Willamette Pinot Noir Auction Seminar - A Unique View into the Valley

When I think of Pinot, Willamette Valley comes to mind only a step behind Burgundy. To be fair, I am biased – Oregon was my first trip without my parents as a teenager. I spent a year in school in Oregon as well, at Willamette University, across from the Capitol Building. But there is another basic bias, I have been to Oregon. From the serene beauty of Crater Lake, to the quaint towns of the Oregon coast, and the majesty of the mountains – it is easy to fall in love. The valley itself, nestled between the foggy, dreamy Pacific Coast and the power of the Cascade Range, allows for a cool, dry growing season so well suited to the Pinot Noir grape. 

The history of Oregon Pinot, from the early days of David Lett and Dick Erath in the 1960s, to the 500 wineries of today, was one of community. When asked at the seminar “What does Willamette Valley stand for?” Eugenia Keegan quickly replied: “Quality and Collaboration”. And the latter brings us to the Auction itself, now in its fourth year, it represents the winemakers of the valley coming together to showcase their region. Small lots of 5, 10 and 20 cases by 86 producers will be offered, including six unique lots of Chardonnay, made by previous and current auction chairs, often in collaboration (the 2016 poured at the seminar was made as a collaboration between Bergström and Adelsheim wineries). Scheduled for April 5-6th, it will bring trade professionals to Oregon, allowing them to experience the Valley for themselves. 

We tastes six Pinot Noir wine at the seminar, as well as a lovely and fresh Rosé, from Big Table Farms and an Auction Collaboration Chardonnay. The Pinot Noirs spanned the last six vintages, from 2011 to 2016, and allowed us a peek into the evolution of the wines in the bottle, as well as the specific terroir and winemaking styles represented. I was most taken by the 2013 Soléna Estate Zena Crown Vineyard and the 2012 Penner-Ash Wine Cellars Hyland Vineyard Pinots. Both showed the structure and masculine nature I often see in Oregon Pinot Noirs, with juicy red berry dominating. The Penner-Ash clearly darker, riper, showcasing the rich vintage, with a core of deep plum fruit on the back palate and a rich, spicy finish. It handles the oak beautifully, adding a layer of velvet onto the dusty and brash fruit. The Soléna, on the other hand, is a lighter, more perfumed wine, opening with violets and sour cherry tones, leading to a bright, fresh mid palate of cranberry and tart red cherry. The vintage shows itself here as well, with the beautiful fresh acidity and the higher, more nervous structure. I really loved the raspberry notes on the long finish. 

Of the younger wines, I must mention the 2015 Drouhin Oregon Roserock “Auction Cuvee” Pinot Noir. While still quite primary, it showed a unique dry cherry and dry cranberry on the nose, with a core of black cherry fruit and savory herb on the palate. This is still painfully young, and in need of age, but the sweet cherry finish makes the sacrifice worthwhile. I would love to see this wine after a decade in the cellar. I must also say a few words about the Chardonnay, a grape that, after a slow start, is quickly gaining ground in Oregon. The 2016 “The Pioneer and the Punk” Chardonnay, a joint venture of Josh Bergström and Dave Paige, was a treat. Still youthful, with a hint of vanilla over the bright citrus of the nose, the wine opens to reveal a bright palate of dry pineapple, mango and a touch of tart lemon curd. The mineral notes and the brighter lemon zest are hiding underneath, waiting their turn, but give them a few years and this wine will really begin to sing. 

I would like to thank both Shirley Brooks and Eugenia Keegan for their insightful and education seminar, and to Jarvis Communications for the invitation 

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