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Trisaetum Winery: An Artist Crafts Distinguished Oregon Pinot Noir

Many claim that those who make wine are artists, while others consider winemaking more of a craft. At Trisaetum Winery in Newberg, Oregon, Proprietor and Winemaker James Frey fulfills both roles as an artist and craftsman.

Despite the excellence of the Pinot Noir (and Riesling, but that is another story) produced at Trisaetum, beginning in 2005, the winery has been somewhat under the radar of publicists. You won’t find the winery mentioned in John Haeger’s Pacific Pinot Noir (2008), Cole Danehower’s Essential Wines and Wineries of the Pacific Northwest (2010), photographer Andrea Johnson’s Spectacular Wineries of Oregon (2014), or in The Wines and Wineries of Oregon’s Willamette Valley (2017) by Nick Wise and Linda Sunshine. That is all the more reason to read this interesting untold story about Trisaetum Winery and vintner James Frey.

James grew up in Santa Cruz, California and matriculated from UC Berkeley before going to graduate school at the University of Arizona. He earned a master’s degree in Exercise Physiology and an MBA. Like so many successful winemakers, he did not grow up thinking about winemaking as a profession and learned to make wine by doing it. He began by planting an acre vineyard in his backyard almost twenty years ago and started making wine on his patio (a sort of outdoor garagiste). James and his spouse, Andrea, who he met at the University of Arizona, did an internship in Oregon while in graduate school, and both realized that Oregon was where they wanted to raise their family.

In 2003, James and Andrea, along with their young children Tristen and Tatum moved to Oregon. They bought a piece of land in the eastern foothills of the Coast Range mountains and planted the first of three vineyards that now make up Trisaetum.

James attached himself to notable mentors in Oregon’s winemaking community, including Josh Bergstrom (2003-2008), who was an important advisor while James was constructing his winery. Over the past five years, he has been fortunate to have Louis Jadot’s iconic vigneron, Jacques Lardiére, produce his Resonance wine at Trisaetum, allowing him to work alongside Jacques during harvest. James has also had a Walla Walla project (18401 Cellars) for the past five years where he worked with winemaker Chris Figgins of Leonetti and Figgins fame, and a sparkling wine project (Pashey) working with winemaker Andrew Davis, formerly of Argyle Winery. So, despite not having a degree in enology, he was had extensive real-world winemaking experiences over the past 13 vintages. ,p> James’ winemaking philosophy is refreshing. He doesn’t follow a recipe, preferring to experiment along the way. “I have made mistakes along the way (by experimenting), and sometimes I’m smart enough to not repeat them year after year.” He tastes frequently, preferring to makes wines that he likes personally. In the end, He hopes that his wines reflect a sense of place. “The worse thing you could write about my winemaking is that my wines all taste the same. The better wine is the distinctive wine. Complex and well made, but unique.”

In the field, James dry-farms all three estate vineyards. All of the stems, skins and seeds from harvest go into a compost pile and are returned to the vineyard. The three estate vineyards include the 17-acre Ribbon Ridge Estate planted to Pinot Noir and Riesling in the Ribbon Ridge AVA with predominantly marine sedimentary soils, the 23-acre Coast Range Estate planted to Pinot Noir and Riesling in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA with diverse sedimentary and volcanic soils, and the 11-acre Wichmann Dundee Estate planted to Pinot Noir in the Dundee Hills AVA, with volcanic Jory soils.

In the winery, the grapes are 100% hand-harvested and hand-sorted. The use of sulfur is kept to a minimum. With Pinot Noir, either significant whole cluster or 100% de-stemmed fermentations are chosen based entirely on how the stems taste. In riper vintages, the percentage of whole cluster can be as high as 70%. Each ferment starts with native yeasts and if fermentation progresses to his liking based on smell and taste, the fermentation stays native. After harvest, James tastes every ferment each morning at 6:30 a.m. and determines what needs to be done based on this tasting (a Jacques influence). Fermentations that are close to finishing get tasted throughout the day.

