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Lenné Estate: Nose for Pinot Noir

Lenné Estate was off my radar until recently when Steve Lutz sent me an e-mail proclaiming that his site “produces one of the best American Pinot Noirs you have never heard of.” Steve along with his wife Karen are partners with eleven other investors in HLC Wines LLC, formed in 2002 to develop a wine brand from the 20.9- acre vineyard near the town of Yamhill, Oregon, owned by Steve and Karen Lutz. The first two vintages of Pinot Noir from the estate were released under the LeNez label, and in 2006, the Lenné Estate label was added. All the wines under the Lenné Estate label represent the best barrels from the vineyard in each vintage.

Lenné sounds French but the truth is the name is derived from Steve’s father-in-law, Len, who raised his family, including Steve’s spouse Karen, on a chicken farm west of London, England. Len passed away in 1999, but he contributed part of the down payment on Lenné so it seemed only natural to honor him.

The Lenné Estate Vineyard is located in the Yamhill-Carlton District on low vigor sedimentary and volcanic soils. The neighborhood is flush with famous names like WillaKenzie Estate, Deux Vert Vineyard, Shea Wine Cellars & Vineyard, Solena Cellars, Soter Vineyards and Beaux Freres. In 2001, Steve Lutz and another partner in HLC Wines, Scott Huffman, worked together at Anne Amie and first laid out the vineyard and planted the first 10 acres of Pinot Noir (clones 115, 777 and Pommard). The two had searched for the perfect site since 1999. Vine spacing was 7’ x 3’ and the vineyard was dry-farmed from the start. The steepness of the site was among several challenges met with and nearly 35% of the vines were lost the first year. In 2003 an additional 2.5-acre block of Pommard was planted but succumbed to the record heat that year and most vines were lost. In 2004-2005 the block was replanted along with an additional 2.5-acre block of Dijon 114 and 667. In 2006 the first wine, the 2004 LeNez Pinot Noir, was released.

I tasted two vintages from Lenné Estate and they clearly reflect the vintage variability that is quite visible in Oregon Pinot Noirs in 2006 and 2007. The 2006 Pinot Noirs displayed a terrifically rich mid palate but for my taste the fruit was too ripe, reflecting the very warm growing season. The wines displayed raisin and port flavors but did not cross the line to prune. The 2007 wines were distinctly more classic Pinot Noir with more elegance, restraint and acidity and were among the best I have sampled from Oregon in 2007. Both vintages were well crafted and harmonious: 2007 was more Pinot, 2006 was more Noir. It really comes down to personal taste. Steve told me that he has found that 90% of consumers clearly prefer the 2006 vintage wines over the 2007 wines. The 2007 vintage was a challenge and Steve told me, “The best decision I ever made was to let the grapes hang in 2007. We all knew the rain was coming and many people were panic picking. I was sitting at 23.5º to 24º Brix and really had to think hard. Fortunately, David O’Reilly told me not to panic, informing me that my site would ride the rain out just fine and recommending waiting in the name of flavor development. He was right. I didn’t panic and we picked at the same sugar levels but with much greater flavor after two weeks of showers. Steep, windy and warm sites seemed to do the best in 2007.”

The Lenné Estate Pinot Noirs are sold through a mailing list and are also available on the website at www.lenneestate.com. The tasting room at 18760 NE Laughlin Road in Yamhill is open from 12:00 to 5:00 weekends or by appointment (503-956-2256). Wines from Lenné’s consulting winemaker, David O’Reilly (Owen Roe) are also poured. Currently there is an investment opportunity at Lenné Estate allowing the investor-partner to enjoy the property and become closely involved in brand development (contact Steve at steve@lenneestate.com). Besides the wines tasted below, there is a Lenné Estate Jills 115 Pinot Noir consisting of the two best barrels of 115 clone ($68).

2007 LeNez Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

14.0% alc., $30. The “infant wine of Lenné Estate.” Contains each of the five clones of Pinot Noir grown on the Estate Vineyard. · Very appealing cherry, spice and herbs which expand with time in the glass. Mid-bodied raspberry, cherry and currant fruit flavors that are fresh and vibrant with fine-grain tannins. A touch of heat surfaces at the end. Upfront and enjoyable.

2007 Lenné Estate Yamhill-Carlton District Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

14.0% alc., $45. · Noticeably lighter in color than the 2006 version of this wine. A selection of the best barrels in the cellar. Lovely scents of cherries, spice, violets and spicy oak. Succulent dark stone fruits fan out nicely on the palate enhanced by notes of cola, Asian spice, savory herbs and forest floor. Silky textured and perfectly balanced. This wine shows more terroir than the LeNez bottling from the same vineyard. One of the best 2007 Pinot Noirs from Oregon I have tasted this year.

2006 Lenné Estate Yamhill-Carlton District Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

14.6% alc., $45 (sold out). · Very dark reddish-purple in color. Complex aromas of black raspberries, roasted plums, cedar and a feral note. Very ripe fruit flavors of dark berries and raisins which do not cross the line to prune. Hints of root beer and cola add appeal. Well-crafted and harmonious with a silky presence and vibrant acidity on the persistent finish.

2006 Lenné Estate Karen’s Pommard Yamhill-Carlton District Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

14.6% alc., 49 cases, $68. Two barrels from the best block in the vineyard. · Brooding deep dark fruit jam with a hint of porto and oak on the heavy nose. Big-boned and rich with ultra ripe dark fruit flavors accented by root beer and cream soda. The tannins are toothsome predicting age ability. Similar to the Estate bottling but with all do respect to Karen, more cajones.

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