September 29, 2015

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Willamette Valley’s 50th Anniversary: A New Look at the Old Guard

After 50 years (1965-2015), it is time to reflect on the beginnings and to look to the future of the wines of the Willamette Valley. The majority of Willamette Valley’s pioneering wineries have not only survived and become iconic brands, they continue to thrive as innovators.

12 renowned Willamette Valley wineries were asked to share something new happening in their vineyards, winery, or business, but also to share many of the values and principles that are the same as they were 50 years ago. When asked about things that have remained consistent through the years, the two most common answers were: a commitment to creating wines imbued with a sense that they could only come from the Willamette Valley; and a dedication to stewardship of the land and sustainability since before anyone had ever heard the word.

The wineries were also asked about the coming years regarding innovation, expansion, experimentation, and reaching out to new generations of Willamette Valley wine lovers.

The twelve representative wines were chosen by the wineries in cooperation with the Willamette Valley Wineries Association. The six appellations in the Willamette Valley appellation are pictured below for reference (courtesy of Wine Folly at www.winefolly.com/tutorial/on-finding-great-oregon-pinot-noir/ ).

Adelsheim Vineyard

Address: 16800 NE Calkins Lane, Newberg, OR 97132
Website: www.adelsheim.com
Phone: 503-538-3652
Winemaker: Dave Paige
First Vintage: 1978
Distribution: Over 40 states

Something new:

(1) Trials shown at IQ 2015 Conference in Napa included thermal plant treatment to increase fruit set and change the phenolic make-up of wines, Pinot Noir saignèe to increase density, and Pinot Noir co-fermentation to increase wine complexity.
(2) A fundamental redesign of packaging in 2010-2011 reflected the winery’s commitment to the highest quality.
(3) A unique commitment to building the reputation of Willamette Valley wines outside the United States by being the only winery in Oregon with a full-time Export Sales Manager.

Something enduring:

Over 37 vintages and under three winemakers. Adelsheim has consistently sought to produce a style of wine that could only come from the Willamette Valley. The attributes of the wines are intended to always include elegance, balance and a transcendency of the whole over its individual components.

The future:

After 44 years in the vineyard and 37 vintages, Adelsheim is spend 2015 in an intense analysis of what is hopefully to be achieved over the next ten years. Of utmost importance is the stewardship of the unique estate vineyard sites in the Chehalem Mountains.

2012 Adelsheim Elizabeth’s Reserve Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., pH 3.58, 2,386 cases, $60. This wine has been produced in 29 vintages and is consistent in style. The name was first used in 1986 to designate a blend of the best barrels in the cellar. From 1987 to 1999 it was designated a single vineyard wine, but in 2000 returned to a barrel selection.Aged in small, medium-toast French oak barrels, 31% new. · Moderately dark reddish purple color in the glass. Nicely perfumed with bright aromas of cherry syrup, macerated strawberries and a gift of oak. Intense on the attack with an expanding presence of fresh cherry fruit in the mouth, lasting with boundless energy on the citrus-infused cherry finish that is memorable. A special wine with sturdy, but soft tannins, and admirable balance. Score: 92

Amity Vineyards

Address: 18150 SE Amity Vineyards Road, Amity, OR 97101
Website: www.amityvineyards.com
Phone: 503-679-5817
Winemakers: Ryan Harms and JP Caldcleugh
First Vintage: 1976
Distribution: 12 states

Something new:

In the last year, Amity Vineyards transitioned ownership from the founders of the winery to Ryan Harms, owner of Union Wine Company. New packaging gives a nod to the pioneering spirit of the founders while speaking to the modern folk culture of today. The creation of sleeping decks scattered throughout the property is part of the new owner’s attempt to create unique ways for the modern nomad to connect with Amity Vineyards.

Something enduring:

Amity means “friendship,” an important value that has been part of the brand since its founding. As Amity transitions to new ownership, this will continued to be a cornerstone of the brand.

The future:

The winery is focused on introducing the new Amity Vineyards Willamette Valley wines to consumers and expanding distribution. A sparkling wine program is being developed with the first release planned for 2017.

