THURSDAY, 9/11/08: Dundee Hills
I new it was going to be tough to pack this adventure into two days, so I tried to be careful not to do too much or schedule myself silly, as I wanted to relax a bit and really see the Willamette Valley in the best light possible. And I can tell you, I did just that, in fact it was nearly perfect in everyway. The weather was maybe the best of the year, as we were told by many of the locals, with hot sunshine each day and a light breeze keeping things in check in the vineyards. Driving around got some getting used to, but once we got the hang of it, finding places was not too difficult, though I did get us off course a few times, damn MapQuest!
I was playing sidekick and navigator for my friend and winemaker Jennifer Pandol, who makes a wonderful Pinot Noir herself from the Santa Cruz Mountains. I was here to get the story and learn about the terroir, Jenny was here to do the same, but also to see family and relax a bit before her harvest/crush madness. We both learned a lot and came away excited and very impressed with what we saw and tasted.
For the first day it was all about the red hills of Dundee, now known as the “Dundee Hills” and tasting wines that highlighted this area’s unique terroir profile. The Dundee Hills are home to some of the best of the best, plus an amazing array of small family producers. The big guns here are Domaine Serene and Archery Summit, I flipped a coin and it came up Domaine Serene, so that ended being the first stop. At this point, I would like to mention that I owe a big thank you to Tom Elliott of Northwest Wines, as he was my go to guy to set up most of these appointments, so Thank You Tom. Northwest Wines brokers mostly Oregon and Washington wines in California, and they do a fantastic job of promoting the region. Now, it was time for my Pinot quest.
With beautiful vineyards and pine forests in the background, Domaine Serene certainly is a wonderful setting to get your feet wet and dive into Oregon Pinot Noir. This is a luxurious and expensive villa with everything done with class and elegance, but as with most places in Oregon there is a cozy laid back air and Tara showed us their wines with ease and good humor. We started with their 2006 Clos du Soleil Chardonnay, which was full of character and flavor, with peach and pear fruit, hazelnut and elegant balance. Then it was a selection of their famed Pinot, the 2005 Evenstad Reserve and the 2005 Jerusalem Hill, both of which were great. I gave the Evenstad the nod as my favorite now, and Jenny gave her affection to the Jerusalem Hill. Both were lush, rich and full of texture and showed deep red fruits with fine creamy oak notes. The tasting finished with the 2004 Rockblock Syrah from the Rogue Valley in southern Oregon. Sourced from the Del Rio vineyard, this wine shows a pure Syrah nature with black and blue fruits, cassis, mocha, game and spices. This was a great way to start the day and my first tasting ever in Oregon.
2005 Domaine Serene Pinot Noir “Evenstad Reserve”, Willamette Valley, Oregon
One of my favorite wines year after year, the Evenstad Reserve gives lots of pleasure and is an amazing Pinot Noir most every year, with the 2005 not letting me down, in fact it surely proves the quality in even a tough vintage. This wine shows sweet smoke, wild flowers and raspberry on the nose and lush red fruits on the palate. This s a deep and complex wine that allows instant enjoyment, but keeps you entertained with the changing layers. Red plum, strawberry/rhubarb, and round cherry fruits, mineral and spices, and a long creamy finish with beautiful French oak shadings. 94 Points, grapelive
Domaine Serene Winery – Tara Shepersky
6555 NE Hilltop Lane, Dayton 97114
De Ponte Cellars
Down the hill from Domaine Serene and in the shadow of Domaine Drouhin, De Ponte is a small family winery and farms the Rudolf Steiner way, purely Biodynamic. This friendly and warm place produces some very good wines and I can recommend them as a great value as well. Their line up was all good and offered a fun selection. To clean the palate, we started with the 2007 DFB Estate Melon; Melon is a rare Loire Valley grape that makes a fresh and light white wine. Their version has zesty apple and lime fruit and tangy acidity, perfect for hot days and or seafood. I also liked their pink wine, a 2007 Rose of Pinot Noir that has flowers, light cherry, watermelon and fresh citrus. Then it was back to Pinot, and Suzanne poured us three, a light Smokey 2006 Clay Hill (their second label) Pinot Noir that had lots of fresh cherry fruit and sweet oak shadings. Then the savory and rich 2006 Dundee Hills Estate Pinot Noir, the flagship wine, which was full-bodied, big and round with layers of fruit and good depth. As a special, we also got to taste the Burgundy like 2004 Dundee Hills Estate Pinot Noir that was packed with dark fruit, truffle, mineral and classic Pinot flavors, hands down our favorite and the most interesting.
