Praiseworthy Palate Pleasers from Oregon


Venturing out to the Willamette Valley and other nearby wine regions in Oregon in the sun drenched month of September could not have been more enjoyable and enlightening.   Pinot noir vineyards abound, producing styles as diverse as the micro-climates throughout the regions.   Although the area is most known for pinot noir, other varieties also planted and meticulously cared for are noteworthy in their own right.

 At Domaine Serene, Allan Carter (Director of Marketing and Sales) began our tour with a stroll around the stunning property perched at the top of the Dundee Hills.  Owners Kevin and Grace Evenstad arrived years ago in the late 80’s and began with the planting of the Mark Bradford Vineyard.  They expanded from there, and of their 420 acres, 150 acres are now planted in grapes.  They released their first wine in 1990, and their first vintage from the estate winery in 2001.  When visiting Domaine Serene, don’t miss noticing the artistically crafted copper doors, and other fine decor.

Our first sip here was a taste of their 2006 Clos du Solei Chardonnay.  A well crafted wine that opens with expansive aromas and boasts minerality and a juicy baked apple richness that continues to delight, and is interwoven with bright acidity on mid palate.  Focused and very well balanced with a heavenly finish that lingers forever.

Allan described their meticulous operation, from tending the vines, to the careful harvesting of the grapes, to 100% hand sorting of the fruit, to fermentation in their one, three and five ton fermenters; followed by 12 to 18 month oak aging, and additional aging in the bottle.  Pinot Noir is often termed a finicky grape; and I liked Allan’s description “Pinot remembers EVERYTHING you do to it”.  Yes, how true.   Here’s a snapshot of the current vintages:

2005 Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir, produced from estate vineyards in Dundee Hills and Eola Hills, teases the senses with forward fruit aromatics and builds on the palate with layers of black cherry, raspberry, spice and toasty notes, and an enticing earthiness.  Showcasing a fine purity of fruit, this wine is smooth and elegantly structured from start to finish.

2005 Fleur de Lis Vineyard Pinot Noir:  Pretty floral aromatics fill the nose; and a punch of bright plumy and black cherry fruit flavors surrounded by spice and oak notes enliven the palate from entry through mid palate to a long, persistent finish.  Complex and seductive with silky tannins, this should age with grace and open more fully with time.

2005 Jerusalem Hill Vineyard:   All about inviting herbs and earthiness in the nose; promises plenty and delivers.  More muscular and powerful in style with a full, tangible texture.  This Pinot Noir is dense and voluptuous with black cherry at the core cloaked with wild berry, mushroom and forest floor essence, and I think it’s just begun to show its stuff.  The depth of flavors and full tannins suggest a good long life ahead.   Wow.

 2004 Del Rio Vineyard Syrah:  Meatiness greets the nose; followed by a splash of green bell pepper.  Spicy with focused black peppercorn notes wrapped around dark blackberry at the core.  Varietally right on; there is plenty to like in this full bodied, nicely balanced Syrah. 

 Willakenzie Estate is a new discovery for me; and what a find it was.  Located in the Willamette Valley in the Chehalem Mountains, the vineyards (102 acres) were planted in 1992, and the property encompasses 420 acres.  Bernie Lacroute and Ronnie Lacroute purchased the ranch and planted vineyards in 1992.  We were treated to a thrilling ride through the vineyards among the rolling hills with owner Bernie Lacroute (whose passion for Pinot goes back to his native home in Burgundy).   Hanging on to our seats at the highest point of the vineyards at about 750 feet elevation, we appreciated their vertical shoot position trellis system, which offers good sun exposure and air flow through the vines, and marveled at the views.  They grow organically and are very proud of their sustainable agricultural practices; and are certified by both L.I.V.E. (Low Input Viticulture & Enology) and Salmon Safe.  Bernie expounds on the soil here, which is well drained with layers of clay and mica sandstone.  He adds that as they avoid using herbicides; weeds in the vineyards are removed manually; a laborious practice they firmly believe is well worth the additional time and effort.  You’ll see grasses, herbs and flowers among the vineyards, and surrounding the vineyards are majestic Douglas fir and oak trees; simply breath-taking.  The impressive and picturesque setting leads to the captivating wines:

2007 Pinot Blanc:  bright and focused with stone fruit, grapefruit and lime tones on center palate. Very balanced and easy to quaff wine which will pair well with seafood, lemon chicken and herbed cheeses.   Their 2007 Pinot Gris was round and pretty with melon, peach and juicy apple aromas and flavors intermingling attractively from the enticing entry to the pleasing viscosity on mid palate to the clean, satisfying finish. 

2005 Kiana Pinot Noir:  Inviting aromatics steer you into the rich, dense red cherry and raspberry fruit and lush ripe tannins that fully engage the taste buds.  Lively and well balanced with smoky notes and subtle French oak accents that add complexity.

2005 Aliette Pinot Noir:  Distinctive earthy aromas and notes of strawberry rhubarb pie fill the nose.  Delightful essence of wild cherries and berries weave through the spice laden mouthful of lip-smacking flavors all wrapped up beautifully in a complex package with firm tannins.  Very impressive now, and this one should live for many years to come.

2005 Pierre Leon Pinot Noir:  Sun ripened fruit prevails on the nose, followed by dense black cherry, blackberry and wild berry flavors taking center stage with a bit of smoke and forest floor earthiness swirling throughout.  A captivating, full structured wine with moderate tannins and a memorable finish.

2005 Emory Pinot Noir:  With a focus of earthiness and a hint of florality up front, this powerhouse of a Pinot unfolds temptingly on the palate with concentrated black fruits and chocolate notes dancing in tune with the earthiness that follows through from the initial aromas.   Intensely structured with a velvety texture, this wine will open up even more fully when decanted.

