In its classic Burgundian form, pinot noir epitomizes so much that wine lovers prize. It is a grape capable of grace, finesse and complexity, yet powerful enough to age for decades, with an unsurpassed ability among reds to express the intricate nuances of a particular place. Many other wine regions around the world have staked their claims as suitable homes for pinot noir. Not all have been consistently successful, but the Willamette Valley of Oregon, in its roughly 50-year history as a wine region, has proved to be one of the best.
In the 1970s, more out-of-state winemakers migrated to the state and started to organize as an industry in the Willamette Valley, a region long thought too cold to be suitable for viticulture. The state’s land use laws had prevented rural hillsides from being turned into housing tracts, preserving a significant amount of land suitable for vineyards. In 1979, The Eyrie Vineyards entered a 1975 Pinot noir in the Wine Olympics ( a competition in Burgundy, less publicized than the famed Paris Tasting that put Napa on the map); the wine was rated number 2 among the top Pinots in the world, thus gaining the region its first international recognition
Oregon Pinot producers today tend to feel a bigger rivalry with California than they do Burgundy. Of course, back when Pinot was first planted in Oregon four decades ago, there weren’t many California Pinots around (and few of them were very good). When it came to Pinot, there was pretty much only France, which, ironically, gave Oregon Pinot Noir its first bit of fame.
Oregon Pinots are ear-marked by delicate and subtle fruit with a firm acid backbone. Most Oregon producers tend to shy away from using too much new oak, as it has a tendency to mask the fruit. Unlike California Pinot’s which often run the risk of getting ‘over-ripe’, resulting in a very ‘un-pinot’ like wine, the Willamette Valley’s long cool growing season allows Pinots to become fully mature. Most Oregon producers strive to make wines that are neither a reference to Burgundy nor a challenge to California, but are a true expression of Pinot Noir and the Oregon terrior.
Our Oregon Pinot Picks:
In a warm year such at 2014, Shea demonstrates rich red and blackberry fruit, and the presence of both acidity and tannin makes this wine suitable for long-term ageing.
Homer displays all the best of the vintage: a nose with blue and black fruit and floral aromas, complimented by a rich palate of black fruit with spice and savory notes. The wine is structured, complex and balanced with well-integrated tannins.