Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Papa Pinot’s Legacy
I was fortunate to be one of the 250 people who attended The Eyrie Vineyards Fiftieth Anniversary Vertical
Tasting in Portland, Oregon, this past February 22, 2015, hosted by Diana and Jason Lett. This momentous
event commemorated fifty years since David Lett planted the first Pinot Noir vines in the Willamette Valley of
Oregon on February 22, 1965.
I have been enthralled with the story of David Lett and wrote extensively about the first plantings of Willamette
Valley Pinot Noir in a previous issue (“Oregon Pinot Noir: Who Planted First?”: www.princeofpinot.com/article/
1090/). It was not surprising then that I could not contain my enthusiasm for this occasion that was enlivened
by cherished memories, abundant applause, lively toasts and extraordinary wines.
Speaking to an avid crowd of family, friends, customers, wine press, sommeliers, and winemakers from around
the world, Diana Lett led off the festivities describing her first meeting with David Lett at a book publisher’s
conference in the Midwest in 1965. After David had planted his first Pinot Noir cuttings in early 1965, he sold
college textbooks to support himself, and this had led to the couple’s fortuitous meeting. Three months after their
chance meeting, they were married, and Diana found herself in a muddy field in the Dundee Hills in a yellow
raincoat, helping David establish the first Eyrie vineyard.
The remainder of the afternoon was orchestrated by Jason Lett, who provided his personal insight into the
origins of The Eyrie Vineyards, the establishment of the vineyards and winery, the transition upon David’s
passing in 2008, and the present challenges of the winery. Many treasured family photographs brightened the
backdrop for the often humorous presentation. An extraordinary vertical tasting of The Eyrie Vineyards Pinot
Gris, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir covering five decades was accompanied by Jason’s detailed insight about
each wine. The celebration concluded with a clamorous sparkling toast with The Eyrie Vineyards Pinot Meunier
Rosé Brut Nature, Eyrie’s first sparkling wine. A number of the treasured wines tasted were offered for sale,
with all profits donated to support the Cascades Raptor Center of Eugene.
Although Richard Sommer is credited with planting the first post-Prohibition Vitis vinifera including Pinot Noir in
Oregon at Hill Crest Vineyard in the Umpqua Valley beginning in 1961, his marketplace demanded that he rely
more on Riesling and red blends, and he never became renowned for Pinot Noir. Lett received considerably
more attention than Sommer, and deservedly so, since his The Eyrie Vineyard Pinot Noirs set the mark and
won international recognition for the fledgling Oregon wine industry. He became so revered by his peers that
he was affectionately called “Papa Pinot.”