2004 De Ponte Cellars Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Thanks to De Ponte Cellars for letting me try this library wine from the classic 2004 vintage. This Pinot is very compelling and super interesting with lots of Burgundy like intensity and style. There are layers and layers here and the wine changes greatly with air and is a stunning wine. This Pinot shows truffle, earth, spice and deep flavors and subtle quality oak notes with a full array of dark and red berry fruits, plum, tangy currant and a smoky sweet finish. No question this wine is still a baby, but it is all ready drinking great and should do so for many more years. 93-94 Points, grapelive
De Ponte Cellars – Suzanne Baldwin
17545 Archery Summit Rd. Dayton 97114
The Stoller family spared no expense to build an award winning green design winery and the first winery to be Gold LEED certified. (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) The Stoller’s believe in a sustainable work place, and their winery is all done to the highest standards and seems very well thought out. We were very impressed with Kenny Stoller as he led us on a tour of the facility, as he explained each area and the family goals with energy and patience. I had tried a few Stoller wines prior and had been impressed and nothing changed my views after tasting their solid line up of current releases. The highlights from Stoller included; the 2007 JV Chardonnay, an un-oaked gem with fresh bright apple and pear fruit with crisp citrus that was both rich and refreshing. And the 2006 SV Pinot Noir (red label) that was powerful and at the same time elegant with rich red fruits, wild flowers and big round body. I also want to Thank Mitch, as she made us feel very welcome and was especially good at explaining the wines we tasted.
2006 Stoller Pinot Noir SV, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Deeper and richer than the lovely 2005, this wine seems to have it all with ripe intense dark fruits and lush textures. This bold wine shows dark cherry, brambleberry, sweet plums and liqueur with wild flowers, rose petals, incense spices and smoky sweet vanilla oak shadings. This is a fun and serious Pinot that drinks great now, but should smooth out and get even deeper over the next 3-5 years. 94 Points, grapelive
Stoller Vineyards – Kenny Stoller
15151 NE Stoller Rd
Dundee Bistro and Ponzi Wine Bar (next door)
This upscale Bistro in the little hamlet of Dundee offers a great selection of plates and the wine list is amazing, I am very grateful to my friend Christine Baker for giving me the heads up on this place. We especially enjoyed the claims in a Pinot Gris and garlic broth, in fact we keep the broth through out lunch to dip our bread in, sending the busboy away many, many times with out that bowl! I had a lovely 2007 Ponzi Pinot Gris that was lively and pure with green apple and cool citrus notes, very nice. My curious winemaker friend opted for a rare Dao white from Portugal that opened with a sherry note, but really got some life after a minute in the glass turning rich and flavorful. Next to the Dundee Bistro is the Ponzi Wine Bar and tasting area that had a great selection of wines for take away and to taste from the Willamette Valley. Ponzi has long been a favorite of mine and their Reserve Pinot always impresses me with depth and flavor richness.
Ponzi Wine Bar 100 SW Seventh Street, Dundee, OR 97115 503.554.1500
The Dundee Hills “terroir” flavor profile seems clear and distinct to me, I find lots of sweet red cherry fruit, red berry, strawberry/rhubarb and baking spices (like maybe nutmeg) giving way to creamy textures. This may come from the Red Jory Soils and to a lesser extent climate factors. The dirt here is red in color and high in iron and minerals, which make it different from other areas in the Willamette.