In addition to James’ role as proprietor and winemaker of Trisaetum Winery, he has long been an accomplished abstract expressionist artist. His winery houses a 1,500-square-foot gallery displaying his works. Over the past decade, over 300 of James’ paintings have been sold to collectors and corporations throughout the world. His art is displayed nearby at The Allison Inn & Spa in Newberg, and far away at The Clarion Post in Gothenburg, Sweden, Maison Louis Jadot in Beaune, and the Masters of Wine offices in London. View the 2018 James Frey Collection at

Trisaetum (“Tris-say-tum”) is a Latinized version of the names of James; son Tristan and daughter Tatum. The Trisaetum Tasting Room and Art Gallery at 18401 NE Ribbon Ridge Road, Newberg, OR, is open daily from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Three flights are offered daily, each with five wines. The tasting fee is $20 per person refundable with purchase of a bottle per taster. The showcase winery has a dramatically lit underground wine cave in addition to the art gallery.

Trisaetum wines, including Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling, are distributed throughout the U.S. Several Wine Club options are available with significant discounts. For more information, visit the winery website at

I previously glowingly reviewed the 2015 vintage Trisaetum Pinot Noir lineup - 737/ - and the 2016 wines reviewed here are also stellar.

2016 Trisaetum Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

13.9% alc., 3,800 cases, $36. Released April 2018. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. Aromas of purple berries, earthy flora and sawn oak. Bright, mid weight flavors of Bing cherry and boysenberry framed by reserved oak. Nicely balanced, with modest tannins and some finishing persistence. A delightful everyday wine. Score: 89

2016 Trisaetum Wichmann Dundee Estate Dundee Hills Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

13.7% alc., 525 cases, $49. Released July 2018. Old vines planted in volcanic Jory soil. · Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Pleasing aromas of cherry and toasty oak. Very juicy, clean and silky on the palate, with middleweight flavors of dark red stone and berry fruits. Impressive harmony, with buried tannins and a modest but welcome finish. This wine is true to its Dundee Hills origins. Score: 92

2016 Trisaetum Coast Range Estate Yamhill-Carlton Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

13.8% alc., 600 cases, $49. Released July 2018. This 22-acre vineyard is planted on the site of the Frey family home. A mix of marine sediment and volcanic soils. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. Soft in the mouth, even seductive, with vibrant flavors of purple and black fruits in a mid weight plus style, offering sleek tannins and well-balanced oak. This wine has the Yamhill-Carlton sinew yet is a very sexy wine. Score: 93

2016 Trisaetum Ribbon Ridge Estate Ribbon Ridge Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., 625 cases, $49. Released July 2018. This 17-acre vineyard is on the same site as the winery and planted on a rare combination of high-quartz sandstone soils. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. Ever-expanding aromas of blueberry, ripe strawberry and spice lead to a mid weight plus and affable core of darker fruits framed by noticeable, but congenial tannins. Somewhat reserved, with an earthy tone and a modest finish. Score: 92

2016 Trisaetum Estates Reserve Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

13.8% alc., 520 cases, $69. Release September 2018. This wine represents the most prized barrels from the three estate vineyards. · Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. Somewhat brooding aromas of dark fruits. Strikingly flavorful fruit delivered in a mid weight plus style of sappy boysenberry, purple grape and black raspberry fruits touched by enticing spice and a hint of vanilla. The mouthfeel is very soothing as a result of amendable tannins. Somewhat moody at this stage, but the fruit still pops on the palate. Great potential here in future years, yet delicious now with decanting. Score: 94

2015 Trisaetum Family Reserve Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

13.3% alc., 120 cases, $100. Released August 2018. · Moderately light garnet color in the glass (lightest colored wine in the 2016 lineup). A striking departure from the Estates Reserve. Aromas of red berry, spice cabinet and sandalwood. While the Estates Reserve is burly, this wine is delicate and feminine in character. Sleek, refined and juicy with filigree tannins, this mid weighted wine veers toward red fruits and is more Dundee Hills in temperament. The wine picks up intensity and interest when tasted several hours after opening. Score: 93

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