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St. Innocent Winery

St. Innocent Winery is a well-established and prestigious maker of Pinot Noir and cool climate white wines based in Salem, Oregon. Established in 1988, winemaker Mark Vlossek produces age worthy Pinot Noirs from estate (80 acres owned) and leased (40 acres) vineyards. The winery’s reputation has been built on vineyard designated Pinot Noir from purchased grapes. Yearly wine production is just under 10,000 cases. The name, St. Innocent, is in honor of Mark’s father, John Innocent Vlossak, who was a wine importer and introduced his son to the pleasures of fine wine at a young age. John was born on All Innocents Day.

Early on, Mark Vlossek was also the winemaker for Panther Creek Winery, where he acquired his Pinot Noir winemaking expertise. The first St. Innocent Pinot Noir was from the 1998 vintage which was a blend from several Willamette Valley vineyards. This wine was to later be replaced by the Villages Cuvée which debuted in 2002.

In 2006, St. Innocent Winery joined with Tim and Kari Ramey as partners in Zenith Vineyard (formerly O’Connor Vineyard from which Vlossak had sourced fruit) in the Eola Hills. Zenith Vineyard has a total of 13.5 acres of Pinot Noir exclusively for St. Innocent’s use with some additional fruit sold to wineries in Oregon and California. St. Innocent’s new winery and Zenith’s wedding and event facility located adjacent Zenith Vineyard compliment each other.

Currently, the lineup of single vineyard Pinot Noir includes wines from Freedom Hill Vineyard, Justice Vineyard, Momtazi Vineyard, Shea Vineyard, Temperance Hill Vineyard, White Rose Vineyard and Zenith Vineyard. St. Innocent was a long time purchaser of fruit from Seven Springs Vineyard but due to its sale, no longer has access to the fruit (the 2006 St. Innocent Seven Springs Vineyard Pinot Noir, the last produced, is available on the winery website for $100 a bottle).

The St. Innocent Pinot Noirs are classic expressions of Pinot Noir with exquisite balance and generous acidity. They are terroir-driven wines that show both the character of the site and the vintage. Vlossak’s goal is to create wines to “compliment and extend the pleasure of a meal.” The fruit is de-stemmed, crushed with 30%-40% whole berries, and fermented in 3 to 8-ton fermenters with no sulfur dioxide after a short cold soak. Aging is carried out for 15-17 months in French oak barrels with the amount of new wood matched to individual vineyards. The wines are rarely fined, racked or filtered.

Visit the informative website at for more detailed description of the vineyard sources and to buy the current 2008 vintage wines. Unfortunately, the Shea, Justice and Zenith Pinot Noirs for 2008 are sold out, but are available on the secondary market. The Shea and Freedom Hill Pinot Noirs are sold as futures each year, and the 2009 vintage for these wines is now offered. The beautiful tasting room is open Tuesday-Sunday from May 1 to October 31 and weekends 11:00 to 4:00 year round. Open Houses are over Memorial Day and Thanksgiving Day weekends. Private tours and tastings are available by appointment.

I recently sampled several of the 2008 St. Innocent offerings. This vintage was the second one in the new winery facility and harvest was blessed with good weather. Yields were reduced from most sites, but the weather remained dry until Halloween, allowing leisurely picking at each vineyard site. The single vineyard wines need time to develop.

2008 St. Innocent Freedom Hill Vineyard Willamette Valley Pinot Blanc

13.5% alc., 605 cases, $20. Planted in 1993. Fermented 31% in barrel and 69% in tank. Aged 8 months sur lies. · Light straw color in the glass. Delicate aromas of lemon curd and pastry cream. Demure flavors of citrus, peach, green apple and a hint of oak. Oregon does well with this grape and this is a fine example. Good.

2008 St. Innocent Vitae Springs Vineyard Willamette Valley Pinot Gris

13.0% alc., 752 cases, $20. Vitae Springs was established in 1986 and is located 5 miles south of Salem. Tank fermented, aged 8 months sur lie, and lightly filtered. No oak. · Light straw color. Aromas of white orchard fruits and a hint of pineapple. The flavors echo the aromas with added notes of spice and lychee. Welcoming richness and persistence. One of Oregon’s best examples of this variety. Very good.

2008 St. Innocent Villages Cuvée Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., $27. · Moderate reddish-purple hue in the glass. Develops slowly in the glass revealing charming aromas of raspberries and cherries with hints of smoky oak and spice. Vivid cranberry and cherry fruit flavors that are a bit tart due to hi-tone acidity. On the delicate side, with supple tannins, making it easy to drink. Good.

2008 St. Innocent Temperance Hill Eola-Amity Hills Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., 656 cases, $32. The vineyard is 10 miles northwest of Salem. Sourced from blocks planted in 1984 and 1995. Yields 1.6 tons per acre. · The nose draws you in with a perfume of dark berry fruits, rose petals and oak char. Soft and sensual in the mouth with layers of flavor including tastes of dark berries, black cherries, plum, cola, tar, brown spice, root beer and herbs. A thread of oak runs through which needs time to integrate. Underlain with bright acidity. Elegantly styled and alluring, but needs time to open in the glass. The label advises decanting now and I agree completely. An excellent cellar candidate that will reward patience. Very good.

2008 St. Innocent Shea Vineyard Yamhill-Carlton District Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

14.2% alc., $42. From Block 6 planted in 1998 and 2000 on shallow Willakenzie soil. Yields were 2.0 tons per acre. 100% de-stemmed. Aged 16 months in 39% new French oak barrels. · Deep, dark reddish-purple color in the glass. The nose is reluctant and has not come together but offers some charms of black fruits, oak, loam and red rose petals. Dense flavors of black currents, blackberries, black cherries and edible flowers with flamboyant ripe tannins. Not giving now but has a big heart and a welcoming silky smooth mouth feel. Give this one at least 4 to 5 years in the cellar to integrate the tannins and show off the nuances of this vineyard. Very good.

2008 St. Innocent White Rose Vineyard Dundee Hills Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., $60. · Moderate reddish-purple color. Shy but lovely perfume of fresh pie cherries with a sniff of smoky oak. An immensely satisfying wine offering delicious black cherry and berry flavors with a hint of citrus peel in the background. Amazing persistence of cherry essence on the finish. Silky in the mouth with balanced supple tannins. This wine really grabs your attention. You can drink it now but it will get even better over time.

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