2013 Amity Vineyards Willamette Valley Pinot Blanc

13.0% alc., pH 3.20, TA 0.68, RS dry, 181 cases, $22, screwcap. Amity was one of the first wineries to plant Pinot Blanc in the Willamette Valley when the estate vineyard was grafted over to Pinot Blanc from Chardonnay. No oak treatment. · Very light golden yellow color in the glass. Aromas and flavors of white peach, pear, honey, lemon and grapefruit in a bright, clean style with tight, mouthwatering, citric acidity on the finish. Score: 89

Broadley Vineyards

Address: 25158 Orchard Tract Rd.
Website: www.broadleyvineyards.com
Phone: 541-232-3998
Winemaker: Morgan Broadley
First vintage: 1986
Distribution: 10 states

Something new:

The owners are currently in the process of passing on to their son, Morgan, the pleasure and challenges of operating Broadley Vineyards. He in turn is putting his own imprint on the wines. One of the key shifts in style is less new wood. Additionally, he is taking over the never ending effort in the vineyards to produced better balanced fruit.

Something enduring:

Since the first vintage in 1986, the owners have steadfastly dedicated themselves to maintaining a sense of place in their wines.

The future:

The estate vineyards have always been farmed sustainably and now work is underway to receive organic certification. For the 2014 harvest, 200 sheep were brought in to “mow” the vineyards before bud break. The sheep roam the vineyards eating all the weeds and grass without harming the vines. They allow for less diesel for the vineyard tractor, are less compacting on the earth, and eliminate the need for herbicides.

2013 Broadley Vineyards Estate Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., pH 3.66, 850 cases, $25. Aged in 15% new Francois Frères oak barrels and the balance in 1 to 2-year-old French oak barrels. · Moderately light reddish purple color in the glass. Shy, but pleasant aromas of cherry, strawberry and sous-bois. A forward drinking and likable wine with a mid weight core of fresh cherry fruit accented with a hint of cola and oak. Rather simple, but fruity, with mild tannins, and a finishing note of cherry goodness. Score: 89


Address: 31180 NE Veritas Lane, Newberg, OR 97132
Website: www.chehalemwines.com
Phone: 503-706-9277 (cell)
Winemaker: Wynne Peterson-Nedry
First vintage: 1990
Distribution: 45 states

Something new:

CHEHALEM was founded 35 years ago this year by Harry Peterson-Nedry upon the acquisition of the vineyard land that would become Ridgecrest Vineyards, the first vineyard on Ribbon Ridge and thus the first vineyard in the Ribbon Ridge AVA. It was also the year that Harry Peterson-Nedry’s daughter, Wynne, was born. She grew up attached to the vineyard and winery work and 26 years later decided to join the winery. Like Harry, she is rigorously scientific, hard-nosed (and perhaps hard headed) and looking for the best, not the easiest approach. This means maintaining hard-found tenants like white wines meaning as much as red, Pinot Noir meaning elegance not size, Stelvin being the technically superior closure, experimentation driving improvement such as Riesling clonal trials, and industry collaboration being critical to advance the common good.

Something enduring:

Very good winemaking depends on right and left brain skills: right brain to sense and communicate and interpret why wine is important, why it is an art as well as a business, and why it is a cultural bridge; left brain provides the rigor, science and process to always improve, to achieve a level of excellence one might stumble across but requires real understanding of underlying principles to replicate consistently.

The future:

Awareness of Oregon and CHEHALEM by new generations of wine consumers requires that a new generation assumes control of not only what we make and how we make it, but how we get the message out and satisfy their needs. Succession of Harry’s daughter into that role has begun and will continue. Wynne has been head winemaker since the 2012 vintage, with subsequent steps planned.

