, and
2-10% showed cork taint.
David had accumulated a treasure chest of wines for several reasons. He believed the wines of the Willamette
Valley would never realize true success and respect unless the wines showed age ability. In addition, when
David found wines to his liking, he stashed them away with no intention of releasing them. Some
wines were produced in experimental one-barrel lots, making them unlikely candidates for commercial release.
Even when the Letts struggled financially in the early years of the winery, David put aside cases, and continued
to do so throughout his career. He eventually amassed an incredible library representing the total output of all
the varietals produced at Eyrie, a rarity among wineries in the New World.
Jason established an ingenious 21-step process called Cellar Certification which is unrivaled in its thoroughness. He
developed techniques and designed equipment that would allow each bottle in the library to be appraised,
tested, and if pristine, repackaged to guarantee perfect consistency. The process led to extremely small
amounts of residual oxygen in the new bottles. An incredible number of man hours was required over 10 years
to refine the process. The first suite of Cellar Certified vintages was released in 2013, and Eyrie is proudly the
only wine estate in the world using this certification process. Jason's goal, like his father's, is to help advance the reputation of the
Willamette Valley as one of the world’s great regions.
For the Cellar Certified wines and all wines produced since the 2008 vintage, Diam corks have been used and
there has been no issues with cork taint or premox since. Jason believes that premox developed in earlier
vintages of Eyrie wines from less dense corks, a discovery that needs to be further researched.
All the wines tasted at this Fiftieth Anniversary Vertical Tasting were Cellar Certified wines.
Challenge II: Replanting & Expanding the Vineyard
When David establishing his plantings in the Dundee Hills in 1966, he knew that the Phylloxera aphid was not
present. He also knew of the potential for its destructive powers, but he chose to plant his vines on their own
roots un-grafted, believing that the advantages outweighed the risks. Own-rooted vines have the advantage of
being more drought and disease resistant, their trunks can be renewed easily, and many believe they produce
In the early 1970s, Oregon’s winegrowers imposed a strict quarantine to prevent the importation of tainted soil
and most vineyards were planted own-rooted for decades. In 1990, the first case of Phylloxera was found in
the Dundee Hills and the pest has quickly moved into and destroyed the vineyards surrounding Eyrie. Despite the
avoidance of soil discing and tilling and other precautions, in 2005 the original vines at Eyrie succumbed by
showing the first signs of weakening, and over the past ten years the areas of affected Pinot Noir and Pinot
Gris vines have merged and enlarged.
Rather than tear out the original vines, new acreage is being planted, viewed as an opportunity to trial different
rootstocks and new grape varieties, including the Willamette Valley’s first planting of Trousseau Noir (2012),
and the expansion of Melon de Bourgogne and Pinot Meunier plantings. Eyrie currently owns an additional 55
acres of land suitable for additional vineyards.
Healthy original vines are being identified to use as mother vines to graft and propagate, allowing the
preservation of Eyrie’s genetic vine heritage for the future.
Challenge III: Building a New Winery
McMinnville has developed around the winery, making it impossible to expand. The low ceilings provide an
appealing atmosphere, but prevent efficient use of space and forklift assistance. The interior of the current
winery is pictured below.
Jason also feels there is import in vinifying wines close to the vines. These considerations have led Jason to
design a building that would in theory allow him to make wines without the use of electricity or forklifts, yet
enable him to use these modern assists if necessary. The winery would be constructed with hand- made wine in
mind, drawing on the principles of ancient Roman and Burgundian cellars. The winery would be sited as David
had planned, overlooking the original vines at The Eyrie Vineyards.