Oregon Pinot: Stoller Family Estate

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Stoller Family Estates sits on a piece of Dundee Hills history, founded in the 1940s as a working farm.  Growing a small family farm to a larger enterprise through 50 years, the Stoller Family passed on the land to Bill Stolller, who founded the vineyard in 1993. Today, Stoller owns the largest single contiguous vineyard in the Dundee Hills region of the Willamette Valley.  With an eye towards sustainability, innovations include pest management, research, and modern techniques.  Planted almost entirely to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Stoller is also experimenting with Tempranillo, Syrah, and other Alsatian varietals. Dundee Hills Chardonnay 2014 – this fresh and fun entry level Chardonnay was fermented entirely in stainless steel, resulting in a fruit forward, vibrant wine full of pineapple, tropical mango and peach, and bright citrus.  $25 Stoller 2013 Dundee Hills Pinot Noir – Bursting with rhubarb and rose petals on the nose, the palate reinforces this classic Oregon Pinot Noir with Bing cherry, hibiscus, cinnamon, leather and cola syrup, with a hint of bacon fat.  This elegant but approachable wine is a great introduction to the region.  $30 The beautiful all season tasting room opens on to majestic views of the Dundee Hills, and is also the source of 100% of it’s electrical needs, through the solar panels on the roof.  Driving your Tesla?  Feel free to charge up at the EV station Stoller Family Estate is located in the Dundee Hills region of Oregon’s Willamette Valley.  They are open daily, and invite you to sti down and stay a while as you taste through some of the reserve selections.  Want to experience the vineyard after visiting hours?  Stoller offers various guest house accommodation for an inside view. Thank you to Stoller Estate and Trellis Growth Partners for sharing these lovely wines.  

Attack of the clones

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One of my favorite interactive sessions at the Wine Bloggers Conference was a component tasting of clonal selections of Pinot Noir, hosted by Erath Winery.  As a wine geek, I love tasting each piece of the puzzle that makes up a final blend; in the case of Oregon Pinot Noir, it is frequently the case that a specific vineyard block is planted to more than one clone.  What is also true is that blocks might be clone specific but the final wine is a blend of those clones. First, a bit about Erath.  Erath Winery was established in 1967, with it’s first vintage in 1972.  They were one of the early pioneers in the Willamette Valley.  They were, in fact, the first winery in the Dundee Hills AVA, focused on Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Piot Blanc.  Dick Erath was inspired to create wine in 1965 after some garagiste experiments   After leaving an engineering career behind, he attended UC Davis, and relocated to Oregon in 1968. In 1969, Erath planted the Dundee Hills’ first vineyards, with 23 varieties   With Pinot Noir flourishing, he had producted his first commercial vintage in 1972.  While the original plantings were from his Davis roots and California bred clones, he watned to experiment with French clones, and imported them to Oregon in 1974.  Today, Erath uses Pommard, 115, and 777 clones to create world class Pinot Noir. Now, let’s look at each of the Pinot Noir clones that were part of our tasting.  Of course, there are many more clones used in Oregon, but Erath focuses on these three.  Grape clones are developed for specific reasons, flavor profiles, color, and body.  There are Dijon clones, the Pommard clone, and the Wadinswil clone, widely usd in Oregon.  Erath uses three clones for their wines, 115, 777 and Pommard.  All of the clones and the blended wine resulting from them are from Prince Hill Vineyard, in the Dundee Hills. The Pommard clone has become most widely known as the distinct Oregon style.  Pommard is often used alone, while the Dijon clones are classically blended.  Pommard gives Pinot NOir powerful fruit notes, spicebox and a rich body.  In the 2009 Prince Hill Pommard Clone, the oldest vines on the property are used.  The bright classic cherry flavors were obvious, with earth hiding underneath.  I loved this wine, with the bright acid and root beer notes, and a touch of herbal notes.  I really enjoyed this single clone, however, I found it lacking in some interest with just the Pommard. Dijon clone 115 can have vegetal flavors, with rose petals edges.  It is a deep colored grape, with rich aromas and red fruit flavors.  With the strong tannins it’s a good choice for a wine you plan to age long.  The 2009 Prince Hill 115 Clone Pinot Noir had lovely earth, and dark red fruit with a bit of a nutty finish.  This clone brings cedar and earth, and adds a nice backbone. Clone 777 also has more earthly vegetative flavors, with the classic mushroom and forest floor notes.  True to Erath’s restrained style the 2009 Price Hill 777 Clone has strong aromas of perfume and […]

