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Along the Oregon Pinot Trail: Part 1

I took advantage of a trip to the Willamette Valley for the 2016 International Pinot Noir Celebration in late July to travel along the Oregon Pinot Trail and visit several wineries. Some winery visits were repeats to check in on the latest wines (The Eyrie Vineyards, Van Duzer Vineyards, Lange Estate Winery & Vineyards, White Rose Estate and Native Flora), while other stops brought new experiences (Arlie Winery, Alloro Vineyard, Bells Up Winery, Knudsen Vineyard and Brooks Winery).

The wines tasted in bottle were for the most part from the superb 2014 vintage. Said to be a “Goldilocks” vintage, the weather was not too not, but not too cold, and not too rainy. 2014 was the warmest season on record in the Willamette Valley, but due to higher than normal minimal temperatures rather than high maximum temperatures. A warm spring led to an early bud break, and the season maintained warm temperatures throughout. Nighttime temperatures were well above normal leading to accelerated ripening. Harvest began at the very beginning of September. The dry weather inhibited disease pressure, leading to large crops loads and a ripe vintage.

The chart below shows a 13-year degree day comparison from Amalie Robert Winery just outside of Dallas, Oregon: Growing degree days (GDD) are based on the hypothesis that grapevines do not grow if the temperature is below 50ºF. Days in the growing region (assumed to be April 1 to October 31 in the Northern Hemisphere) are assigned degree days according to the amount that the day’s average temperature exceeds this threshold. The formula for GDD is maximum temperature plus minimum temperature divided by two minus the base temperature of 50ºF. The system is used officially in California, Oregon and Washington and other United States growing regions. Oregon falls into the Region I category, that is, 2,500 degree days or less, the same as the Côte d’Or and Champagne.

The 2015 wines are still in barrel but this vintage growing season was also warm and dry and the resultant wines share similarities with those from the 2014 vintage. Errnie Pink of Amalie Robert Winery calls 2015 a “Hell Bent for Leather” vintage. Barrel tasting can be very educational, but it is like showing off your newborn baby while still in a crib at the hospital: there is plenty of potential, but you have to be patient. I did some barrel tasting of the 2015 Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays and the outlook is upbeat.

This issue I will concentrate on repeat winery visits (Part 1) and talk about my new experiences in the next issue (Part 2). I have a number of outstanding California wines to bring to your attention as well, and as much as I am attempting to shorten the length of the PinotFile to make for quicker and more salient reading, there are important wine releases to ponder.

Discoveries on the Pinot Trail Part 1 in this issue: The Eyrie Vineyards, Van Duzer Vineyards, White Rose Estate Winery & Vineyard, Lange Estate Winery & Vineyards, and Native Flora Wines.

Next article:
The Eyrie Vineyards

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