FRIDAY, 9/12/08: Ribbon Ridge, Yamhill County
This was an exciting day, as I’ve been a big fan of the main three wineries we planned to visit and I was finally going to walk and taste the famed Beaux Frères Vineyard in person. To me Beaux Frères, is like a top Grand Cru Burgundy comparable to Domaine Romanee-Conti, or better yet Domaine Comte Georges du Vogue makers of the great Musigny & Bonnes Mares. But first we were headed to Penner-Ash and then Shea Vineyards; it doesn’t get better than this! After finding the right road leading to Ribbon Ridge and Yamhill County things were all right in the world, with beautiful sunshine and views of wild blackberries and hazelnut orchards. This is pretty country and very peaceful, with stunning vistas across the valley with the impressive Mount Hood in the background.
Lynn Penner-Ash makes some of the finest Pinot Noir period, and I have always been a fan since I first tried her wine some five or six years ago. Lynn went to Davis, did some time in Napa, then headed north taking the winemaking role at Rex-Hill Vineyards before creating her own label. In 2005 she got her own winery up and running, as well as sourcing her own estate vineyard, the Dussin Vineyard. Since then things have only got better she continues to showcase her talent and gather acclaim worldwide. In fact, recently she was hired by a “Cult” Napa Valley producer to make a special Willamette Valley Pinot Noir for them to partner their highly rated and priced Cabernet Sauvignon!
Natalie gave us the tour and told us all about the place, Natalie runs the front of the house and is a wonderful guide with great stories and a good sense of humor. The best story she told was of how the winter rains flood the lower driveway to the winery, which hits about a mile up on a hill, with the raging waters too deep to drive through for up to two weeks at a time. No problem for Natalie, she puts her laptop and cell phone in her backpack and canoes across the river of water and then hikes the mile trek to the winery and office each day! I think she needs a raise Lynn, don’t you? That is the real pioneer spirit, and shows some of the down to earth nature of the Willamette Valley that comes through when you get to know people here.
Did I forget to tell about the wine? Well, I’ll fix that now, as this was one of the best line up’s of wine by a single winery that I’ve tasted ever! We started with a lovely Rogue Valley 2007 Viognier, which was a classic in flavors and purity with honeysuckle, spice, apricot and peach. Then we were treated to five fantastic Pinot Noirs, four of which were single vineyard wines that showed each terroir well, and the fifth was the flagship wine of the Penner-Ash Wine Cellars, the 2006 Willamette Valley. Included in the single vineyard selections were: the 2006 Dussin (Estate), the 2006 Goldschmidt (Dundee Hills), the 2006 Carabella (a vineyard Lynn advised on) and the 2006 Seven Springs. The 2006 Willamette Valley is drinking great all ready and should age great too, with amazing layers and complexity it won out in the end as our top choice, even though I was torn between the Seven Springs and the Dussin as well. Really they all were top notch and rival top Pinots from anywhere. After the Pinots, Natalie poured us the dry rose of Pinot Noir, the 2007 Roseo, which was a delight and I made sure I got a bottle before heading out.
2006 Penner-Ash Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon
This lusty dark Pinot Noir has to be one of the best Pinots in the new world and a world-class wine. This multi vineyard cuvee delivers all the ingredients for an amazing wine, and is sourced from only top sites that all add to the success of this Pinot. Lynn Penner-Ash is a proven master with this grape and region and this wine showcases all of her greatness to perfection. The wine is deeply layered and unfolds with lush fruit and textures. The 2006 vintage is a blockbuster and shows the darker nature of the Pinot with lots of black fruits, plums, blackberries and a medley of red berries and black cherries. The wonderful wine is perfumed with violets, wild flowers and roses leading to a thick palate of fruit and touches of smoke and spices, finishing with lavish, pretty toasty oak. Wow, without a doubt this is an awesome wine! (Est. $48-50) 95-96 Points, grapelive
Penner-Ash Wine Cellars – Natalie Sigafoos
15771 NE Ribbon Ridge Rd, Newberg, OR 97132
Shea Wine Cellars & Shea Vineyards
Dick Shea is the man behind the legend of Shea Vineyard, Oregon’s most famous vineyard. The Shea Vineyard has graced the label of some of the greatest wines of this region and has the top winemakers in the Willamette and even California begging for this fruit. Mike Etzel (Beaux Frères), Ken Wright (Ken Wright Cellars), and Lynn Penner-Ash (Penner-Ash Wine Cellars) are just a few of the Oregon winemakers using these grapes to make amazing Pinots, and then there is the Californian wineries: Loring, Pali and Auteur as well. The Auteur 2006 Shea was utterly amazing and as close to perfect as Pinot gets. I would also compare Shea Vineyard with the Pisoni and Garys’ Vineyards (Santa Lucia Highlands) here in California, or even maybe also similar to the Melville Vineyard (Santa Rita Hills).
