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Tyee Wine Cellars Consistently Produces Outstanding Oregon Pinot Noir

You probably have not heard of this small, rural, modestly-publicized winery, but I urge you to get acquainted. Located in the outskirts of Corvallis on the scenic Buchanan Family Century Farm founded over 130 years ago, The estate’s 450 acres have been owned by the Buchanan family since 1854. Today, the fourth generation Buchanans, Dave and Margy Buchanan own the farm, the Tyee Estate Vineyard and Tyee Wine Cellars Winery.

In 1985, the Buchanans partnered with Oregon State University enologist Barney Watson and his spouse, Nola Mosier, to start the Tyee Winery. In 2005, the Buchanans became the sole owners of Tyee Wine Cellars. Tye Wine Cellars is still used as a teaching winery for Oregon State University.

The name, Tyee, honors the Kalapooian Indians who encamped on the Corvallis property. Tyee translates to ‘chief’ or ‘the best of’ in Northwest Indian trade dialect. The winery’s bottle labels honor the Indian heritage.

Wine grapes, including own-rooted Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, and Gewürztraminer were first planted here in 1974, making the Buchanans one of the early wave of enthusiastic Oregon Pinot Noir pioneers. Currently, the Tyee Estate Vineyard has 3 acres of own-rooted Pommard clone Pinot Noir planted over the years 1974, 1981, 1985, and 1989. Pinot Noir clones 115, 777 and Pommard were planted on phylloxera-resistant rootstock in 2000 and in 2014, Pinot Noir clones 114, 777 and Pommard were planted using grafts from some of the favorite old vines bringing the total of Pinot Noir to 14 acres. Another 4 acres are planted to Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, and Gewürztraminer.

The Tyee Estate Vineyard is located on a south-facing slope on the first terrace of the valley floor. Vine spacing is 10’ x 4.5’ with mixed shoot and Scott Henry trellises. The vines are dry-farmed with no tilling. Only a minimal amount of organic spray is applied to the vines and organic compost is used for fertility. A diverse, perennial cover crop under the vines sequesters carbon and prevents erosion. The vineyard is Certified Salmon-Safe.

Tyee Estate Vineyard Old Pommard Vines

In 2006, the Buchanans' daughter, Merrilee Buchanan Benson (pictured below, credit Wine Trail Traveler), who grew up on the Buchanan Century Farm, became the head winemaker and vineyard manager coinciding with Tyee’s production of only estate wines made from grapes grown exclusively on the family’s Estate Vineyard adjacent to the winery. Merrilee has consistently produced outstanding Pinot Noir wines. Merrilee says, “Good wines remember the grapes of their origin.” I have reviewed nearly every vintage of Tyee Wine Cellars Pinot Noir between 2006 and 2007:

There are two featured Pinot Noir wines: the Tyee Estate Willamette Valley Pinot Noir ($24) and the limited release Tyee Estate Barrel Select Willamette Valley Pinot Noir ($35). The Estate Pinot Noir is composed of newer and old vine Pommard clones and Dijon clones. The Estate Barrel Select Pinot Noir is 100% Pommard clone made from a combination of own-rooted Pinot Noir vines that are 25 to 47 years old, and newer plantings that include Merrilee’s favorite barrels of the vintage. It typically benefits from cellaring. The wines of this heritage and quality are rarely so affordable. Also check out the winery’s old vine Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, and Pinot Gris.

The winery’s tasting room is located in the historic former milking parlor used by third-generation Buchanans who raised Jersey cows on the Century Farm. Tasting is available from 12:00 pm to 5:00 pm April through December ($10). Current production is between 1,500 and 2000 cases annually. The photo below shows the Tyee Estate Vineyard solar panels that power the winery and the red-roofed tasting room and winery.

Tyee Estate Vineyard and Winery

2017 Tyee Estate Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., 800 cases, $24. 100% Pommard, 777, and 115 clones from the Tyee Estate Vineyard. Whole berry and whole cluster fermented. Aged 18 months in French oak barrels, 15% new. Bottled unfined and unfiltered. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. Enticing aromas of black cherry, cola, and a floral lift.The bold flavors of black cherry, ripe strawberry, spice, cola and black tea are sturdy on the palate, making quite an impression. Instantly enjoyable, with easygoing tannins and a seamless, very long finish. Tasted twice 6 months apart and even better after more aging. The 2018 vintage is now being offered. Score: 93

2017 Tyee Estate Barrel Select Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., 800 cases, $35. 100% Pommard clone from the Tyee Estate Vineyard. Whole berry and whole cluster fermented. Aged 18 months in French oak barrels, 25% new. Bottled unfined and unfiltered. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. Pleasing aromas arrive over time in the glass including blackest cherry, blackberry, burnt tobacco and potpourri. Striking mid-weight plus flavors of black cherry and blackberry framed by sturdy but well-proportioned tannins that contribute to the excellent harmony. An unbelievably long finish is lush with sweet Pinot extract. Even more terrific when tasted the following day from a previously opened bottle. Drinkable now, but cellaring will bring more rewards. Tasted twice with consistent results. Score: 95

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