Burgundian Pinot Noir From Willamette Valley

Today’s Story: Cristom Vineyards

Cristom Vineyards was founded in 1992 by Paul and Eileen Gerrie in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA of the Willamette Valley. I previously wrote about them when I reviewed their 2016 Estate Viognier in Textbook New World Viognier and I am excited to explore one of their single vineyard Pinot Noirs today. Cristom consists of eight estate vineyards totaling just over 100 acres, four of which are planted to Pinot Noir (Eileen, Jessie, Louise, and Marjorie) and four that are planted to Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Viognier, and Syrah. Using sustainably farmed estate fruit, winemaker Steve Doerner practices minimal intervention in the cellar to produce wines that transparently showcase the terroir of each site.

Today’s Wine: 2013 Louise Vineyard Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 13.5% ABV

The 2013 Louise Vineyard Pinot Noir is slightly translucent pale ruby in color with hints of garnet. Given 45 minutes or so to open up, the wine blossoms with a nose of cherry, black raspberry, stemmy strawberry, cola, bacon fat, dried tobacco, forest floor, dried green herbs, and cinnamon. On the palate, I get notes of sweet plum, black cherry, licorice, worn leather, tobacco, sous bois, nutmeg, rocky mineral, and light oaky spice. This is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (-) and slightly chewy tannins, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $40. I got this for an incredible deal, which makes it a fantastic value proposition for my tasting. With an average price closer to $60 or more in the marketplace, however, this falls into the category of “worth it” but not classified as a great value. Pair with herb roasted chicken, rack of lamb, or charcuterie and cheese.

Textbook New World Viognier

Today’s Story: Cristom Vineyards

Cristom Vineyards was founded in 1992 by Paul and Eileen Gerrie in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA of the Willamette Valley. Established out of an appreciation of winemaking, the land, and Burgundy’s concept of terroir, Cristom is known for their estate Pinor Noirs. Cristom consists of eight estate vineyards totaling just over 100 acres, four of which are planted to Pinot Noir (Eileen, Jessie, Louise, and Marjorie) and four that are planted to Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Viognier, and Syrah. Cristom’s vineyards are all certified sustainable and carefully tended such that come harvest all fruit is as healthy and expressive of the terroir as possible. Cristom winemaker Steve Doerner practices minimal intervention in the cellar and wines are fermented whole cluster with native yeasts, all in an effort to produce high quality and elegant wines with a sense of place.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Estate Viognier

100% Viognier; 14% ABV

The 2016 Estate Viognier is pale straw/yellow in color with medium gold and water white hues. On the nose, I get aromas of tangerine, white peach, honeysuckle, toffee, vanilla bean, and saline mineral. Once in the mouth, the wine showcases notes of apricot, mango, peach, white florals, wax, and herbs with an almost medicinal character. This is medium- to full-bodied with medium (-) acidity and an oily mouthfeel into a rounded, long finish. 978 cases produced.

Price: $30 average (I paid $22). I would surely pay $30 for this, because it is a great example of New World Viognier, but I can call it a value much closer to the $22 I paid. There wasn’t as much depth in this that I hoped for. Pair with quail, lobster, or sea bass.

Burgundian Elegance in Oregon

Today’s Story: Beaux Frères

The groundwork for Beaux Frères occurred in the late 1980s when Michael Etzel discovered an 88 acre pig farm for sale on Ribbon Ridge in the Northern Willamette Valley, Oregon. Though he and his family lived in Colorado at the time, Michael decided to purchase the farm with brother-in-law Robert Parker (yes the wine critic) and set about transitioning some of the farm to vineyards. In 1988, Michael planted his first five acres of vineyards with Pinot Noir and harvested his first fruit in 1990. While Michael waited for his vines to bear fruit, he worked four harvests at Ponzi Winery and with his first harvest in 1990 sold fruit to Ken Wright and Dick Ponzi while only saving enough for one barrel of wine for himself. In 1991, Michael renovated one of the barns on the property to create his own winery and his efforts jump-started the transition to estate bottled wines.

Today, the Beaux Frères property consists of 50 acres of forest (Douglas fir trees), 8 acres of buildings including a home, barns, and winery, and 24 of the remaining 30 acres are planted to vine. The Beaux Frères Vineyard sits at an elevation of 400 feet and is planted with both own-rooted Pommard and Wädenswil clones, as well as younger Dijon clones on phylloxera-resistant rootstocks. Beaux Frères also farms the Upper Terrace Vineyard which sits slightly north of the Beaux Frères Vineyard and was first planted in 2000 with Dijon clones of Pinot Noir on 9 of the 40 total acres. Michael and his team practice many biodynamic farming methods in caring for their vineyards, a practice they picked up several years ago. The team avoids commercial sprays, composts on-site, grafts their own cuttings, and monitors the vines regularly.

