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Phelps Creek Vineyards: A Unique Burgundian Collaboration

Robert Morus founded Phelps Creek Vineyards to focus on estate grown Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. He was raised in the San Francisco Bay Area and experienced the Northern California wine explosion first hand. After serving in the Air Force and becoming a Delta Airlines pilot, he chose to becoming based in Portland, Oregon, hoping to plant a vineyard that was a sensible driving distance away. His first trip to explore the wine districts of Oregon led him to the Columbia Gorge, where he found a 60-acre site perfect for grapevines with a steep southern slope and a magnificent view of the Hood River Valley. He also explored the Willamette Valley but was drawn back to the Columbia Gorge site.

After acquiring the property, he would later learn that the Hood River Valley enjoyed the same rainfall (averaging 36 inches of rain annually) and heat as Oregon’s Dundee Hills, although the best vineyard locations for Pinot Noir in the Columbia Gorge sit at a higher elevation. Robert would admit that his planting of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the Columbia Gorge was a “lucky, slightly educated guess at the time.”

Columbia Gorge Wine Region

The visually stunning Columbia Gorge wine region is located less than 60 miles east of Portland, Oregon. Over 30 different grape varieties are grown within this 40 mile stretch of diverse microclimates. The land is defined by the Columbia River as it cuts through the Cascade Mountain Range and makes its journey to the Pacific Ocean.

The Columbia Gorge wine region is unique in that it is composed of wineries and growers on both shores of the river in Oregon and Washington. The Columbia Gorge is part of two appellations (AVAs) including the western edge of the Columbia Valley AVA, and encompassing all the Columbia Gorge AVA, which was established in 2004.

The Columbia Gorge is a relatively new wine region, long known for pears, apples, cherries and other fruits. It wasn't until the 1970s that growers started planting wine grapes. Currently, over 70% of Gorge-grown grapes are exported to other wine regions in Oregon and Washington.

There are now more than 30 wineries and 45+ vineyards dotting the shoreline of the Columbia River in the Columbia Gorge winegrowing region. Relaxed, uncrowded tasting rooms offer a special experience. Visit for a touring map and brochure.

The name of the winery is derived from a tributary of the Columbia River that runs a path just below the Phelps Creek vineyards. The creek is named after Phelps who was a cooper and died in a tragic rafting accident on the Columbia.

The estate vineyards consist of 30 acres of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, both self-rooted and grafted plants with initial plantings of Pinot Noir dating to 1990 and Dijon clone Chardonnay in 1992. From the initial 7 acres, planting has incrementally increased, and today there are 25 acres of Pinot Noir (Pommard, Dijon 777 and 115), 4.5 acres of Chardonnay (mostly Dijon 75 and 76 and 200 plants from cuttings of Celilo Vineyard’s Wente clone), and .5 acre of Pinot Gris. Elevation ranges from 950 feet to 1,200 feet (600 feet would be considered high in the Willamette Valley), and soils are primarily volcanic.

The first harvests went to King Estate and later Ponzi Vineyards, with winemaker Peter Rosback producing a Phelps Creek vineyard-designated Pinot Noir from 2000 to 2006. The first Phelps Creek Pinot Noir started with the 2002 vintage, and by 2007 Phelps Creek kept all estate grapes for their own production. In the same year, Robert met Alexandrine Roy and coaxed her into joining the Phelps Creek team.

Alexandrine Roy, who crafts some of the most elegant wines in Gevrey-Chambertain at her family’s Domaine Marc Roy, became a contributing winemaker at Phelps Creek initially, eventually becoming the Director of Winemaking beginning with the 2012 vintage. A fourth generation winemaker, Alexandrine flies to Oregon three or four times a year to oversee the winemaking at the estate. From 2007 through 2011, she primarily made Cuvée Alexandrine, a reserve level Pinot Noir, Fleur de Roy Rosé of Pinot Noir and most recently Coeur de Roy Pinot Noir Blanc. In 2011, wine production was moved to a facility on the estate. Since she took over the reigns, the wines have become spectacular. Photo below is of Alexandrine at a previous IPNC event.

Current production is 5,000 cases annually primarily from estate grown fruit including Pinot Noir, Rosé of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir Blanc (a Merlot and Syrah are from sourced grapes). The winery’s tasting room is located on the Hood River Golf Course and is open daily. Visit www.phelpscreekvineyards for more information or to order wine.