2012 CHEHALEM Ridgecrest Vineyards Ribbon Ridge Willamette Valley Reserve Pinot Noir

14.0% alc., pH 3.65, TA 0.65, 463 cases, $80, screwcap. Aged 11 months in French oak barrels, 42% new and 42% once used. This is the winery’s top-of-the-line wine and is the first vintage Wynne was responsible making in total. Ridgecrest’s 28th harvest. A rare hailstorm in the spring on Ribbon Ridge clipped the crop short to half normal and helped to concentrate the wine even more. · Moderately dark reddish purple color in the glass. Penetrating aromas of black cherry syrup with a compliment of nutty oak. A robust mid weight plus wine that offers both power and elegance. Very soft in the mouth, with an intense charge of well-ripened boysenberry, blueberry and pomegranate fruits and a touch of cedary oak in the background. The finish has impressive staying power and there is enough structural tannin to predict a long life ahead. Score: 92

Cooper Mountain Vineyards

Address: 20121 SW Leonardo Lane, Beaverton, OR 97007
Website: www.coopermountainwine.com
Phone: 503-649-0027
Winemaker: Gilles de Domingo
First vintage: 1987
Distribution: 29 states

Something new:

What’s old is new at Cooper Mountain Vineyards. As early adopters of Biodynamic farming, the winery became 100% estate certified Biodynamic® by 1999. Through farming biodynamically, it was found that conventional agriculture emphasized manipulating the plant as opposed to seeking long term natural enhancement for the plant’s health and vitality. This led to exploring enhancement techniques in winemaking philosophy as well as in the vineyard. Farming is now intended to increase the natural antioxidant levels of the grapes with the goal of avoiding sulfite additions. The 2014 Pinot Noir named “Life” has no added sulfites. Look for it to be released in the summer of 2015.

Something enduring:

The winery’s style is dictated by the notion of terroir, not by the trend of the day. Less is more; let the natural beauty of the unique Cooper Mountain Vineyards site shine through.

The future:

As the winery moves into the second generation, the goal is to acquire more soil and learn from it so that information can pass it down to the next generation healthier than today.

2012 Cooper Mountain Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

13.0% alc., pH 3.58, TA 0.60, RS dry, 3,200 cases, $28, screwcap. This wine is a blend of all four of the estate Biodynamic vineyards. · Dark reddish purple color in the glass. Brooding aromas of underbrush, stem and beet root. More fruity and giving on the palate, with a luxurious core of purple and black fruits accented with spice and backed by muscular tannins and a good grip of acidity. The wine finishes with a burst of sweet dark fruit and a wave of tannins. Unusually rich and bold for Oregon, but reflective of the vintage. Probably less tannic and better overall in a couple of years. Score: 89

Elk Cove Vineyards

Address: 27751 NW Olson Road, Gaston, OR 97119
Website: www.elkcove.com
Phone: 503-985-7760
Winemaker: Adam Campbell
First vintage: 1977
Distribution: 46 states

Something new:

The winery’s production facilities were recently expanded and updated with the addition of two new fermentation halls affectionately called “Big Red” and “Little Red.” Having a dedicated area for Pinot Noir allows fermentation in small lots to take full advantage of the range of vineyard sites and clonal selections of the winery’s six properties in the Northern Willamette Valley. This addition also allowed for the adaptation of the original winery space for steel tanks to use for cool-climate white wines like Riesling and Pinot Gris.

Something enduring:

The winery grows over 90% of the grapes using sustainable methods and meticulous vineyard practices that give the quality of fruit necessary to make great wines.

The future:

A new project that is creating excitement is a pink sparkling wine that will allow the toasting of successes and milestones.

2014 Elk Cove Willamette Valley Pinot Gris

13.0% alc., pH 3.16, TA 0.66, RS 3.9, 25,689 cases, $19. The winery’s most successful wine that is widely distributed and turns up on “Top Wine” lists year after year. Grapes are sourced for four estate vineyard sites, some planted by the founders in 1985 as well as young vines that were added to the Mount Richmond site in recent years. The Pinot Gris undergoes shoot and crop thinning for low yields to maximize quality and concentration. Fermented only in stainless steel tanks. · Very light golden yellow color in the glass. Lovely aromas of apple, pear and floral notes. Slightly creamy on the palate, with fresh flavors of apple and honey. A quintessential Oregon Pinot Gris that offers a lip-smacking finish. Very easy to like. Score: 90

