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More Sips of Oregon Pinot Noir

Domaine Drouhin Oregon

This French-owned winery is one of the most visible and consistently fine producers of Pinot Noir in the Willamette Valley. The estate consists of 225 acres in the Dundee Hills, 90 acres of which consist of densely planted hillside vineyards managed by Phillipe Drouhin. The vines are perhaps the most densely planted in the New World, with an average of 3,300 plants to the acre. Veronique Drouhin-Boss has crafted the wines here in every vintage since the beginning in 1988. The Pinot Noirs show more elegance and less power than many Oregon Pinot Noirs and they age extremely well. Three Pinot Noirs are produced from the estate: Classique, Laurene and Louise. A Chardonnay program was begun in 1996, and in 2008, a Rosé was produced for the first time.

The wines are sold in the tasting room, on the website ( and through fine wine retail stores. The winery’s tasting room at is open 11:00 to 4:00 Wednesday through Sunday. Tours are availably by appointment (503-864-2700) which include the opportunity to taste Drouhin wines from both Oregon and France.

2006 Domaine Drouhin Oregon Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., $39. Hand-picked, hand-sorted and de-stemmed at the four-level gravity flow winery. Fermentations are lengthy. Aged in approximately 20% new French oak barrels custom made for DDO in Burgundy. · Really lovely perfume of ripe strawberries, raspberries, candied apple and a hint of warm cookies and baking spice. Heavenly nose. Rich on the palate without being cloying. Hi-toned red fruits are featured with a gentle accent of oak, cigar box, graham and toll house cookies. Good structural bones for aging with some tannins to shed. Very softly textured and an appealing gentleness that exemplifies Pinot delicacy.

Ken Wright Cellars

Ken Wright launched his eponymous label in 1994 in Carlton, Oregon. He has become an iconic winemaker in Oregon, having created two previous well-regarded brands, Panther Creek and Domaine Serene. After graduating from University California Davis, he made Pinot Noir in California’s Central Coast for eight years before moving to Oregon. He became a champion of vineyard-designated Pinot Noirs that were highly reflective of each individual vineyard’s terroir. He has produced as many as twelve different vineyard-designate Pinot Noirs (there are ten from the 2008 vintage) from vineyards he owns, leases or from ones he contracts fruit. He also produces a small amount of non-oaked Chardonnay from Celilo Vineyard in the Columbia Gorge region of Washington and Pinot Blanc from a one-acre planting of Freedom Hill Vineyard.

You need a different mindset to approach Ken Wrights Pinot Noirs. Think of future potential. The wines are reserved, disjointed and unfriendly upon release. They need several years to come around. On the Ken Wright Cellars website, an aging chart is provided to illuminate drinkers. The chart needs updating but you can see that Wright recommends that Pinot Noir from most vineyards find optimum drinkability several years after the vintage. Ken Wright’s Pinot Noirs are definitely not for those who age their Pinot Noirs in the back seat of their car on the way home from the wine store. No instant gratification spoken here.

The wines have widespread retail distribution and are sold as futures in case lots on the website ( The winery is not open to the public. The phone is 800-571-6825.

2007 Ken Wright Cellars Carter Vineyard Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., $47. This vineyard is owned by Jack and Kathleen Carter and was planted in 1983 on Nekia soil at the northern end of the Eola Hills. The vines are own rooted and unirrigated. Clones are Pommard and Wädenswil. Ken Wright Cellars manages the vineyard. · Aromas of toasted oak and black cherries. Earthy with a heavy tug of oak overwhelming the tart cherry flavors. Bright acidity with an underpinning of citrus peel and moderately firm tannins.

2007 Ken Wright Cellars Savoya Vineyard Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., $47. The vineyard is located in the Yamhill-Carlton District, owned by Ken and Karen Wright, and managed by Mark Gould. Five clones. · Sensual nose displaying bright red berries and red plum aromas. Packed with hi-tone cherry, berry and pomegranate flavors that are caressed by ripe fine-grain tannins. The finish shows a zippy acidity. The fruit is linear at this stage with hints of persistence but the potential is evident.

2007 Ken Wright Cellars Guadalupe Vineyard Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., $47. Sourced from a vineyard located in the southwestern end of the Dundee Hills just north of Lafayette planted in 1989 in Willakenzie soils. Owned by Jim Stonebridge and Kathleen Boeye and managed by Ken Wright Cellars. · The nose has reluctant fruit aromas but pleasing notes of exotic spice and oak char. On the palate the fruit remains in the background with a heavy tug of oak and herbal flavor dominating. Tasted the next day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle, the wine was much better, with the dark fruits advancing to the forefront and the oak receding along with a smoother mouth feel. Wait at least 2 to 3 years on this one.

2007 Ken Wright Cellars Shea Vineyard Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., 725 cases, $47. From the noted Shea Vineyard planted on Willakenzie soils in the Yamhill-Carlton District. Sourced from three small blocks, Pommard, 114 and 777 clones, planted in 1989. · Deep aromas of black fruits, forest floor and loam draw you in. Earthy dark fruits flood the mouth and fill every nook and cranny. Noticeable oak and tar with a hint of citrus peel on the finish. Big boned and brooding. Picks up expression with time in the glass. This is a wine of obvious pedigree that has the potential to sparkle over the long term. Drank well the next day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle.