Robert continues his duties as a Captain flying B-777s internationally for Delta Airlines, and his daughter, Becky, has joined the team as Operations Manager and his son, Toby, as Hospitality Coordinator.

2014 Phelps Creek Vineyards Fleur de Roy Columbia Gorge Oregon Rosé of Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., 120 cases, $26, screwcap. Clone 115. A saignée from estate grapes picked early made in the fashion that winemaker Alexandrine Roy employs for her rosé at home in Gevrey-Chambertain. Fermented in neutral French oak barrels. · Moderately light salmon color in the glass. This is an exceptional rosé that leads with scents of fresh strawberries and peaches that really draw you into the glass. Crisp, with bright flavors of strawberry, pear and apricot, the wine wraps the palate in fresh fruit flavors, and leaves on impression on the uplifting finish. Straight and true, this wine is among the best that Oregon has to offer. Score: 92

2014 Phelps Creek Vineyards Le Petit Columbia Gorge Oregon Pinot Noir

12.6% alc., TA 0.65, 238 cases, $28, screwcap. Estate grown Pinot Noir. A Cru Beaujolais style wine incorporating whole cluster, carbonic fermentation. Dijon clone 115. Harvest Brix 22.8º. Aged in stainless tank. · Light cherry red color in the glass. Heady scents of strawberry, cherry, cake spice and floral bouquet lead to a light weight, pleasant wine that is easy to like. Spirited by red berry flavor and a cranberry-laced finish, this wine has refreshingly crisp acidity. Serve slightly chilled. Score: 87

2013 Phelps Creek Vineyards Columbia Gorge Oregon Pinot Noir

13.4% alc., 1,204 cases, $34. Estate grown. Clones are Pommard, Dijon 115 and 777. Harvest Brix 23.7º. Aged in French oak barrels, 10% new Cadus. · Moderate light cherry red color in the glass. Nicely appointed nose with aromas of cherry spice, sousbois and black tea. Soft and smooth in the mouth, with straightforward flavors of cherry and raspberry framed by modest tannins. A solid everyday drinker. Score: 88

2013 Phelps Creek Vineyards “Regina” Columbia Gorge Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., 93 cases, $49. The finest 4 barrels of Pommard clone in the cellar. Oldest plantings of self-rooted vines. Named in honor of owner Robert Morus’ mother. Harvest Brix 23.7º. Aged in French oak barrels, 25% new. · Moderately light reddish purple hue in the glass. Engaging aromas of Bing cherry, dark red rose and spice. Plenty of Pinot singing in this wine with a delicious core of Asian-spiced cherry goodness complimented by subtle oak. Very suave and elegant with a markedly intense and lengthy finish that sports some ripe fruit tannins that offer textural interest. Extremely giving and enjoyable now. Score: 93

2013 Phelps Creek Vineyards Cuvée Alexandrine Columbia Gorge Oregon Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., 244 cases, $54. The winery’s flagship wine consisting of 10 barrels carefully selected from the estate vineyards by winemaker Alexandrine Roy. Pommard and Dijon 115 and 777. Harvest Brix 23.8º. Native yeast fermentation, aged in French oak barrels, 25% new Cadus. · Moderately light reddish purple color in the glass. An earthy, savory nose with hints of black cherry, BBQ spice, tobacco and oak. Quite elegant on the palate with a deep black cherry flavor accented with dried herbs and anise-laced oak. Very charming now, but not fully expressive, and more giving the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. I would cellar a year or two. Do I dare say, “Burgundian?” Score: 92-93

2010 Phelps Creek Vineyards “Beehive” Columbia Gorge Oregon Pinot Noir

13.4% alc., TA 0.62, 80 cases, $54. The Beehive Block is south of the original estate vineyard planting, the site of abandoned commercial beehives on a field when the property was acquired. The clone 777 planted here has extraordinary character in cooler years like 2010. Harvest Brix 23.6º. A 3-barrel selection were aged in once-used French oak barrels for 24 months. · Medium reddish purple color in the glass. Unrelenting aromas of black cherry, spice, and potpourri. Wow! Terrific attack and finish with wondrous harmony and finesse, featuring delicious mid weight flavors of black cherry, black raspberry and spice. A stunning wine that has an earthy vein in the background and is not simply fruity. This wine is currently drinking at is apogee. Score: 95

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