The dirt on Willamette Valley terroir

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With all of this wine tasting all over the Willamette Valley that I did before, during, and after the Wine Bloggers Conference, I thought we should visit the different AVAs as well as the soil types.  Since the combination of these two plus a little magic creates a terroir, it is important to note what variables can impact the wines that you love. Now I am no geologist, or an enologist, but I do know something about soil and the mechanics of it.  That said, this is just my opinion.  You should go out and form your own but tasting wines from all over the Willamette!  Using Pinot Noir as my baseline, since it seems to show the characteristics of the terroir the most clearly, here is a bit of dirt from the Willamette. Coming from a state that has over 100 distinct AVAs, many of which are widely known for their Pinot Noirs (Santa Lucia Highlands, Russian River Valley, Carneros, Anderson Valley to name a few), I have acquired a particular taste for elegant, earthy, austere wines.  The Willamette Valley while offering a wide variety ina  small region, offers several different and distinct regions, all of which have an overwhelming style of wine that is produced in each. First, the Willamette Valley has six sub-AVAs within the greater Willamette Valley AVA.  The larger AVA was established in 1984, while the first vineyards were planted around 1965.  The rebels that really started the Willamette trend planted in the mid 1970s.  Each of the 6 sub-AVA has a primary soil type, which can produce vastly different results when combined with the weather patterns.  The sub-AVAs today, with more proposed (roughly North to South) are: Chehalem Mountains – the newest AVA, was established in 2006 and is the closest to the metro area of Portland.  The mountains were formed when the seabeds were uplifted, filling with lava beds and overblown with silt.  This gives the area quite a diverse soil base. Dundee Hills – the most well known, with the largest amount of wineries.  Established in 2004, it is the oldest AVA geologically, they were formed 15 million years ago when lava flows from eastern Washington flowed down the Willamette.  Then, earthquakes and tectonic shifts created the Coast Range, and further shaking created the Dundee Hills.  During the Missoula Floods, when the glaciers melted in weather patterns over thousands of years, layers of sediment were repeatedly poured over the area creating rich sedimentary layers.  The deeper underlying Jory soils poke up through the hills above the flood plain. Ribbon Ridge – is a short ridgeline that contains mostly ocean sediment, created from tectonic uplift.  With finer and more uniform sedimentary soils, it is unique enough to warrant their own AVA, established in 2005, it is a smaller AVA contained within the Chehalem Mountains. McMinnville – Also established in 2005, the McMinnville AVA rises from 200 to 1000 feet in elevation.  When the Coast Range was created, fingers of lava flowed in to […]