Erath Winery

Address: 9409 NE Worden Hill Rd., Dundee, OR 97115
Website: www.erath.com
Phone: 503-538-3318 or 800-539-9463
Winemaker: Gary Horner
First vintage: 1972
Distribution: 51 states

Something new:

In 2014, Erath acquired Willakia Vineyard (photo above) in the Eola-Amity Hills. Not only will Willakia become a new estate vineyard for Erath, it enables Erath to produce its first Chardonnay in nearly 20 years. I inaugural wine from Willakia Vineyard is a 2013 Chardonnay made from grapes bought from the vineyard before Erath’s acquisition of the vineyard itself and released to Erath wine club members in 2014. Now, with full control of the entire vineyard, Erath will release a full range of wines from Willakia from the 2014 vintage, including several block-designated and clonal-designated Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs.

Something enduring:

Erath has continued to source from the region’s top vineyards for a range of single-vineyard Pinot Noirs that display the character and diversity of each site.

The future:

Erath continues to be the #1 selling producer of Oregon Pinot Noir. Erath will soon unveil plans for a new estate winery at Willakia Vineyard.

2012 Erath Prince Hill Dundee Hills Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., pH 3.56, TA 0.75, 1,203 cases, $50. This wine represents a tie both to the winery’s past and to its future. Prince Hill Vineyard is owned and managed by Erath’s founder, Dick Erath, who first planted the vineyard in 1983. Currently, Erath uses a majority of the fruit from Prince Hill as the centerpiece of its range of single-vineyard Pinot Noirs. Aged 12 months in 100% French oak barrels, 40% new. · Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. The nose leads with hi-tone aromas of red cherry, strawberry and sandalwood. The delicious cherry and strawberry flavored mid weight core explodes on the palate and lingers on the finish for an eternity. Juicy and vibrant, with well-matched tannins, this superb wine really stands out from the pack. Score: 94

Lange Estate

Address: 18380 NE Buena Vista Drive, Dundee Hills, OR
Website: www.langewinery.com
Phone: 503-550-6431
Winemaker: Jesse Lange
First vintage: 1987
Distribution: 32 states

Something new:

The original Lange Estate Vineyard was planted in 1988 and two years later a long relationship started with Freedom Hill Vineyard. Once the richness and complexity some vine age brought to this fruit, the winery concentrated its attention on these two sites, more than quadrupling the Pinot Noir acreage there in the last 15 years. The vines’ deep roots provide a depth and bandwidth that give the wines the ability to show more levels, nuances, and beauty.

Something enduring:

The winery is a blue-collar, fine wine company striving to make world-class wines that exemplify their varieties and regions.

The future:

The 2012 Pinot Noir Reserve includes all 26 new blocks that have been reared in both the Dundee Hills Lange Estate Vineyard and the Freedom Hill Vineyard.

2012 Lange Estate Willamette Valley Reserve Pinot Noir

13.7% alc., pH 3.75, TA 0.55, 3,700 cases, $35. Aged in 35% new French oak barrels, with the rest in 2 and 3-year-old barrels. · Moderately dark reddish purple color in the glass. Reserved aromas of black fruits and toasty oak. Layers of black cherry and blackberry fruits envelope the palate with an added note umami shitake flavor. The texture is highly seductive, like touching purple satin. Nicely balanced with a silky and satisfying finish. Very enjoyable now, but should age beautifully. Score: 91

Ponzi Vineyards

Address: 19500 SW Mountain Home Road, Sherwood, OR 97140
Website: www.ponziwines.com
Phone: 503-628-1227
Winemaker: Luisa Ponzi
First vintage: 1974
Distribution: 47 states

Something new:

A recent development in viticulture is what winemaker Luisa Ponzi has termed “clonal massale.” Selection massale is the process of taking cuttings from the very highest quality and healthiest vines in a particular block. Clonal selection is the random planting of a collection of clones, selected for a specific site. Merging these two techniques gives you clonal massale. This system allows the clones to compensate for each other, producing wines of distinct quality and superior in complexity and depth, despite vintage variability. The system began with a selection massale planting of 20 Pinot Noir clones from UC Davis and France at Ponzi Abetina Vineyards in 1975, as part of a clonal test by Oregon State University. Ponzi Vineyards’ founder, Dick Ponzi, managed the 2-acre site to test the suitability of these clones in Oregon. When the research concluded, Dick began to vinify the block together. The resulting wines were the most distinctive and of the highest quality in the cellar from year to year. This process has evolved with daughter Luisa (photo below) as winemaker. In 2005, she grafted Abetina Vineyard, along with a selection of Dijon clones to rootstock and planted them as an Abetina 2 block at Ponzi’s Aurora Vineyard. This became the winery’s first clonal massale planting and has become the way all Ponzi Pinot Noir blocks are planted.

Something enduring:

Ponzi Vineyards has always maintained an unwavering commitment to sustainability. Since its founding, responsible winery and vineyard practices have ensured that the soils, streams and the surrounding ecosystem are preserved. Both the winery and the 130 acres of Ponzi vineyards are LIVE Certified Sustainable.

The future:

President Maria Ponzi is a key player in positioning the Willamette Valley as a top travel and wine touring designation. As a result of her abiding efforts, along with others in the state, Ponzi Vineyards expects the region to become even more competitive on the world stage, celebrated for its production of high quality wines.

2012 Ponzi Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

13.3% alc., pH 3.68, TA 0.57, 8,000 cases, $40, screwcap. This wine is considered a benchmark Oregon Pinot Noir. It is a blend of certified sustainable fruit from some of the oldest and finest vineyards in the Willamette Valley, including Ponzi’s Madrona and Aurora vineyards, as well as Avellana Vineyard, which is planted entirely by clonal massale. Aged for 11 months in 100% French oak barrels, 35% new. · Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. Enticing mix of black cherry, Asian 5-spice and smoky oak aromas. Like the nose, the wine offers an inviting marriage of black cherry and marionberry fruit with spicy oak. Forward drinking, with balanced tannins and some finishing power. Score: 89


Address: 30835 N Hwy 99W, Newberg, OR 97132
Website: www.REXHILL.com
Phone: 503-538-0666
Winemaker: Michael Davies
First vintage: 1983
Distribution: 51 states

Something new:

In May 2014, REX HILL’s parent company, A to Z Wineworks, became the only certified B Corp winery in the world. This third party certification program rigorously assesses and authenticates environmental, social, and employee practices. Being a B Corp reflects A to Z and REX HILL’s commitment not only to be the best winery but to be the best business as a force for good. Reducing and refining REX HILL is a good example of the drive for excellence rather than only economic gain. Already a LIVE certified winery, A to Z Wineworks/REX HILL was honored as the #4 Top Small Business Workplace in Oregon, given a special leadership award, and honored as one of the top ten most admired agricultural businesses in Oregon in 2014.

Something enduring:

REX HILL is committed to excellence in everything from winemaking to farming to business practices to developing staff to supporting the community.

The future:

The winery’s viticulturists continue to develop detailed fruit analysis of Pinot Noir by measuring total anthocyanins, polymeric anthocyanins, tannins, catechins and water content along with all the other usual juice chemistry components. Also, the viticulturists are looking into modifying the existing VSP trellis system to reduce the labor necessary to canopy management by possibly installing cross arms on the posts with fixed catch wires. Canopy management is the biggest cost in VSP training systems. The cost of installation, the fruit zone architecture and the labor required for this system will be assessed. Finally, there is a new organic herbicide on the market that will be undergoing trials to see if tractor passes for vine weed control can be reduced.

2012 REX HILL Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

14.0% alc., pH 3.48, TA 0.62, 9,518 cases, $35. A blend of sustainably grown grapes from every AVA in the Willamette Valley. Only the very best are selected from the winery’s 75 Oregon A to Z contracted vineyards. Aged 14 months in French oak barrels, 28% new. · Moderately dark reddish purple color in the glass. A richly fruited offering with plenty of black cherry and dark berry goodness. Fruit-driven and slightly sweet, with balanced tannins, a compliment of oak, and some finishing intensity. More fruity than complex, this wine is a good one to drink without contemplation. Score: 88

