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Jim Bernau founded Willamette Valley Vineyards in 1983, planting Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay in the heart of the Willamette Valley in Turner, Oregon. He cleared the blackberry vines and remnants of a plum orchard himself and remembers watering the fledgling vines with a garden hose by hand. Initially he sold his grapes to Dick Erath. The winery quickly grew into Oregon’s leading producer of wines selling at $15 and above only three years after its first release of Pinot Noir.
Today, Willamette Valley Vineyards is the third largest Oregon Winery by brand and production releasing an estimated 111,700 cases of wine each year. About half of the production is Pinot Noir. The winery now has over 4,500 owners, a result of the nation’s first successful self underwritten public offering (1989, Nasdaq WVVI). Jim Bernau was named Purveyor of the Year in 2007 by the Oregon Restaurant Association for his tireless lobbying for the Oregon hospitality industry.
The Estate Vineyard consists of 50 acres planted to Pommard and Wädenswil clones. The winery and underground cellar are carved into the top of an ancient volcanic flow. In 1997, Willamette Valley Vineyards acquired Tualatin Estate, near Forest Grove and plantings there have been increased using new rootstocks and Dijon clones of Pinot Noir. Both the Estate and Tualatin Vineyards are certified LIVE and Salmon Safe.
The winemaker was Forrest Klaffke, who was brought in from California by former winemaker Dean Cox. Forrest was promoted to winemaker several years later after Joe Dobbes, the winemaker who followed Cox, started his own Oregon winery in late 2001. Forrest worked in wineries for over 28 years. He spent a considerable amount of time attending to every detail in the vineyards. Forrest Klaffke passed away in late 2011 from complications of throat cancer. In 2015, Christine Collier is the director of winemaking and leads the vineyard operations.
Vineyard Manager Efren Loeza began his career at Tualatin in 1979 at 17 years of age and has worked in the vineyard and in the cellar there ever since. Efren lives on the estate in the farmhouse built by the original owners of the property. He now has nearly 300 acres under his supervision.
This is an innovative and progressive winery. In 2005, they were the first winery to include resveratrol levels on their wine labels. More recently, they became the first winery to use cork stoppers harvested from forest lands certified by the Rainforest Alliance to Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). The company has launched a cork recycling initiative with Amorim and also recycles used bottles. In the past the winery made its own fuel and now use bio-fuel from a potato chip plant.
Sustainable practices: Salmon-Safe (Jim Bernau has won "Hero of Salmon" award), 10 Cent Recycling Fund (10 cents for each bottle returned to tasting room ), FSC Certified Cork (first winery in the world to use cork certified through the Rainforest Alliance to Forest Stewardship Council standards), Cork Recycyling Program, Biodiesel Fuel Program, and Carbon Neutral (solar energy, green energy).
Willamette Valley Vineyards was named "Winery of the Year" in 2011 by Wine & Spirits magazine.
Veteran Oregon winemaker Bill Fuller, who co-founded Tualatin Vineyards west of Forest Grove in 1973 and operated his highly successful winery for 26 years, came out of retirement in 2012 to partner with Jim Bernau to produced limited bottlings of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from selected blocks in the 40-year-old Tualatin Estate Vineyard. The wine is called Willamette Valley Vineyards Vintage 40 PInot Noir and Willamette Valley Vineyards Vintage 40 Chardonnay.
Several Pinot Noirs are offered with the Willamette Valley AVA blend a consistent performer. Total production is almost 69,000 cases of Pinot Noir in 2014 spread among 18 different bottlings. A Whole Cluster Pinot Noir accounts for more than 40 percent of the total.
Willamette Valley Vineyards address is 8800 Enchanted Way SE, Turner. The phone is 503-588-9463. The wines are widely distributed on the United States and sold on the winery’s website. A tasting room is open from 11-6 daily. Tours are by appointment.