Raptor Ridge Winery

Raptor Ridge is a Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris specialist located on the northeastern side of the Chehalem Mountains, 10 miles north of Newberg. Wines are crafted from the 27-acre estate Tuscowallame Vineyard as well as several other well-known winegrowers in multiple Willamette Valley appellations. The name of the winery relates to the birds of prey that share the property.

The founder and winemaker of Raptor Ridge Winery is Scott Shull. Scott eschews watering and acidifying his wines. Current production is about 6,500 cases. The Pinot Noir lineup includes a Willamette Valley and Reserve bottling as well as vineyard-designated wines. The wines have received considerable praise in the wine press and the winery was named a 2009 Wine & Spirits Magazine Winery of the Year. The wines are sold through the website at and fine wine retailers. Tastings are by appointment at the production facility located at 130 West Monroe in Carlton (503-628-6255).

2006 Raptor Ridge Reserve Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

15.2% alc., 1,104 cases, $29. A blend of seven Willamette Valley vineyards and a potpourri of all commonly grown clones in Oregon. 100% de-stemmed into 1.5 ton fermenters for a 4-day cold soak. Fermentation initiated naturally and then inoculated with commercial yeasts. Aged in 44% new French oak. · Spiced cherry and melon aromas. Moderately rich core of dark red fruits with a deft touch of oak. Fat on the palate and polished with supple tannins. The alcohol is well-integrated. Quite decent but not exceptional.

WillaKenzie Estate

Bernard and Ronni Lacroute bought a 420-acre cattle ranch in the hills of the Chehalem Valley (Yamhill-Carlton District AVA) in 1991. The site reminded Bernard of his Burgundy origins. The estate took its name from the Willakenzie soil, a reddish yellow rich clay loam over siltstone and sand. Over 100 acres have been planted to the Pinot family of grapes, with 68 acres of Pinot Noir. All the vineyards are planted at 1,200 to 1,800 vines per acre, running north to south, allowing for maximum sun exposure. The plants are grafted onto phylloxera resistant rootstock and trained in the modern upright, double guyot trellising system. WillaKenzie Estate emphasizes sustainable viticulture, clonal and rootstock diversity, estate-grown fruit, and gentle winemaking practices. Noted French-born and now Oregon winemaker, Laurent Montalieu joined WillaKenzie Estate as a partner and winemaker in 1994, departing in 2003 to focus on her own label. The current winemaker is Thibaud Mandet.

A modern gravity-flow winery was built into a hillside in 1995. Since then, Willakenzie Estate has implemented a number of innovations in their winery, reflecting Lacroute’s background as an engineer. “The Big Chill” cold storage facility was introduced in 2007. This small building uses high-velocity, cool air forced through small, slotted bins full of grapes to cool the grapes. A carbon dioxide reclamation system was developed also in 2007. Carbon dioxide is captured from fermenting tanks and piped into red wine tanks during the post-fermentation phase, protecting the wines and reusing the carbon dioxide effectively.

This winery produces consistently fine Pinot Noirs that are sold on the excellent website (, through a wine club mailing list, and through a nicely appointed tasting room located at 19143 NE Laughlin Road in Yamhill. WillaKenzie Estate offers at least eight different Pinot Noirs as well as special single clone and small lot bottlings only available to wine club members. All the wines are bottled unfined and unfiltered. The three Pinot Noirs reviewed below were are very well crafted.

2007 WillaKenzie Estate Estate Cuveé Estate Bottled Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

13.8% alc., $26, screw cap. Represents the entire estate. Maceration in open-top fermenters. A blend of free flow and press wine. Aged 10 months in 20% new French oak barrels. · Moderately light garnet color. Attractive aromas of dried cherries, herbs and oak with a floral accent. Light in weight featuring cherry and cranberry flavors with bright acidity. Very drinkable now. Good for what it is.

2006 Willakenzie Estate Pierre Léon Estate Bottled Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

14.2% alc., 2,433 cases, $43. Primarily 113, 114 and 115 clones. Yield 2.8 tons per acre. Aged 14 months in 50% new French oak barrels. · Deeper aromas of black berries and cherries, wooded forest and oak which pick up intensity with time in the glass. Palate shows off decent mix of cherry and berry fruits with a hint of herbs and oak in the background. Elvis on velvet in texture with some persistence on the finish. Still lacking development, requiring some time in the glass to open up. Warrants cellaring for another year or two.

2006 WillaKenzie Estate Aliette Estate Bottled Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., 793 cases, $48. Selection of estate-grown Pommard clones from the Aliette Vineyard and small amounts of Dijon clones. Named after Bernard Lacroute’s mother, Aliette was the first vineyard planted at WillaKenzie Estate in 1992. Yields were 2.8 tons per acre. Cool maceration followed by 25 days of skin contact and daily punch downs by a pneumatic punch down device. Aged 14 months in 50% new French oak barrels. · Lovely perfumed nose of black cherries and black raspberries with the right hint of oak in the background. A lip smacker on the palate with discreetly concentrated berry fruits enhanced by underlying earthiness. Finesse trumps over fruit heaviness in this wine. Seamless, with soft tannins, a perfect grip of acidity and a finish that lingers. I like this wine for its Pinot delicacy, great scent and great persistence. Still drank beautifully the next day from a previously opened re-corked bottle. Dreamy!

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