Where the wind blows Winderlea…

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On top of the rolling hills of the Dundee AVA in Oregon, Winderlea Vineyard and Winery sits on top of the world.  Looking out at the rolling vineyards below, through  the glass wall of the tasting room overlooking the estate vineyards, I felt like I was sitting in the vines. Named for the original property and it’s owners, the name Winderlea is thought to come from the German word that means “Wind in the Meadow”.  That is exactly what it feels like when you are sitting there.  Too hot to sit outside on this particular day, I can imagine how, in the early fall, how the tasting room would be with the glass wall of doors rolled back and the outside melding with the inside. Winderlea was recommended by several friends, and as we were in the area, we decided to stop by, and i’m so glad we did.  Sitting in the nice air conditioned tasting room (phew it was hot!) sipping delicious wines, what could get better? Bill Sweat and Donna Morris always had a passion for wine.  Leaving their previous careers behind in Boston, they moved to Oregon to pursue their combined passion for wine, and specifically Pinot Noir.  Why Oregon you might ask?  Like many of the current crop of vintners and winery owners in the Willamette that I met, Sweat and Morris were drawn to the unique climate and soils, along with the drive to make small batches of amazing wine.  Newcomers are welcomed and tutored, and the wine community is inclusive of new members.  I heard this story over and over again with different places in Oregon, and many of my tech compatriots have left Southern California and Silicon Valley for vineyards in Oregon. Winderlea is a luxury boutique winery specializing in the limited production of Pinot noir and Chardonnay from Oregon.  Crafting elegant, sensuous and age worthy wines for those who view the pairing of wine and food essential to their lifestyle and well being is what Winderlea is all about. Our focus is on making small lots of Pinot noir and Chardonnay that show the best characteristics of each vineyard. Hand crafted with minimal intervention and the modest use of new French oak barrels, our food friendly wines are classic in style. Ensuring that the vineyards are LIVE certified as well as Salmon Safe, the team at Winderlea cultivates the land in a way that leaves the soil in tact for many future vintages to come.  This is a common theme here in Oregon; unlike California, the word sustainable is used extensively.  Much less so than Organic or fully Biodynamically certified, sustainable vineyards are a practice that can be maintained over the long haul, while using the best of all farming practices to produce the best results. Augmenting this sustainable philosophy, Winderlea believes that the vineyard workers should be sustainable as well.  To support this, the $15 tasting fee (which is well worth it regardless) is donated to ¡Salud!, an alliance between Oregon winemakers, and local healthcare agencies to provide education and access to services for Oregon’s […]

Anderson Family Vineyards – Oregon wines of distinction

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Before the mayhem of the Wine Bloggers Conference began earlier this month, I took some extra time to explore the different AVAs of the Willamette Valley in Oregon, known for Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris.  One winery that came up in conversation over and over again was Anderson Family Vineyards.  Recommended by several friends, I was excited to see what all the fuss was about. Sitting on top of a hill, the sweeping views of the Dundee Hills AVA are breathtaking.  Just below the estate vineyards, a hazelnut orchard sits on the flats.  Set up an armchair, and I could sit there for days!  The Anderson family started off as growers of premium Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Chardonnay, selling these grapes for over 20 years.  After a while, they wondered why they weren’t’ using some of the amazing fruit for themselves, and the winery was born.  Currently, Anderson Family sells 1/3 of their grapes to area wineries, and uses the remainder for their own label. Cliff Anderson began his search in the 1980s for land that would produce grapes that would rival the great wines of Burgundy.  His belief that vines that struggle and need to reach for water, becoming deeply rooted, become amazing wines led him to the heart of Oregon wine country – the Dundee Hills AVA of the Willamette Valley.  Situated in the rolling countryside outside of Newberg, they found a property with steep hillsides full of broken stones and basalt.  In 1992, the vineyard was planted. Organically farmed, the Anderson Family creates wines in small lots with native yeast, in a gravity flow winery.  Carefully taken care of each small batch of wines, they move a little slower here.  While many larger operations have already released the 2010 vintage, Anderson Family is holding back; there will be no wine before it’s time! We had the opportunity to taste through the current releases with assistant winemaker Jonathan Riekert, a rising star of the area who is passionate about Pinot Noir as well as the Oregon terroir. 2009 Pinot Gris – There is something special about Oregon Pinot Gris.  I can’t quite describe it, but it combines the creamy nature of Gris with the crisp acidity of a Pinot Blanc in a beautiful swirl. 2009 was a warmer vintage for Oregon, but it was peppered with cool nights, as well as a few cooler days which helped keep the acidity in this wine.  With no malolactic fermentation, and 100% stainless steel fermentation, there are beautiful green apple, grapefruit and Asian pear notes.  With a dusting of nutmeg and a nutty finish, this is what I love about Pinot Gris. This wine was a bit of accident, as the vineyard was thought to be planted to chardonnay, I am glad they found this hidden gem! Next, we tasted a vertical of Chardonnay.  Much more European in style, these are lean and racy.  Just what I like! 2007 Chardonnay – 2007 had a longer growing season than some other years, which gave the grapes time to […]