Last month I spent a bit more than a week in Oregon and Washington tasting wine in a number of different regions. A couple of those days where spent just south of Portland in the Willamette Valley, home to, among others things, lots of great pinot noir. Over a few days I met with numerous winemakers, toured vineyards, and, most importantly, found a lot of terrific wines. Here’s a rundown of some of the very best wines from some of these visits. I heartily recommend drinking the wines these folks make, and visiting these vineyards when you’re in Willamette Valley.
This boutique winery sits on 78 acres in the Chehalem Mountains AVA. Home to lovely, site-driven wines, the property has an Italian villa feel that extends to the warm hospitality the winery offers. Recommended: Alloro Vineyard 2014 Chardonnay ($34). A mere 114 cases of this wine were produced. Anjou pear and green apple aromas are present on the nose. Bits of brioche are apparent on the palate, and it supports the core of orchard fruits, spice, and wisps of citrus. The mineral-driven finish is long and pleasing. Here’s a chardonnay that screams with typicity, as well as expressing the place it came from.
I spent a fair chunk of an afternoon tasting wine with Josh Bergström. During that time we explored several vintages of different chardonnay and pinot noir. It was fascinating to learn how the winery has evolved as a producer and how Bergström himself has grown as a winemaker. One of the biggest changes in recent years has been his picking choices: He now harvests the fruit a bit earlier than he used to. The result is balanced, vineyard-driven wines with years of aging potential. Recommended: Bergström Wines 2014 Sigrid Chardonnay ($90). This wine is composed of fruit from each of the five estate vineyards, which are farmed using biodynamic practices. Green apple aromas light up the nose alongside hints of tangerine zest. Minerals notes, continued bits of green apple, and lemon ice are all apparent on the well-structured palate. The lengthy finish shows off hints of flaky biscuit. I tasted four vintages of Sigrid, dating back to 2007. This is a consistently phenomenal chardonnay that shows wonderful vintage variation. Delicious at release, Sigrid will age well for years to come.
Chehalem has a history that dates back to 1980. In that time it has become equally adept at producing both white and red varieties. Pinot gris, pinot blanc, chardonnay, pinot noir, and gamay noir are a few of the fine wines I sampled alongside winemaker Wynne Peterson-Nedry. Across the board, these wines are well-balanced, food-loving, and fairly priced. The winery's downtown tasting room is a charming and convenient place to sample its wares. Recommended: Chehalem 2012 Reserve Pinot Noir ($80). Fewer than 500 cases of this single-vineyard pinot noir were produced. All of the fruit came from Ridgecrest Vineyards in the Ribbon Ridge AVA. The black cherry hue of this wine shimmers in the glass. The aromas of dark fruit dominate the nose alongside bits of spice. The palate, which has reasonable heft, is stuffed with dark fruits, leather, and spices to spare. Bits of chicory, a dusting of cocoa, and cherry characteristics are all part of the long and impressive finish.
Domaine Roy et Fils
This is a brand new producer in Dundee, focused on making exceptional pinot noir. The production is led by winemaker Jared Etzel. I spent some time touring the facility with him, and we tasted current releases produced from sourced fruit as well as the upcoming release of the estate pinot noir from the barrel. Recommended: Domaine Roy et Fils 2014 Petite Incline ($35). The fruit was sourced from a total of six vineyards in Dundee and Carlton. Graham cracker, red fruit, and spice provide a dynamic array of aromatics. Black cherry flavors are tinged with bits of pomegranate through the refined and well-structured palate. A varied array of spices and red earth emerge on the solid finish. This entry-level wine in the company’s portfolio is lovely. However, keep an eye out for the release of the Iron Filbert Vineyard Estate Wine, which is going to be a stunner.
Owner and winemaker Jim Prosser produces roughly 4,000 cases of wine annually. The fruit comes from a 40-acre estate and other local vineyards of note. Tasting through both barrel samples and finished wines, it was easy to see that Prosser has created a portfolio of distinct wines that speak to vintage, place, and varietal typicity. Recommended: J.K. Carierre 2013 Lucidite Chardonnay ($32). From the first whiff to the last sip, there is a bit of reduction in this wine that adds a really appealing characteristic to it and sets it apart. Green fruit, bits of smoke, and spice all present on the nose. The palate is stuffed with clean citrus and orchard fruit flavors. Minerals and spice are evident on the long, lingering finish. This is a special example of chardonnay that’s worth an extra effort to seek out.
Don and Vicki Hagge planted their vines in 1999, combining their names to create the Vidon Vineyard.
A LIVE-certified winery, this small estate in the Chehalem Mountains produces approximately 2,000 cases of wine per year. I was fortunate to spend a few hours with Don, the winemaker and co-owner, while we tasted through several vintages of his pinot noir, as well as other wines. In short, there’s a lot to like there. If you’re a fan of boutique wineries that produce distinct, site-specific wines, look up Vidon. The wines are great, and Don is a charming fellow to while away the hours with. Recommended: Vidon Vineyard 2012 Mirabelle ($50). This pinot noir is composed entirely of clone 115. Juicy red fruit aromas jump from the nose. The palate shows off plum pudding spices, red fruit, and a hint of cigar box. Minerals and droves of earth are present on the finish. Mouth-watering acid makes you want to dive back in for sip after sip. This is a lovely example of clone 115 specific to Vidon’s property.
This boutique winery is located in McMinnville and focuses on pinot noir and chardonnay. It’s a great spot to visit for several reasons: The view is beautiful, the wines are delicious, and, as a bonus, a large part of the tasting fee is donated to charity. Also, look out for special event lunches and dinners where its wines are paired with food. The food and wine pairing that I took part in was a homerun. Recommended: Winderlea Vineyard & Winery 2013 Legacy Pinot Noir ($85). The fruit for this wine came from estate blocks planted in 1975. Wild strawberry and a touch of crème fraîche mark the inviting nose. Savory herbs, sour red fruits, and spices are present on the deeply layered palate. Mushrooms, cigar box, and continued spice notes are notable in the impressively long finish.