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A Tasting of The Eyrie Vineyards

The Eyrie Vineyards is named for the red-tailed hawks who nest (EYE-ree) in the fir trees at the top of the first vineyard plantings. The estate consists of four estate plantings in the Red Hills of Dundee. The 16-acre original planting at The Eyrie Vineyard is composed of 6.5 acres of Pinot Noir (Wädenswil UCD 1A and UCD 18) as well as Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Meunier and Muscat Ottonel. This vineyard is the source of Estate Reserve Pinot Noir and special bottlings of South Block Reserve Pinot Noir ( a .9 acre portion, just 10 rows in the southern most corner of the Eyrie Vineyard planted to UCD 1A).

The Daphne Vineyard (originally named Stonehedge), located above the original plantings about 400 feet higher in elevation, was planted in 1979 and 1980 and has 13 acres of Pinot Gris, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir (1.5 acres of Wädenswil UCD 1A/2A and Pommard 5). Rolling Green Farm, between Eyrie and Daphne, consists of 6 acres of Pinot Noir (4.9 acres of Wädenswil and Pommard 5) and Pinot Gris. Three Sisters Vineyard has 16 acres planted to the three Pinot sisters: Pinot Noir (4.2 acres of Wädenswil UCD 2A and Pommard 5), Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc. Rolling Green Farm and Three Sisters vineyards were both planted in the late 1980s. Grapes from all four vineyards are blended to produce Eyrie’s Estate wines.

Sustainable farming has always been the rule at The Eyrie Vineyards, and the own-rooted, non-irrigated vines have never been treated with insecticides, herbicides or systemic fungicides.

David Lett’s wines were often light in color and body, less appealing in their youth, yet remarkably age-worthy. For Pinot Noir, he believed in picking early enough to retain what he considered the grape’s essential character. De-stemming and inoculating whole berry fermentation were common practices in the cellar, with occasional chaptalization in cooler years. Neutral oak was used almost entirely for aging that lasted 11 months for the Estate Pinot Noir and 18 to 24 months for the Estate Reserve wines. The Pinot Noirs were unfined and rarely filtered.

The original Chardonnay planted at The Eyrie Vineyards came from a special selection of vines at the Draper Ranch in northern California. The Reserve Chardonnay is made from these original vines, and represents a vineyard and barrel selection that compared to the Estate Chardonnay, has richer and more complex flavors. It is aged on unstirred lees in a combination of neutral and new French and Oregon oak barrels for 9 to 11 months. Both the Estate and Reserve Chardonnay are gently filtered before bottling.

The Eyrie Pinot Gris is a blend of grapes from all four vineyards. It is fermented in stainless steel tanks and gently filtered before bottling. First produced in 1970, Eyrie Pinot Gris has set the standard for this varietal in Oregon. Pinot Blanc is a limited bottling made from Alsatian clones planted at Three Sisters Vineyard.

Lett never wavered from his vision of how wine should be fashioned, refusing to try to please everyone. He never gave in to the more modern styles of Oregon Pinot Noir with their luscious and decked-out fruit, a style that Lett saw garner high scores and develop a large consumer following. He was a firm advocate of preserving the delicacy and nuances of Pinot Noir. In 2007, Lett expressed his preferences, saying, “Pinot Noir should be a Princess, not a monster. Who would you rather have dinner with?” Ted Farthing, Oregon Wine Board Executive Director, said of Lett in 2009, “For those who prefer their opinions strong and their wines elegant, David was your man. What an inspiration.”

Before David Lett passed away, he handed the vineyard management and winemaking reigns at The Eyrie Vineyards to his son, Jason, who took over beginning with the 2005 vintage. Jason did not start out to follow in his father’s footsteps. He worked for a time at age 17 at Maison Joseph Drouhin in Burgundy, but the French his age were more knowledgeable about winemaking and intimidated him, causing him initially to be disinterested in pursuing a winemaking career. He was to obtain a degree in plant ecology from the University of New Mexico and then became a research assistant at Oregon State University, studying the farming of berries in the Willamette Valley. An opportunity to make wine at Bernard Machado Wines led to his BlackCap label (black cap refers to the name of a bird, a mushroom and a berry that are all native to Oregon), and a renewed interest in winegrowing and winemaking. Jason is now committed to preserving the “Eyrie style” at The Eyrie Vineyards, while fashioning a more “New World” gutsy Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, the result of long fermentation times and higher percentage of new oak, under his own BlackCap label..

All wines at The Eyrie Vineyards are estate grown. The total annual production of about 10,000 cases consists of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, and Muscat Ottonel. The winery and tasting room is located at 935 NE 10th Avenue in McMinnville, housed in a former poultry processing plant. Visit the website at for more information and to plan a visit to this historic winery for tasting Wednesday through Sunday.

The majority of the following wines were tasted with Master Sommelier Rene Chazottes at the Pacific Club in Newport Beach, California and the comments include some from Rene as well as myself. Rene pointed out that the wines have a consistent style, are balanced, and allow the terroir to show through, with the Pinot Noirs typically showing a pleasant spiciness with dried herbs on the finish. All the wines were obtained directly from the winery. Many wines were also tasted the next day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle and held up beautifully, a testament to their balance and age ability. The 2008 Estate Pinot Noir and 2008 Black Cap Pinot Noir are sold out.

