The Best American Pinot Noirs and Pinot Gris Come from Oregon.


Oregon, situated between California and Washington State, is considered to be the best in producing Pinot Noir.

Consumers and winemakers gather annually at McMinville for a Pinot Noir symposium during which only scholarly papers are presented, and hundreds of wines organoleptically examined. |Oregon’s wine industry is relatively small; and diverse consisting of 5005 hectares (11,000 acres) of vineyards and 200 wineries

There is no route du vin, rather there are several routes to pick up, and in areas of winery concentrations tourist hotels and restaurants are far and between.

In fact most wineries are small family operations with small vineyards.

The State made a splash in 1980’s when pioneers proved the potential of Pinot Noir. Chances are that no one would have cared much if Chardonnay was produced, but Pinot Noir, the wholly grail variety, caught the attention of the wine world.

Some critics, confusing potential with achievement, dubbed Oregon the new Burgundy, and predictably deep disappointment followed.

Oregon is not Burgundy; although it lies on the same latitude, and cannot produce Pinot Noir identical to that from the fabled patch of land in France, but the state has been able to vint extraordinarily fine Pinot Noir.

This fickle grape, prone to mutation, requires a cool climate and a long growing season. Oregon has the former- and, when the autumn rains hold off, the latter – but cool climates do not tolerate even a small margin of error. If it is too cool, the fruit fails to ripen, and if the rains come too early, the entire crop is ruined.

Oregon wineries

have been lucky since 1998 and had fine vintages.

Last year I had the opportunity to visit Oregon to see for myself how the industry is evolving. During my visit, I tasted many fine Pinot Noirs and Pinot Gris but I believe that Riesling would also grow well.

Some vineyards are now 20 years or older yielding less but superior fruit and naturally deeply flavoured wines.

The best the more famous wineries of Oregon are located between McMinville, Dundee and Yamhill. (Willa Kenzie Estate, Beaux Freres, Adelsheim, Rex Hill, Torii Mor, Erath, Argyle, Archery Summit, Domaine Drouhin, Eyrie and Carlton Winemakers Studio).

Mike Etzel, the brother-in-law of wine critic Robert Parker and partner of Beaux Freres, considers the vineyard to be the most important contributor to quality and devotes considerable attention his vineyard; and it shows. His wines speak for themselves. They exude more concentration and depth due to low yields and enlightened use of minimal barrel aging.

David Lett, considered to be the founding father of Oregon’s wine industry, came in 1960’s in search of suitable terroir to plant Pinot Noir. His University of California, professors at Davis claimed Pinot Noir would fail to produce fine enough quality to compete with Burgundy. He wanted to prove them wrong and succeeded.

He was also farsighted enough to plant Pinot Gris which produces Alsatian-style, deeply flavoured and well-structured wines unlike northern Italian versions which tend to be very light and ethereal.

David Lett prefers to use old barrels for aging in an attempt to preserve fruit aromas and thinks many of his fellow winemakers overdo the oak component.

He is absolutely right. I am reminded of the French saying:” We don’t want to drink liquid oak, but fruity wine.”

Joseph Drouhin was so impressed with Lett’s Pinot Noir that he decided to buy land in the Dundee Hills to plant his own vineyards and start the Domaine Drouhin that many consider one of the best in the state.

The Domaine is managed by his daughter Veronique, who prefers light, never over oaked Pinot Noirs, with a Burgundian touch as might be expected. The rootstock was purchased from Dijon nurseries and ultimately show characteristics associated with Burgundian Pinot Noirs everything being equal.

Well-made Oregon Pinot Noir is expensive, but any quality Pinot Noir must be expensive, due mostly to low yield, high labour costs and the unpredictable nature of the variety. If you add to these the climate and its unpredictability, the high price is justified.

If you want to visit Oregon’s wineries, make it between the months of June and August and pack picnic lunches. You can buy wine from wineries; most provide benches and tables overlooking vineyards.

The following wineries are highly recommended: Archery Summit Estate, Argyle

(on route 99) (try their fine Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs), Beaux Freres ( fine Pinot Noir, Belle Seurs label is used for purchased grapes, Beaux Freres for estate wines), Carton Winemakers Studio (small, but quality oriented), Domaine Drouhin (call for an appointment), Erath Vineyards; Eyrie Vineyards, Ponzi (also operates Ponzi’s Dundee Bistro); Rex Hill, Torii Mor (call for an appointment) Willa Kenzie Estate, and Elk Grove.

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