My recent Taste Washington experience taught me that while I may know a bit about the wineries here in the Northwest, there are so many wineries I've never heard of and that I still have a lot to learn.
When I looked for a Willamette Valley winery that I was unfamiliar with, I was excited to read about Anderson Family Vineyards.
I called Cliff Anderson and told him that Gwynne and I would be traveling down to Newberg, Oregon to stay at the new destination resort The Allison Inn & Spa. Cliff was eager to talk and even on the phone I could tell this was going to be a great visit. He was very excited about what he and his wife were doing with the vineyards. Anderson Family was just on the other side of the valley from the Inn's location and was a perfect fit for us based on our schedule.
Anderson Family Vineyards is in a beautiful setting atop a pretty steep hill. The view from the Anderson Valley facility was spectacular - a nearly 360º view out over the valley, looking at Chehalem Mountain. From their property, we could take in all of the valley as well as the Dundee Hills. Cliff and Allison invited us in to their tasting room, which also held steel tanks with the 2008 Pinot nearly ready to be bottled. Allison poured us some 2009 Pinot Gris, and the Andersons started to give us the rundown of the operation.
Cliff started making wine in high school, and they both got into wine simply because they enjoyed growing things as a hobby. They planted their first vineyard in 1978, with the 108 Chardonnay clone out of California, a practice common to early Willamette Valley viticulture. In their first go-round, the Andersons grew nearly everything from Cabernet to Pinot, from Gewurtztraminer to Syrah, all in Oregon. Time, trial and error, and the collaboration of the other area viticulturists helped them determine what grows best in the Willamette Valley.
After a two and a half year search for land that was not only suitable, but had a view equivalent to the one they would be leaving, the site the Andersons chose is not only beautiful, it's effective. They planted twenty acres on one of the steepest vineyards in the state of Oregon; the grade in some places is 40%. They largely planted Pinot Noir with a good bit of Chardonnay worked in there. The Andersons sell much of their fruit to renowned Oregon winemakers Bergstrom and Boedecker to name a few.
This brings us back to that glass of Pinot Gris we started with, which was an accident, in the most literal sense. When the Andersons lost a few rows of Chardonnay vines, they needed some vines to fill in the holes, and picked up some young plantings. Three years later, what they had thought to be Chardonney vines turned out to be Pinot Gris.
The 2006 Chardonnay really surprised me. It was really incredible. When I go to Oregon, I look forward to digging into Pinot Noir, and that's what I expect to stand out at each place. At Anderson Family Vineyard, this Chardonnay stood out for me. The Chardonnay is fermented partially in the barrel and partially in steel tanks and the oak worked very well with the spice and herbal notes. It was complex and very smooth.
After the Chardonnay, we moved on to their Pinot Noir. Anderson Family grows a variety of Pinot Noir clones, including 115, 667, 777, Wadenswil and Pommard. Their Pinot is a combination of all of these grapes. Though the 2006 Pinot is, of course, a fine example of this darling vintage, Cliff was really excited about his 2007, a vintage he feels has not gotten its due. While the 2007 was largely panned by critics, the winemakers call it a favorite. Cliff suspects the 2007s were reviewed before they were ready and they're just now coming into their own. We also got a shot at the 2008 Pinot which was hanging out in a steel tank getting ready to go into the bottle. The 2008 was young, but you could already get a sense that this wine is going to be impressive.
As Cliff and Allison took us through the barrel room, we listened to the 2009 Pinot going through secondary fermentation and the Chardonnay bubbling through primary fermentation. Cliff explained the secret behind the success of Anderson Family's excellent wines is patience: "We're not in a hurry."
Cliff and Allison are fortunate to be in a position where they aren't rushing the next vintage out to market. Most of their estate fruit is sold to other well regarded Willamette Valley vintners. When they select fruit for their own label, they're looking to reflect the patience they've shown with their vineyard, as well as with the wine making process. They keep barrels for a long time, and they keep the wine in the barrel as long as they can. "We've been slow and deliberate about our entire process, vintage to vintage and with this entire operation." The Andersons keep everything small and they made 1500 cases of wine in 2009.
Anderson Family Vineyards is a reflection of the unique terroir and their incredible dedication to their fruit. They have been painstakingly deliberate about their site, clone selection, and the process that their wine goes through. Not only is a patience a virtue, in this case it makes an excellent Pinot Noir in the Dundee Hills, and hands down one of the best Chardonnays I've ever had.