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Carabella: Pinot as it Was Meant to Be

There are many superb producers of Pinot Noir in the Chehalem Mountains. Chehalem (Sha-HAY-lum) is derived from a Native American word, Chahelim, that was the name of a band of Native Americans who lived in this part of the Willamette Valley. The name translates as “gentle place” or “place of flowers.” Dick Erath planted the first vineyards in this region in 1968 on a 49-acre property he bought and named Chehalem Mountain Vineyards. David Adelsheim, Dick Ponzi and others led the second wave in the 1970s. Carabella Vineyard is a more recent addition to the Chehalem Mountains landscape, releasing its first vintage in 1998 from a 27-acre vineyard located on a 58-acre site on the southeastern side of Parrett Mountain, one of the three sub-regions of the Chehalem Mountains appellation. Carabella Vineyard is part of the Inchinnan Farm, a hazelnut orchard still owned by the McDonald family.

Carabella’s winemaker is geologist and petroleum engineer Mike Hallock. Trained as a winemaker in Colorado of all places, (the owner of the Combine Cellars in Denver had moved his winery to Colorado to capture an emerging wine market there), he searched for twelve years to find an ideal site for growing grapes before acquiring his site in 1995. He studied the soil types in Oregon and searched for the oldest soils, believing they produced the best wines. Mike and his wife, Cara, partnered with Lake Oswego Mayor Judie Hammerstad and her spouse, John, a retired Oregon University surgeon, to launch the Carabella Vineyard project. For several years Hallock commuted between Denver and Oregon to make Carabella wines, finally moving to the Willamette Valley permanently in 2001. He developed his winemaking skills working alongside Kathy Joseph of Fiddlehead who made wine in Oregon for several years, while taking University of California at Davis classes.

Pinot Noir is the main emphasis at Carabella Vineyard with five Pinot Noir clones planted including Pommard, Wädenswil, and Dijon 113, 114 and 115. There are also two blocks of Pinot Gris and two blocks of Dijon 76 Chardonnay. Planting started in 1996 with added vines in 2007. The soils are mainly Nekia and Jory volcanic gravel. The vineyard is farmed sustainably and without irrigation.

Currently, Hallock crafts his wines at the 12th & Maple Wine Company custom crush facility in Dundee. About half of the Carabella Vineyard grapes are sold to other wineries, including Daedalus, Owen Roe, Rex Hill and Zelko.

Hallock has sought to create Pinot Noirs with finesse and elegance and his 2008 vintage Pinot Noirs are proof that he has achieved his goals. New oak is limited to 33% with the remainder of the aging carried out in second and third year French oak barrels. Hallock’s years of experience with his vineyard is now paying off and his current offerings are Pinot Noir as it was meant to be: aromatic, charming, refined and charismatic. His wines are among the finest I have sampled from Oregon’s superb 2008 vintage. All the wines were released November 1, 2010. The Pinot Noirs are all 100% Pinot Noir.

2008 Carabella Dijon 76 Clone Chehalem Mountains Oregon Chardonnay

13.5% alc., 208 cases, $26. · Light straw color in the glass. Lovely scents of green apple, lemon zest, jasmine, vanilla and polished wood. Reserved but pleasing flavors of lemon, papaya, and apple. Fresh and crisp with an underlying minerality unadorned with oak. Hallock takes Chardonnay seriously and it shows. Good.

2008 Carabella Chehalem Mountains Oregon Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., 681 cases, $35. This wine is a blend of the entire vineyard. · Knockout fruity nose right out of the bottle redolent with hi-tone spicy plum and berry aromas. Delicious essence of perfectly ripe cherry and berry fruits offered in a moderately rich format supported by fine-grain tannins and complimentary mineral-driven acidity. The wine is smooth and easygoing with beautiful harmony. Still fine the next day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle indicating a respectable longevity. Very good.

2008 Carabella Mistake Block Chehalem Mountains Oregon Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., 90 cases, $55. In 1998, while planting Dijon 113 vines, some vines were mislabeled resulting in 13 rows of Pommard clone which gave some of the best wine from the vineyard in 2008. · Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. All the Pinot fruits are represented in the nose with some added floral interest and spice. Very tasty melange of dark red berries, black cherries and plums with an earthy undertone. Constantly intriguing, revealing nuances with every sip. Pleasingly smooth in the mouth with firm but silky tannins. I just love the seamless texture of this wine.

2008 Carabella Inchinnan Chehalem Mountains Oregon Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., 150 cases, $54. 57% Wädenswil plus Dijon 115 and 114. · Moderate reddish-purple hue in the glass. Picks up aromatic intensity in the glass over time offering a plethora of aromas of dark stone fruits, allspice, rose petals, and a hint of cut flowers. Delicious dark plum and blackberry fruit flavors with a bit of sauvage, with eye-opening mid palate intensity, yet still only hinting at its future potential. Very smoothly textured with amazing persistence on the prodigious finish. A benchmark Pinot Noir for Oregon in 2008 that will be nothing short of spectacular in five years.

Carabella wines are sold as futures with futures samples poured on Thanksgiving and Memorial Day weekends. Mailing list members receive futures offers in January. Current releases are available through the website ( The phone is 503-925-0972.

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