2008 The Eyrie Vineyards Estate Pinot Gris

13.5% alc., $14.50. · Moderate straw color in the glass. Aromas of tropical fruits, wax and roasted nuts. Richly flavored notes of apricot, apple and citrus sustaining to the generous finish. Mildly viscous mouth feel with bright acidity. Well-made with admirable balance. The benchmark for Oregon Pinot Gris. Serve with a spinach souffle, salad with cheese, or mild fish.

2009 The Eyrie Vineyards Estate Pinot Blanc

13.5% alc., 504 cases, $16.75. · Aromas of peach skin, pear and dried nori. Pleasing lighter-weighted flavors of pears, baked peaches, fig and toast, smoothly textured and light on its feet, showing slight viscosity and finishing clean and dry. Good.

2009 The Eyrie Vineyards Estate “Original Vines” Reserve Chardonnay

13.5% alc., 196 cases, $47, released April 2011. A selection of 8 barrels. · Light straw yellow color in the glass. A restrained style with shy aroma of lemon curd. Crisp, clean and juicy with primarily delicate citrus flavor and undertones of apple and pear and oak. Noticeable minerality. Shy fruit on the bright finish. Serve with veal or white fish. Good (+).

2002 The Eyrie Vineyards Estate “Original Vines” Reserve Pinot Noir

13.0% alc.. · True to the Eyrie style with a very light reddish-purple color. Shy, but lovely aromas of red berries, baking spices and rose petals. Bright acidity lifts the flavors of cranberries, cherries and pomegranates with herbs dominating the delicate finish. Holding up nicely. Good.

2004 The Eyrie Vineyards Estate “Original Vines” Reserve Pinot Noir

13.0% alc.. David Lett’s last vintage. · Very light reddish-purple color in the glass. Moderately intense aromas of black cherries and spice with red and purple fruit flavors that show good density, length and persistence. A very subtle note of dried herbs and oak bring up the finish. A marvelous, beautifully balanced and elegant Pinot Noir. The star of this tasting.

2007 The Eyrie Vineyards Estate “Original Vines” Reserve Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., $60. · Very lightly colored in the glass. Oak dominates the gentle fruit aromas and moderately rich flavors with a noticeable scent of caramel and chocolate and oak-spiced red fruit on the mid palate. Soft and elegant. Some length on the slightly bitter finish which leaves an impression of dried herbs in its wake. May pick up interest and intensity with further age as many 2007 Oregon Pinot Noirs have been prone to do. Good.

2008 The Eyrie Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., $28.75. A blend of four Eyrie estate vineyards with an average vine age of 29 years. · Noticeable increase in reddish-purple color in the glass over the 2007 vintage. Very fruity, even sappy dark berry aromas with a hint of fresh herbs. Ripe, sweet and more masculine with a pleasing blend of spices and black fruits, restrained but firm tannins, and impressive aromatic length on the generous finish. Still fine the next day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Very good.

2009 The Eyrie Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., $33, released April 2011. · Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. Reserved, but attractive perfume of raspberries and black cherries. A well-crafted wine that is refined and supple in the mouth, offering a vivid explosion of raspberry fruit that lingers until the next sip. The fruit seems “alive.” Very good (+).

2009 The Eyrie Vineyards Estate “Original Vines” Reserve Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., $60. Released April 2011. · Moderately light reddish-purple hue in the glass. Enticing aromas of strawberries, raspberries and melon. Perfectly balanced with a charming array of Pinot fruits showing more restraint than the Estate bottling, but offering more long-term potential. The epitome of the Eyrie style with a sexy silkiness, elegance and a touch of terrior-driven dried herbs on the finish. Showing a little oak vanillin now due to its young age. The harmony and breeding predicts a long cellar life ahead.

2008 BlackCap Chardonnay

13.5% alc., 72 cases, $60. · A modern style of Chardonnay with aromas of tropical fruits, banana, and oak. Moderately showy flavors of pear, lemon curd and baked apple. Lacks delicacy and refinement, but will please lovers of this fruit-forward style. Serve with shrimp, lobster, or sauced fish. Good.

2008 BlackCap Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., $45. Made from Eyrie’s younger Pinot Noir vines and fruit purchased from other mature and naturally managed Willamette Valley plantings. · Moderately deep reddish-purple color in the glass. Noticeably more extraction and oak treatment in this wine compared to the Eyrie bottlings. The nose is flush with a panoply of darker stone fruit and berry aromas. The core of fruit is wrapped in firm tannins and displays an underpinning of subtle oak-driven flavors. Not particularly refined but has the fruit to capture your attention. Very good.

NV NV La Luz Special Edition Oregon Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., 261 cases, $35. A one-time limited edition created by winemaker Jason Lett, from a blend of two own-rooted vineyards: 50% Eyrie Rolling Green Vineyard Pinot Noir grapes and 50% Bishop Creek Vineyards. A share of the profits from the sale of La Luz wines will help cover the uninsured medical costs for a kidney transplant for Lupe Hernandez, the mother of three girls and spouse of Eyrie’s cellarmaster, Julio Hernandez. · Moderate burnished red hue with a slight aged patina. Complex aromatics featuring a mix of berries and cherries, spices, new-sawn wood, bramble and bay leaf. Medium-weighted flavors of cherries and cranberries with dried herbs in the background. Bright acidity with subtle oak accents and a dry, slightly salty finish. Tastes like an aged wine. Good (+).

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