Sokol Blosser Winery

Address: 5000 Sokol Blosser Lane, Dayton, OR 97114
Website: www.sokolblosser.com
Phone: 503-864-8932
Winemaker: Alex Sokol Blosser
First vintage: 1977
Distribution: 49 states

Something new:

In 1971, the Sokol Blosser family planted wine grapes on just 5 acres in the Dundee Hills. The winery is family owned and operated with the second generation now at the helm: siblings Alex and Alison Sokol Blosser (photo below). The estate has grown to more than 86 certified organic acres farmed. Recently, Alex Sokol Blosser became the winemaker, and Alison assumed the title and role of CEO. In 1978, Sokol Blosser opened the first purpose-built tasting room in Oregon and in 2013, Sokol Blosser opened a new tasting room designed to be a designation where people can enjoy wine through customized experiences. The new tasting room offers food, table side service in the summers and customized group experiences, besides the traditional tasting around the bar.

Something enduring:

Before it was popular, the winery did everything it could to give back to the land since the Sokol Blosser family was aware of the impact that farming and wine production has on the environment.

The future:

As of spring 2015, Sokol Blosser is now managing all its sales and marketing in-house. The winemaking team is also focusing its Pinot Noir program under the Sokol Blosser label so that starting with the 2013 vintage, all Sokol Blosser Pinot Noir wines will be 100% estate and will continue to be made from organic grapes. In the summer of 2015, Sokol Blosser will release a new Pinot Noir under its popular Evolution label besides refreshing the design of the full line’s labels.

2012 Sokol Blosser Dundee Hills Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., pH 3.70, TA 0.52, 7,600 cases, $38. The winery’s flagship wine made from organic grapes. It is distributed around the world. Aged 16 months in 100% French oak barrels, 40% new. · Moderately light reddish purple color in the glass. An oak-dominated nose leads to a mid weight core of juicy black cherry fruit that lacks some Pinot character because of a strong tug of tobacco-laced oak. The wine finishes with some delicate fruit, somewhat vigorous tannins, and a hint of alcoholic warmth. Score: 87

St. Innocent Winery

Address: 5657 Zena Road NW, Salem, OR 97304
Website: www.stinnocentwine.com
Phone: 503-932-2129
Winemaker: Mark Vlossak
First vintage: 1988
Distribution: 30

Something new:

Phylloxera in Oregon has created an opportunity to implement vastly improved methods of planting a vineyard. Innovations in trellising, spacing, rootstock, clones and vine management create much higher quality grapes for winemakers. Most of the winery’s six Pinot Noir sites have been replanted and the results have shown the efforts to be worthwhile. In the winery, more indigenous fermentations are being used with the goal of further revealing the nuances of the terroirs.

Something enduring:

Mark Vlossak’s raison d’etre is to produce wines that reflect their terroir, the specific qualities of the vintage, and to complement and extend the pleasure of food.

The future:

It is long accepted that older vines in Burgundy produce the best wines. However, there are almost no grapevines in Oregon of similar age. With phylloxera, many of the older vineyards have died and been replanted. The upside is that we are much smarter now about how to plant vineyards. As vine age in Oregon increases, the overall quality of Oregon Pinot Noir will increase.

2012 St. Innocent Winery Freedom Hill Vineyard Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., pH 3.71, 948 cases, $42. This vineyard is planted in ancient marine sediment. Located very far west at the base of the Coast Range of mountains, it is warmer in the day and more quickly cooled in the evening than most Oregon sites. The resulting wine is said to have dense minerality, well-developed tannins and good acidity. The original vines died of phylloxera in 2003 and were replanted. The new plantings produce more balanced fruit that is less prone to disease. Aged 16 months in French oak barrels, 28% new. · Moderately dark reddish purple color in the glass. Welcoming aromas of black cherry and sousbois. A discreetly concentrated core of fresh black cherry fruit is embellished with notes of iron, earth and blackberry. The entry demands attention, as does the finish that exhibits uncommon length. Plush and dreamy on the palate, this young wine has a rigorous backbone of fine-grain tannin that should be matched with a good steak if you drink it now. Score: 90

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