Throughout the winemaking process, Michael and his son Mike (head winemaker) believe in minimal intervention and handling. To this end, they allow their wines to ferment spontaneously using only indigenous yeasts and utilize traditional punch downs and pump overs by hand. After pressing, they move the contents into French oak barrels ranging in 30-50% new (depending on vintage) and secondary fermentation occurs naturally at a slower rate in the barrel cellar. The only racking these wines see occurs after 10-12 months of barrel aging (to limit exposure to oxygen) which also helps limit the SO2 required to preserve the wine (if any is added at all) thanks to a natural buildup of CO2 during and after malolactic fermentation. The resulting wines are rather traditional in both production and expression, similar to classical red Burgundies.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 14.1% ABV

The 2016 Pinot Noir is medium ruby in color with rose variation near the edge of the glass and almost entirely opaque. The nose showcases aromas of ripe cherry, black raspberry, red licorice, purple florals, black tea, mineral, baking spice, and a hint of milk chocolate. Once in the mouth, this wine offers notes of blueberry, raspberry, black cherry, rose, a hint of damp earth, rocky minerality, clove, and oak. This is medium-bodied with high acidity, medium (-) tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $60. This is a high-quality, elegant, and luxuriously-textured Pinot Noir that I believe to be appropriately priced. It makes me think of an Oregon version of Kosta Browne or Williams Selyem. Pair this with salmon, chicken, pork, or duck.

Remarkably Profound Oregon Pinot Noir

Today’s Story: Antica Terra

Antica Terra was established in 2005 by Scott Adelson, John Mavredakis, and Michael Kramer, three friends and partners who had collaborated before and dreamed of owning a vineyard together. This being said, vines were first planted in 1989 on the property, an 11 acre vineyard on pre-historic seabed in the Eola-Amity Hills of Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Having taken ownership of their new vineyard, Scott, John, and Michael started seeking a winemaker and their crosshairs quickly fell upon Maggie Harrison. Maggie began her winemaking career at Sine Qua Non (known for $200-$1,000+ bottles of cult Rhone varietal wines) working for Manfred Krankl and her expertise was quickly realized. In 2004, Manfred encouraged her to begin her own Syrah project on the side, and Lillian was born (I reviewed two of these Syrahs previously). Maggie worked tirelessly on her passion project wines while still tending to barrels at Sine Qua Non, demonstrating her pure passion for the craft. When Scott, John, and Michael asked Maggie to become their winemaker, she refused profusely though the three friends ultimately convinced her to simply visit the property to offer her opinions of the vineyard. 26 seconds after Maggie stepped foot into the vineyards and observed the fossils, oaks, and vines, “she found herself hunched beneath one of the trees, phone in hand, explaining to her husband that they would be moving to Oregon.” Source

The vineyard of Antica Terra is rather intense, both in appearance above the earth and underground for the vines. The vines find home amongst fossilized oyster shells and sandstone with no topsoil, leaving them to struggle for nutrients and in turn producing incredibly unique fruit. Aboveground, the vineyard is strewn with boulders, steep grades, and vines that (due to the soil) appear spindly and frail. Fruit for Antica Terra wines forms in tiny clusters with thick-skinned grapes that are half the size that is typical for their varieties and the canopy of these plants is incredibly sensitive. Maggie provides immense care and attention to these delicate vines, which culminates into unique and immeasurably profound wines. Antica Terra produces four Pinot Noir bottlings, two Chardonnays, and one Rosé.

To explore the wines of Antica Terra, join the mailing list, or plan a visit, check out their website here.

Today’s Wine: 2017 Botanica Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 14% ABV

The 2017 Botanica is pale ruby in color with slight variation toward deep garnet. This was surprisingly approachable right out of the bottle, though changed over time revealing aromas of cherry, cranberry, smoked game, earth, wet gravel, sweet tobacco, ground green cooking herbs, black licorice, rocky minerality, and a touch of oak. Once in the mouth, the wine showcases notes of crunchy raspberry, strawberry, cranberry sauce, smoke, rose, white pepper, loamy earth, a hint of nutmeg, and graphite. This Pinot is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium tannins, and a medium (+) length finish. There was some slight heat on the nose, but all around this is approachable and that heat should integrate with a couple more years of cellaring.

Price: $110 direct from winery. I am a huge fan of Antica Terra when it comes to American Pinot Noir, and Maggie Harrison’s winemaking skill for both this wine and her Lillian Syrahs make them worthy of trying. Pair this with duck, pork tenderloin, or grilled salmon.