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DION Vineyard: Exceptional Pinot Noir in 2016

DION Vineyard consists of 60 acres of Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay located in the northern end of the Chehalem Mountains appellation of the Willamette Valley. The vineyard has been farmed by three generations and some of the Pinot Noir vines, rooted in Laurelwood soil, are 40 years old (Old Vine Block). A majority of the vineyard is planted to Pinot Noir and includes the clones of Pommard, 115, 114, 113, 667 and 777 of varying ages and rootstocks.

Today, husband and wife winemakers Kevin Dion Johnson and Beth Klinger operate the vineyard, supplying grapes to wineries throughout Oregon, and producing about 1,000 cases of wine under the DION Vineyard label. Photo credits to Paul Cunningham.

The 2016 harvest may have been one of the most unique in this winery’s history according to Kevin because it was the earliest harvest ever and the only time picking occurred in August. Harvest began August 31 under very hot conditions and continued over the next 17 days into September. Kevin told me, “This early start presented us with a lovely spectrum of fruit. Sugars and acidity were similar to a cool year at the beginning, transitioning to a warm year style as very warm days at harvest powered the fruit from cool to warm. The result was wonderful acidity and lower alcohols like a cool year to pair up with the powerful fruit notes of a warmer vintage. This combination is rare.”

Kevin noted, “This unique harvest was also made possible by a very early and warm spring which triggered the start of bloom in late May, a solid week earlier than the very warm 2015 vintage and two weeks earlier than average and a full month before the latest ever harvest in 2011. That early heat then gave way to a very modest summer that was relatively cool compared to the 2014 and 2015 growing seasons. Summer came roaring back with triple-digit temperatures in the latter part of August. That early bloom and cool early summer led to fruit that had full flavor and color development by the end of August while still retaining the sugars and acidities of a cooler vintage.”

Beth remarked that 2016 was potentially her favorite vintage ever because “the acids are distinct, ferments were beautiful, and we were able to do half of the ferments spontaneously.” Closures were changed for the 2016 vintage, with the Chehalem Mountains Pinot Noir bottled under screw cap and the Reserve and Old Vines closed using DIAM corks. This was done to avoid bottle variation and improve the overall consistent quality of the wines.

The three 2016 Pinot Noir wines reviewed here were truly exceptional and reflect the fact that the 2016 vintage in Oregon was special for many wineries. I personally prefer the 2016 Willamette Valley Pinot Noirs over every vintage since 2012. The Old Vines Special Release may well be the best Oregon Pinot Noir I tasted in 2018.

The wines of DION Vineyard are available for tasting at the winery’s tasting room in Cornelius, Oregon, Friday- Sunday from April to November or by appointment. The website is Contact the winery directly to purchase these wines that represent outstanding value. Some older vintage Pinot Noir wines are available as well.

2016 DION Chehalem Mountains Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., 342 cases, $30. Released April 2018. Clones 115, 114, 667, 777 and Pommard. Harvest Brix 22.4º-25.1º. Aged 14 months in French oak barrels, 30% new. · Light ruby red color in the glass. Aromas gain traction over time in the glass, revealing cherry, cola, spice and dried herbs. Light in weight in an easygoing and highly enjoyable style with a core of juicy red cherry, red berry and blueberry fruit flavors. A hint of savory herbs adds interest. Nicely balanced with some finishing generosity. This wine packs a lot of flavor despite being light in color and weight. Score: 90

2016 DION Winemaker’s Reserve Special Release Chehalem Mountains Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

14.3% alc., 139 cases, $45. Release November 2018. A barrel selection from the best blocks and wines that are most expressive of the vintage anchored by clone 115. Harvest Brix 22.4º-25.1º. Aged 14 months in French oak barrels, 50% new. · Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Shy, but pleasing aromas of black cherry and rose petal. A very harmonious wine with great verve, very fine grain tannins, and a satisfying finish with honorable length. Middleweight in style, with vivid flavors of black cherry, black raspberry and purple berry with a hint of white pepper. A very stylish Pinot lover’s wine. Score: 93

2016 DION Old Vines Special Release Chehalem Mountains Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

14.6% alc., 99 cases, $60. Release April 2019. 100% self-rooted, nonirrigated Pommard clone from a 10-acre block planted in 1976. Harvest Brix 25.1º. Aged in French oak barrels, 50% new. · This is one of those wines that elicits emotion from the first sip. Gorgeous perfume of spiced cherries and blueberry-pomegranate fruits. Vigorous with black cherry flavor that is long and expansive in the mouth accompanied by impeccable harmony. Flavor packed, yet elegant, with supportive fine-grain tannins, integrated oak, juicy acidity and a ridiculously long finish. It is wines like this that have me proclaiming that Pommard is my paramour. A flat-out beautiful wine! Score: 96

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