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Knudsen Vineyards 2016 Pinot Noir: Beguiling Wines Reflect Dundee Hills Terroir

“It’s not easy to isolate the various terroirs when you taste the wines of the Willamette Valley. But something about these Dundee Hills shows through.”
Bill Stoller, Stoller Estate

Among the six sub-AVAs of the Willamette Valley, Pinot Noir wines from the Dundee Hills are the most recognizable for me. The wines from the Dundee Hills are distinctive enough to be identified on a regular basis. The volcanic Jory soils over sedimentary sandstone typically impart alluring red cherry and red raspberry fruit flavors along with notes of sassafras, pomegranate, cola, baking spices and forest floor, paired with floral aromatics, good acidity and soft textures. The wines are nuanced, delicate and fruit-centric.

The 6,490-acre Dundee Hills AVA was approved in 2005 and the Dundee Hills Winegrowers Association was formed in March 2006. The original name proposed for the AVA was “Red Hills,” referring to the red oxide stained volcanic soils, but was changed to avoid possible confusion with other domestic and international “Red Hill” or “Red Hills” viticultural regions.

Some of Oregon’s pioneering vineyards were established in the Dundee Hills including Knudsen Vineyards, first planted by Cal Knudsen in 1972. By 1975, the vineyard, spread over 60 acres, was the largest in Oregon. The vineyard today consists of 130 planted acres and is a mix of old vine blocks established in the 1970s and the 1980s, and newer high-density blocks planted with Dijon clones in the 1990s, and 2000-2007.

Cal Knudsen passed away in 2009, but Page Knudsen Cowles, now Managing Director, along with her three brothers, is carrying on his legacy by producing Knudsen Vineyards Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The wines are vinified at Argyle Winery by winemaker Nate Klosterman, a protege of Rollin Soles. The first Pinot Noir was released from the 2012 vintage and a Chardonnay followed the next year.

I have reviewed every Pinot Noir and Chardonnay produced at Knudsen Vineyards including the two 2016 Pinot Noirs sampled for this issue. The wines have been consistently outstanding, awarded scores in the 93-96 range since the 2013 vintage. But even more significant is that the wines are always true to their Dundee Hills terroir. This is admirable since there are many variables involved in wine production including the winemaker’s hand. In the case of Knudsen Pinot Noir, the taster is able to identify the “land,” more than the “hand.” The wines are simply authentic.

The 2016 Knudsen Vineyards Dundee Hills Pinot Noir and 2016 Knudsen Vineyards Dundee Hills Reserve Pinot Noir were released to email list members on August 14 and became available for purchase online at on September 5. Flat rate shipping of $15 is available for orders of four or more bottles through September using the code PINOT15.

The 2016 growing season was the third of three consecutive warm growing seasons in Oregon. Bud break was early and a brief heat spell at bloom condensed flowering, resulting in a smaller fruit set and clusters. July and August had fewer heat spikes than the preceding two vintages. The result was an exceptional vintage in Oregon.

Tasting is available by appointment with two weeks advanced notice. Visit the website to schedule a tasting.

2016 Knudsen Vineyards Dundee Hills Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., pH 3.62, TA 0.54, 500 cases, $55, screw cap. Fruit was sourced from three vineyard blocks featuring clones 777, 667 and Pommard. Harvest Brix 23.6º. Aged 16 months in French oak barrels, 20% new. · Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Quintessential Dundee Hills Pinot Noir featuring waves of red cherry and red raspberry fruit aromas and flavors, complimented by tones of sandalwood, baking spices and fertile earth. I swear I could taste an “iron minerality” in this wine. Impeccably balanced, with a deft touch of oak, empowering juiciness and a long cherry-fueled finish. Intoxicating in a good way. Score: 94

2016 Knudsen Vineyards Dundee Hills Willamette Valley Reserve Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., pH 3.55, TA 0.55, 200 cases, $70, screw cap. Fruit sourced from three blocks that revealed themselves to be special and distinct. 100% clone 777. Aged 16 months in French oak barrels, 35% new. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. A totally different wine from the regular Willamette Valley bottling. Darker fruited in a mid weight style with aromas and flavors of black cherry, pomegranate and black raspberry framed by a touch more oak. Compared to the regular Dundee Hills bottling, there was more extraction, a little more tannic backbone, and a longer, deeply aromatic finish. A luscious texture really enhanced the pleasure. Even better when tasted several hours after opening. Score: 96

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