In September 2015, Willamette Valley Vineyards broke ground on a new winery in the Eola Hills of West Salem on the 50-acre Elton Vineyard. Willamette Valley Vineyards has contract-managed the family-owned Elton property since 2007 for owners Dick and Betty O'Brien. The O'Briens have willed the vineyard to Willamette Valley Vineyards with proceeds going to support viticulture and winemaking programs at Oregon State University and Chemeketa Community College. New plantings will soon total 230 acres of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
2014 Willamette Valley Vineyards Willamette Valley Pinot Gris
13.9% alc., $16. Colmar clone planted in Jory and Missoula Flood soils. Harvest Brix 22.6º-24.7º. Cluster-thinned vines, whole cluster pressed, fermented cold in stainless steel on the primary lees with stirring twice a month. · Pale pink color in the glass. Aromas of cut apple, peach and yeast lead to a moderately rich palate of apple and pineapple fruits. Slightly creamy, with good balance, and some finishing fruit. A solid food wine. Score: 89. Reviewed July 13, 2015 ARTICLE »
2013 Willamette Valley Vineyards 40 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
13.0% alc., 175 cases, $45. A wine crafted by iconic Oregon winemaker Bill Fuller who returned to winemaking to celebrate his 40th vintage. Harvest Brix 22.0º. Pommard clone. Aged 14 months in 30% new French oak barrels. · Moderately light cherry red color in the glass. A crisp and vibrant wine that offers appealing aromas of cherry, cranberry relish and vanilla, and a complex flavor profile including cherry and cranberry fruits, spice, blood orange and oak vanillin. The refined tannins and good cut on the finish make for refreshingly pleasurable drinking. Score: 91. Reviewed December 12, 2015 ARTICLE »
2012 Willamette Valley Vineyards Whole Cluster Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
13.7$ alc., $22. Produced from fermented uncrushed grape clusters (carbonic maceration) and aged in stainless steel. Harvest Brix 21.3º-25.6. Clones 114, 115, 667, 777, Pommard and Wädenswil planted in Jory, Laurelwood and Missoula Flood sediment. · Light cherry red color in the glass. Aromas of black cherry, spice, dark rose petal and oak. Light, slightly confected flavors of cherry and raspberry, with a floral note. Forward drinking, with supple tannins. Good depth and ripeness with some finish. Chill this wine slightly for pleasurable summer drinking. Score: 88. Reviewed July 13, 2015 ARTICLE »
2012 Willamette Valley Vineyards Estate Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
14.2% alc., 15,400 cases, $30. Sourced from three estate vineyards (Estate original winery plantings, Tualatin Vineyard, and Elton Vineyard) planted in iron-rich volcanic soils. Certified sustainable-LIVE and Salmon Safe. Harvest Brix 21º-24.5º. Clones 113, 114, 667, 777, Pommard and Wädenswil. Aged 10 months in 10% new French oak barrels. · Moderately light reddish purple color in the glass. Aromas of cherry pie glaze, seasoned oak and mulch. Light in weight, with somewhat shallow cherry and red berry flavors framed by modest dry tannins. Lacks initiative on the attack and finish. Score: 87. Reviewed July 13, 2015 ARTICLE »
2012 Willamette Valley Vineyards Bernau Block Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
13.9% alc., 2,000 cases, $55. Harvest Brix 23.0º-24.5º. Sourced from 15 acres of original plantings. Clones 667, 777 and Pommard planted in Nekia volcanic soil. Aged 10 months in 35% new French oak barrels. · Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. Shy, but pleasant aromas of fresh cherries and dark red berries. Vibrant on the palate, with sheer beauty of flavor, featuring perfectly ripened dark red fruits backed by integrated tannins. This special wine has a seductively smooth texture, impeccable balance, and finishes with uncommon length that resonates for a minute. Score: 93. Reviewed July 13, 2015 ARTICLE »
2008 Willamette Valley Vineyards Elton Eola-Amity Hills Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
13.0% alc., 415 cases. From a 60-acre vineyard containing clones 114, 115, Pommard and Wädenswil planted in Jory soil. Aged 14 months in 62% new French oak barrels. An Oregon Certified Sustainable Wine. · Aromas of red berries including strawberries with strong notes of dried oak, straw and mint. Red-fruited and austere at present with a spark of acidity on the hi-tone finish. Soft and elegant. Very good. Reviewed September 8, 2010 ARTICLE »
2008 Willamette Valley Vineyards Fuller Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., 25 cases. From the Tualatin Estate which was first planted by Bill Fuller in 1973. This wine is a tribute to him. Clones are 114, 115 and Wädenswil planted in Laurelwood soil. Aged 15 months in 50% new French oak barrels. · Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. Shy but pleasing aromas of berry compote, currants, raisins and supporting oak. Impressive core of juicy darker berry fruits framed by bright acidity and wrapped in soft fruit tannins. Discreetly proportioned in body and weight with deft use of oak. Flat out terrific four days later from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. A very special collectable wine that will reward the patient. Reviewed September 8, 2010 ARTICLE »