We found Shea Wine Cellars and met up with Drew Voit, Shea Wine Cellar’s Winemaker, who I am grateful to for taking so much time out of his day to show us around and answer a massive amount of questions. Drew is a great guy and was kind, with a bright smile and lots of passion for his work. He has also consulted with Domaine Serene and really got their Chardonnay program to the next level. Here at Shea, he has the pick of the place and gets the most interesting selections for their line up of Pinots. Shea has lots of different sites on the vineyard, in fact Shea Vineyards is in reality two separated vineyards, and they have most clones planted. They use different blocks to blend into their main wine, the Estate Pinot, and then they have single block wines as well, and sometimes they produce even single clone wines like, the Wadenswil (a Swiss clone) and the Pommard (French clone).
As we walked through the vines at Shea, it was hard not to feel content and at peace, as it is a special place, I even mentioned my thoughts to Drew who agreed with a knowing grin.
Drew is very excited about the Chardonnay at Shea, and after tasting it I can see why, this is great stuff and a heady wine with bold richness and sublime balance and texture. This was the 2006 Estate Chard, which even though a hot year by Oregon standards showed focus and bright flavors with apple, pear and white peaches along with hints of fig, lemon, clove and vanilla. This is a very complex and layered wine that has class and body that are more Batard-Montrachet like than some quality California Chardonnay. Then we dived into the Estate Pinot, the 2006 vintage, which was extremely ripe and bold at first, but opened up nicely into a balanced and deep wine with lots of plum and dark fruits all held in with pleasing toasty oak. I can’t wait to get back to Shea and taste from barrel and see how the Chardonnay ages, plus after 2009 Drew is planning to due his own label and that will be really fun to keep up on. Shea was planted first in 1989 and they started producing their own wine in small amounts in 1996, and now are par with the worlds best, congrats Dick, you have a awesome place and make super wines.
2006 Shea Vineyards Chardonnay “Shea Vineyards” Estate, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Watch out Burgundy, Oregon has your whites in their sights now and they are on target! This has the beginnings of a Batard-Montrachet beater, with solid structure and intense fruit. This Chardonnay shows pear, white peach, apple, fig and hazelnuts in beautiful layers. The texture is rich and creamy with plenty of soft sweet oak, but there is vigor and life here too. A hint of lemon goes well with the brioche and vanilla on the finish. (Est. $45-50) 93-94 Points, grapelive
Shea Wine Cellars – Drew Voit, Winemaker
12321 NE Hwy 240, Newberg, OR 9713
Michael Etzel came to Oregon, liked what he saw and bought and took on a hog farm. This was 1986, and he only had a slight connection to wine, though an expert one, he had the famous wine critic Robert Parker as a brother in law. I guess Parker liked what he saw and became a full partner in the pigpen, soon to become vineyard. Michael hand planted Beaux Frères Vineyard in 1988 to 1990, all 23 acres, and took part-time work in the cellars of Ponzi and others to learn about wine. From bacon to Grand Cru in 10 years! In 1994 Michael produced one of the greatest Pinot Noirs in the new world and has never looked back. I was lucky to have tried that vintage recently and was amazed by what I was tasting, and I became a believer again. I remember the joy of tasting Beaux Frères from the 1998 and 1999 vintages and thinking of someday going to this place, and today was going to be that day! The Beaux Frères Vineyard and the newer Upper Terrace Vineyard at Beaux Frères are both farmed biodynamic and much love and respect is given the land, and they feel this connects them spiritually to the place and makes much better wine.