2005 Terres Basses Pinot Noir:  A bit restrained in the nose, but tons of complexity here with layer upon layer of red cherries, blackberries, dark juicy plums, forest floor and smoky notes and subtle pie spices. Young at this point, but full of promise.  If drinking now, you should definitely decant this hugely structured full bodied wine, or wait a few years; it will be worth it!

Domaine Drouhin:  I first visited Burgundy’s Maison Joseph Drouhin family property in Beaune, Burgundy several years ago and was mesmerized by their passion, viticulture practices and wines.  When they shared details about their Domaine Drouhin property in Oregon, I vowed to visit one day; and am glad I did.  Members of the fourth generation of the Drouhin family are at the helm in Oregon; including Veronique Drouhin-Boss, Winemaker; and Philippe Drouhin, vineyard manager. 

 Tasting room Manager Mark Bosko at their Dundee Hills property led us on the informative tour.  They have 90 acres of hillside vineyards planted on the 225 acre estate that range in elevation from 400 ft to 800 ft, flourishing  in the Dundee Hills rich volcanic soil with a good bit of iron.  Mark shared that their vines are densely planted (up to 3300 per acre).  They are well stressed, producing good concentrated wines noted for red fruit and spice.  The fruit is all hand picked, hand sorted and destemmed, and they use only indigenous yeast.  A combination of neutral and new French barrels with medium toast are used for barrel aging. 

Domaine Drouhin made their first wine in 1988 (with purchased grapes), the same year they began planting their estate vineyards.  In 1992 their first wine from 100% estate fruit was produced.  Let’s take a peak at their current vintages now:

2007 Arthur Chardonnay:  Stunning aromas of fresh flowers and citrus notes greet the nose.  Divinely rich and viscous upon entry, filling the mouth with notes of pear, citrus and plenty of minerality.  The well balanced acidity and nicely integrated French oak add further dimension and complexity, and the flavors linger generously.

 2006 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir:  Subtle earthiness fresh red cherries greet the nose.  Bright red cherry flavors meld seamlessly with accents of smokiness, spice and earth notes; and create a mellifluous feel on the palate.  This wine displays a beautiful delicacy and purity of fruit, and finishes with elegance.

2005 Laurene Pinot Noir:  Concentrated black cherry aromatics pull you into the glass.  Spice, cola and earth notes surround the delectable black cherry core and broaden on the palate luxuriously.   Well balanced and intensely structured with firm tannins; delicious now, and built to last for years. 

 Adelsheim Vineyard:  Established in 1971, this family-owned winery and estate vineyards are located on the Chehalem Mountains in Oregon’s northern Willamette Valley.   David Adelsheim and Ginny Adelsheim began planting their original vineyard in 1972 and David Adelsheim made their first wine for commercial release in 1978.   They too use sustainable farming practices, and have a passion for quality and consistency of fruit from top notch vineyards.  Co-owners Jack and Lynn Loacker joined Adelsheim Vineyard in 1994, and began planting Ribbon Springs Vineyard in 1995; and the winery continues to grow and expand.  Current releases include:

2006 Adelsheim CH:  A juicy Chardonnay that opens with aromas of butter glazed baked pears and oak notes.   The expansive mouthful of succulent ripe pears and white peaches, a dash of spice, and subtle thread of minerality remain focused from start to finish.  The round, rich texture and lasting finish cap the wine off with a flair. 

2006 Elizabeth’s Reserve Pinot Noir:  Opens with enticing earthy, smoky aromas that carry through on the palate and accentuate the generous black cherry, hints of red currant, licorice and forest floor accents.  Full bodied with a rich texture and warm, velvety tannins suggesting plenty of ageability ahead. 

2006 Calkins Lane Pinot Noir:  Potent aromatics filled with earthiness, herbal notes and dark cherry fruit.  Dense, opulent and concentrated on the palate, and the purity of fruit shines through with aplomb.  A powerhouse of a PN, well balanced with resolved tannins and a finish that goes on and on. 

 Oswego Hills Winery:  Owner Jerry Marshall and Winemaker Derek Lawrence speak with joy about their vineyards, practices and wines.  Their vineyards are about 11 years old, and they plan to continue planting until they have about 20 acres of planted vines.  The vineyards are north – south oriented, and they use vertical shoot position trellising; both which encourage good sun exposure.  They harvest at the last possible opportunity, giving the grapes as much hang time as possible.  All wines here are estate grown, produced and bottled.   My favorites include:

2007 Pinot Gris:  Delightful citrus aromatics stay focused on the palate with  crisp green apple, grapefruit and lime zest notes weaving together harmoniously.  Fresh and zippy with beautiful acidity and a brightness that lasts through the finish and beyond.

2006 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir:  Made with 80% new oak barrels and 20% one year old barrels, this very reasonably priced Willamette Valley pinot noir ($23) showcases classic regional characteristics of dark cherry fruit, toasty, smoky accents and alluring forest floor notes.  An elegant style that is well balanced and clean, and a pleasure to quaff. 

2006 Merlot:  Sourced from grapes grown in Columbia Valley, their merlot has inviting spicy, cinnamon scented aromatics that lead to blueberry, cherry and blackberry flavors exploding on the palate, with hints of oak and spice in the background.   Nicely structured with soft velvety tannins.

 Oregon’s wine regions offer a wealth of wines suited to a plethora of palates.  Rain or shine is a good time to head on over.  I’m sure you’ll find plenty of favorites for your unique palate, and have plenty of praises of your own to share!