2008 Willamette Valley Vineyards South Block Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., 100 cases. Sourced from the first 15 acres planted by founder Jim Bernau in 1983. The vines are self-rooted and organically farmed. Clones 667, 777, Pommard and Wädenswil clones in Jory soil. Aged 15 months in 47% new French oak barrels. An Oregon Certified Sustainable Wine. · Very slightly corked. Shy cherry and berry fruit aromas with highlights of oak and underbrush. Tasty cherry, cranberry and pomegranate fruits framed by bright acidity evident on the citrus peel-toned finish. Closed and tight but showing promise and will undoubtedly deserve a higher rating in the future. A very slightly faulted wine but still Good. Reviewed September 8, 2010 ARTICLE »
2007 Willamette Valley Vineyards Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
13.0% alc., $25. Composed of Dijon 113, 114, 115, 667, 777, Pommard and Wädenswil. Jory and Laurelwood soils. Aged in 20% new Allier forest French oak. · Mixed dark red berries and dried cherries supported by oak and grassy herbs with a little bent of forest floor. Very appealing silkiness in the mouth with gossamer tannins. Shows the herbal side of Pinot Noir Reviewed March 26, 2009 ARTICLE »
2006 Willamette Valley Vineyards Oregon Riesling
11.5% alc., 21,000 cases, $12. Stainless steel fermented. · Again, some Alsatian influence with petrol in the nose along with pineapple scents. Light and tangy, with lively acid. A skosh sweet with a long finish. Perfectly fine. Reviewed January 30, 2008 ARTICLE »
2006 Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Gris
13.5% alc., 21,000 cases, $15. 7% Pinot Blanc, 1% Auxerrois, 1% Muscat. Stainless steel fermented. · An Alsatian-styled Pinot Gris reminiscent of a fine Tokay Pinot Gris. A rich and potent nose of tropical fruits including banana and pears. Tropical flavors follow in step with attractive minerality and excellent acidity. Quite good. Reviewed January 30, 2008 ARTICLE »
2006 Willamette Valley Vineyards Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., 25,127 cases, $25. Aged in 20 Allier Forest oak. The clonal mix is Dijon 113, 114, 115, 667, 777, Pommard and Wädenswil. · Appealing scents of confected red cherries, sen-sen, graham and faint oak. Tasteful cherry attack on the palate with a touch of spice, marzipan and raisin. Fairly light in weight, clean and silky, with a tangy finish. Plenty good for the price and a perfect daily drinker. Reviewed September 15, 2008 ARTICLE »
2006 Willamette Valley Vineyards Estate Vineyard Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., 2,534 cases, $40. Clones are 667, 777 (both grafted in 1993), Pommard and Wädenswil. The vineyard, which was originally planted in 1983, has 50 acres of vines on Nekia and Jory soils that are well drained. Aged in 35% new oak. · Dark cherries, dried herbs and char lead the aromatic charge. A healthy core of black cherry and black raspberry fruit with a sidecar of savory herbs and oak char. Soft and bright in the mouth with a refreshingly clean finish. Reviewed September 15, 2008 ARTICLE »
2006 Willamette Valley Vineyards Tualatin Estate Vineyard Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., 402 cases, $40. Tualatin Estate Vineyard is one of the oldest vineyard sites in Oregon · This is a fascinating wine. The nose offers aromas of cherries, grass and herbs, primarily sage. Deep, dark, earthy and plush in the mouth, with a panoply of dark stone fruits and a hint of game and smoke. Plenty of stuffing here but not overwrought and retaining lively acidity at the end. The tannins are evident (the most tannic wine of the lineup), but are soft and add needed backbone. This wine would match beautifully with hearty dishes such as lamb, venison and a well-grilled steak. Reviewed September 15, 2008 ARTICLE »
2006 Willamette Valley Vineyards Signature Cuvee Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., 321 cases, $50. Clonal mix is 114, 115, 777, Pommard and Wädenswil. Aged in 40% new oak. A limited bottling produced only in the finest vintages from the finest barrel lots of vineyard-designated Pinot Noir. · This wine is all about black cherries pure and simple although some strawberry and herbal flavors chime in as well. A very high-class wine with admirable elegance, gossamer tannins and striking persistence on the finish. Smooth as a baby's bottom. Reviewed September 15, 2008 ARTICLE »
2005 Willamette Valley Vineyards Oregon Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., 16,731 cases, $25. Fermented in 10 ton stainless steel fermenters (the winery has more than 100 of them!), aged in 20% new French oak. Multiple clones including Dijon 113, 114, 115, 667 and 777, Pommard and Wädenswil. Aged 11 months in 20% new oak. · A lighter style of Pinot Noir loyal to its varietal character. Scents of red cherries and toasted nuts with a hint of oak are followed by simple but satisfying cherry flavors which lead to a soft landing at the finish. Nicely balanced. Not extraordinary, but perfectly fine at the dinner table. Remarkable quality for a wine produced in such large quantity. Reviewed January 30, 2008 ARTICLE »
2005 Willamette Valley Vineyards Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir
14.0% alc., 1,958 cases, $40. This wine is composed of the finest barrel lots from Estate vineyards. Dijon 667, 777, Pommard and Wädenswil clones. Fermented in stainless steel and aged in 35% new French oak. · This wine is dominated by oak as many reserve type bottlings are. The tart cherry fruit is embellished by plenty of earth and mineral notes. The texture is soft and pleasing but the finish retains some astringency. Tasted twice. Reviewed January 30, 2008 ARTICLE »