Taste of Terroir: 2008 Oregon Pinot Noir (2 of 2)

Part 1 of our most recent Taste of Terroir began in the Northern AVAs of the Willamette Valley, examining 2008 Pinot Noir from Oregon's Chehalem Mountains AVA and Ribbon Ridge. We also covered a little bit about the 2008 growing season in the Willamette Valley. You can read all that here.
But time waits for no man, and so we must continue our journey South through the Willamette Valley and onto the Yahmill-Carlton District.

Yamhill-Carlton District
The Yamill-Carlton District was designated an AVA in 2004. Its vineyards are predominantly planted on the south-facing slopes of the ridges that surround the district in what resembles a horseshoe pattern. In order for a vineyard to fall within the Yamhill-Carlton District AVA, not only must it be within the proper geographic location, but it must also be between 200 and 1,000 feet of elevation. The soil types are comprised mostly of marine sedimentary soils (Willakenzie), as well as some of the volcanic soils known as Jory. Yamhill-Carlton has some of the oldest soils in all the Willamette Valley.

Our Yamhill-Carlton wine came from Luminous Hills. It was not a winery I knew much about, but it’s a sustainably farmed and LIVE certified winery and a part of the Seven of Hearts winery. Byron Dooley is the owner and winemaker of both labels. The particular Pinot clones for this wine were 115, 667 and Pommard. The 2008 Estate Yamhill-Carlton Pinot Noir had one of the most, if not the most, beautiful aromatics of the wines we had that evening. In fact, the nose of the wine was a dead ringer for a 2004 Chambolle-Musigny, by Jacques Fredrique Mugnier, which I had recently had the good fortune to taste. The aromatics, beautiful and Burgundian, gave way to a palate that many of us experienced as a more steely minerality and spice than fruit or earthen characteristics. This wine retails for $28 and is a very small production at only 142 cases. (I should also note that I sadly poured some of this wine all over one of the guests. Sorry, Michelle.)

Dundee Hills
The Dundee Hills are probably the wheelhouse for visitors experiencing Willamette Valley. They’re located, right down the middle of the corridor and encompass some of the biggest names in all the Valley: Erath, Sokol Blosser, Argyle and Ponzi. When people think of Willamette Valley, whether they know it or not, they often think of Dundee Hills. The Dundee Hills is made up entirely of the Jory volcanic soil type and it's rich in both iron and a red hue that are a signature of the Dundee Hills. The AVA was designated in 2004 and it has 1,300 planted acres. The Dundee Hills are often thought to be a bit more protected weather wise than some of the surrounding areas, so a bit drier and warmer may certainly help in such a cool climate.

The Dundee Hills wine we had was the 2008 Stoller Vineyards, JV Estate Pinot Noir, which was also the third wine of the night (of four total) that sported a screwcap The JV Estate, or Jeunes Vignes, is a showcase of the vineyard’s newest vines. The wine is made to be drinkable and approachable right away, and folks found it to be just that. The Stoller 2008 Pinot Noir was a rounded wine with pleasing aromatics; some of the oak character coming through in sweet spice notes. The wine provided plenty of red berries and a bit of oak on the palate. A couple of our guests described an almost effervescence. This was a very comfortable Pinot Noir for our guests and made it the most popular among many of them. The wine retails at $25

McMinnville AVA
The McMinnville AVA was designated in 2005 after a successful petition by Kevin Byrd of Youngberg Hill Vineyards. The AVA lies within the rain shadow created by Oregon's Coast Range and it therefore generally sees less rain than many of its neighboring AVAs The proximity to the Van Duzer corridor, and the coastal wind it brings, keeps the vineyard sites a bit drier. The soil composition is primarily marine sediment but basalt and volcanic soils also underlay much of the McMinnville AVA. Only 600 acres of vineyard are planted.

Our wine from McMinnville comes from Noble Pig, a new winery. The 2008 McMinnville Pinot Noir is their first vintage released. The wine is comprised of three Pinot clones, Pommard, 114 and 115. This wine had very active aromatics, and was almost perfume-y. The oak made a slight and positive impression on the wine, and the bright red fruit made this an impressive first vintage from Cathy Pollak, winemaker and proprietor. This wine retails at $34

Eola-Amity Hills AVA
Continuing south in the Willamette Valley, on towards Salem, we reach the Eola-Amity Hills AVA. The fruit of the the Eola-Amity is known for its almost pitch perfect acidity, higher than much of the Willamette Valley. Its proximity to the Van Duzer Corridor and those cooling winds from the Pacific play a major role in that acid retention. Designated in 2006, the AVA consists of mostly volcanic soils, as well as nekia, which is a soil comprised of exposed basalt. The Eola-Amity hills holds some of the most famed Pinot vineyards in the Willamette Valley, including Temperance Hills, Seven Springs, and Elton vineyards. Some of the signatures of the AVA include darker fruit profiles on both the palate and the aromatics of the wine.

The Brooks Winery 2008 Rastaban Vineyard Pinot Noir is a deep, dark Pinot Noir. This wine had far darker fruit character than any of the other Pinots we tasted. It was a bolder wine, a big, luxuriant Pinot Noir. The oak program used on this wine, 50% new French for 18 months, resulted in aromas of smoke and earth and represents a bit of a departure from many of the Burgundian styled Pinots that Oregon is known for. This wine was a lot of dark rich velvet, and it retails at $50.

Umpqua Valley
Next, we did what many people consider the unthinkable: we left the Willamette Valley. We left it behind and continued south to the Umpqua Valley. The Umpqua Valley was designated in 1984, and contains the basin area of the Umpqua River. In conjunction with the much warmer Rogue Valley AVA, it makes up the Southern Oregon AVA, designated in 2004. The Umpqua Valley is warmer than the Willamette Valley and sees plantings of Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Riesling and some occassional Cabernet Sauvignon. Most of those warm weather varietals grow beautifully in its neighbor to the South, the Rogue Valley AVA. The soil composition of the Umpqua Valley is often sand and clay loams.

Our final and southernmost wine, the Brandbourg 2008 Ferris Wheel Estate Pinot Noir. This wine gave us a bit of toasty oak on the nose and certainly the palate held much more spice, with hints of chicory and cola than the Pinots to the North. While many of us found this Pinot slightly different than its neighbors, with its spicier fruit profile, this was still an elegant, balanced Pinot Noir and demonstrated capably that Pinot can, in fact, be grown outside the confines of Willamette Valley and still demonstrate great varietal integrity and beauty. This wine retails at around $30.

Our conclusion, the 2008 vintage is a great one for Oregon Pinot Noir fans. In many cases wineries are still releasing their 2008s, particularly when it comes to single vineyard Pinots. In other cases some of the 2008s have been completely sold out. The buzz about the vintage has had impact on both pricing and availability, but don't be deterred. Gather up and drink as much of it as you can, you'll thank us later.
These wines were provided as samples.