Kurt Johnson, Beaux Frères Sales Manager and his boxer Jackson lead us on a march through the vineyard and told us the tales of this stunning site. Michael greeted us warmly, then went to sell metal scraps with his assistant winemaker Grant in tow, but Kurt and Jackson put on a great show and we were in no way disappointed and I really enjoyed my game of tug of war with Kurt’s dog while he talked about Beaux Frères’ past and future. Kurt also let us know that Ribbon Ridge and especially Beaux Frères produces darker and more intense fruit profiles, this might be from the sedimentary soils here, it seems all of the Yamhill-Carlton region is set on ancient seabed. I also learned that the original vineyard was and is planted to the Wadenswil (Swiss clone) and the Pommard (old French clone) giving me a new insight on these Pinot clones, both of which are not so popular in California, but make wonderful and complex wines here. He also let us know the newer vineyard the Upper Terrace that Michael planted modern French clones like 113, 114, 115, 667 and 777 as well as a tiny plot of Grenache, yes I said Grenache. Well, that is crazy I thought, but I got have one; I mean I really need this wine! So I bought one, and took it away with me. (I drank it later that night, I could not wait…)
Beaux Frères does three Pinot Noirs normally, a Willamette Valley from purchased fruit and the Beaux Frères Vineyard Estate Pinot and the Upper Terrace Estate Pinot, plus that crazy Upper Terrace Grenache mentioned above. We able to try the 2006 Beaux Frères Estate Pinot Noir, which never regularly gets poured, but they had sold out of the Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, oh too bad! So, after all the build up how did it taste? Well now, even though I have had the 2006 earlier and rated it way up there close to perfect, this wine did not let me down. Let’s just say with only a tiny sip and sniff, I was in heaven, as this is a great and almost perfect wine. In fact I was so utterly convinced I gave my winemaker friend the rest of my glass! Amazing is all I can say now, the dark rich fruit and sublime smoky oak notes frame it perfectly and the depth is compelling all ready, even though it should be a wine for the ages. Maybe, just maybe, we had saved the best for last, at least I think so. It was a great moment to live, Beaux Frères is an important place and one of the Grand Cru sites in the new world, and it was fun to catch up with Kurt, oh yeah, I had met him before when he had been with Etude in Napa Valley and more recently when he was down showing off Beaux Frères in California this last March. People do make a difference and Kurt is one of the good guys in this business and it great to see that nice guys make good in this world.
2006 Beaux Frères Pinot Noir “Beaux Frères Vineyard” Estate, Ribbon Ridge, Willamette Valley, Oregon
I originally tasted and reviewed this wine in March 2008, and though it was one of the best Pinots I’ve tasted and compared it to the great Burgundies, and now I am even more impressed. Mike Etzel has crafted a fantastic wine, even if he thinks the 2006 vintage is over hyped and not typical of Oregon. This wine compares to the great Burgundy vintages like 1990 and 1999, with huge fruit and power. That said the wine is opening up nicely and has lovely perfume and sublime depth and balance. I could rave on and on, but I guess I should say it s close to perfect. The fruit is dark and lively with blackberry, plum and currant mostly with only a hint of cherry at this stage. Pretty smoky sweet oak toast frame this wine perfectly. This Pinot Noir is one of my all time favorites. (Est. $75-80) 96+ Points, grapelive * Tasted at Beaux Frères, September 2008.
Beaux Frères – Kurt Johnson, Sales Manager
15155 NE North Valley Road Newberg, Oregon 97132 USA
Telephone: (503) 537-1137 Facsimile: (503) 537-2613 e-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Yamhill-Carlton District and Ribbon Ridge area in the Willamette Valley form sort of a horseshoe shape of raised ancient seabed and produce wines of slightly darker color (in general) and more intense dark flavors, led by blackberry, plum and briar notes. Though most Oregon wines have good acidity, it seems that the Yamhill-Carlton have more tannins which would lead me to believe that they might have aging advantage. It is something I’ll keep exploring, for sure.
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