Oregon Pinot: Stoller Family Estate

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 fermted 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 NoirBursting 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

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 flowers, with mushrooms, brown sugar and figs followed by rich berry fruit.  It’s a bolder style, with silky textures.  The overwhelming note was strawberry, and this is the clone that brings the fruit tot he party.

There can be up to 15 selections put together to make the final wine, the 2009 Prince Hill Pinot Noir.  The backbone is the old vine Pommard, which brings the baking spice notes.  The fruit comes slowly, building on Bing cherry, rhubarb and cranberry, with stewed fruit and meat at the end.  There was a delicious umami note, with subtle, big red fruit.  The finished product is a subtle, elegant wine full of cherry flavors with great acid, lighter in style with a touch of earth.  The 15 months in 40% new French oak is a bold choice, but it is well integrated.

Componant tastings like these are fascinating since you can see what each single clone brings to the party.  With so many other clones of Pinot Noir out there, it’s going to be a great study!  Windsor Oaks Winery in Windsor, California makes several blends, of 2, 3, 4 and five clones for their customers to study and enjoy.  I think I’ll open some tonight!

The dirt on Willamette Valley terroir

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 McMinnville, leaving basalt fingers, that are oddballs in the area of mostly marine sediment.  McMinnville also benefits from the cool Van Duzer winds, which flow through from the coast, that cool down the vineyards and help dry the vines, preventing mildew during humid summer days.

Yamhill-Carlton – Established in 2004 addition, this AVA ranges from 200 to 1000 feet in elevation, and is in the rain shadow of the Coast Range.  A horseshoe shape, the rural landscape hides most of the wine making activity here.  Coarser grained marine sediment soils are some of the oldest in the region, and they provide excellent drainage, perfect for vines.  The vines here tend to ripen earlier and more completely thanks in part to this excellent drainage.

Eola-Amity – the furthest south, Eola-Amity was created in 2006, and stretches from the hamlet of Amity in the north, to the city of Salem in the south.  The Van Duzer winds are steady, which cools the summer temperatures.  Eola-Amity sits on a basalt plateau, which is on top of the marine sediment layer.  The plateau has been rippled and wrinkled thanks to tectonic activity, and the Eola-Amity hills are part of this wrinkle pattern.

Now that we have the lay of the land, we can start to look at what soil types are in each region.  Soil types impact growth patterns and drainage, which in turn impact ripening patterns and base flavor profiles.

Jory is the primary soil type in the Dundee Hills.  A volcanic soil that is mostly basalt, Jory is found in most vineyards in Dundee Hills.  Filled with iron and clay, it is lush and full of nutrients.  Jory is also a wet soil, and it will stick together if you compact it in your hand.  Formed when massive lava flows covered most of Washington and Oregon with a layer of basalt, Jory grown Pinot Noirs tend to have a classic cherry and red fruit profile, with a strong minerality component.  Jory is found in the Dundee Hills, and produces classic cherry, red fruit and spicy Pinot Noirs.

Willakenzie – a sedimentary soil, formed when western Oregon was once 8000 feet under the sea.  When the Coast Range and the Cascade Mountains were formed by tectonic shifts, the seabed was exposed, leaving Willakenzie soils made of marine sediment.  In some places, this exposed seabed is covered by a layer of volcanic soil.  The dry and brittle soil forces vines to reach deep in to the crust, which creates dark wines with structured spice and cola flavors.  More black than red fruit, Willakenzie is found in McMinnville, Ribbon Ridge, and Yamhill-Carolton.

Loess (Laurelwood) – is a silty loam soil, and is a very thin layer, unlike the Jory or Willakenzie which form a more substantial layer of soil.  With Loess, there is always another soil type underneath the thin layer, as it is primarily windblown.  A dusty sedimentary soil, it is fertile and drains well.  Pinot Noirs from Loess tend to be bright red fruit, with an underlying earthy flavor, and a sprinkling of white pepper.  Loess is particularly found in Chehalam Mountains.

Soil types, weather, style, and seasons all impact the terroir of a wine growing region.  Many of these factors are said to be similar to Burgundy.  I am not particularly well versed in the wines of France, so I can’t say for sure, but I do know that there is something very special about Oregon, and Oregon Pinot Noir in particular.

While every winemaker has their hand in creating every wine, and a house style, the terroir of a vineyard creates the baseline for these wines.  My personal taste has shown me that I am a big fan of the 2007 vintage, with 2010 comign hot on the hells.  2008 is turnign out to be a very interesting vinetage as well, alhtough I find it bigger and bolder than the 2007s or 2010s.  2009 on the other hand?  The jury is still out.  I also know that I love the bright fruit and tangy earth from the Dundee Hills and Ribbon Ridge, and that I’m not a fan of the wines from Eola-Amity, which are bigger, bolder, and dark.

There were a few wines I just plain didn’t care for, but overwhelmingly, the wines from the Willamette Valley, Pinot Noirs, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and further south, Syrah, as well as renegade wines produced in the middle of Pinot heaven are showcases of the region.  With the average winery in Willamette producing less than 1000 cases, it’s rare to find a producer that has a homogeneous style that they try to repeat year over year.  Even the larger producers, such as Willamette Valley Vineyards, strive for uniqueness and terroir driven wines.  This makes it a very special place indeed.

I’m looking forward to tasting more and seeing what happens in Oregon in the coming years!

Where the wind blows Winderlea…

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 seasonal vineyard workers and their families.  Similar to San Francisco’s healthy restaurant tax, this enables vineyard workers to support their families and their employers year round.

Warning:  The tasting caused me to join their wine club!  Read at your own risk.  The 2010s are just being released, so expect more to hit the shelves soon.

2009 Chardonnay – Creamed honey, with apricot, spiced pear and baking spice.  Lovely nutmeg finish.

2010 Dundee Cuvée Pinot Noir – the 2010s are shaping up to be a fantastic vintage.  Bright, with a fun and funky nose that gives way to coffee, stewed fruit and cherries, this wine screams Willamette.  The bright raspberries almost have a beet like note to them, with that earthy texture and mincemeat spice.

2010 Crawford Beck Pinot Noir – Crawford Beck breaks from the Dundee Hills AVA and goes further south, in to the Eola-Amity AVA.  The climate in the Eola-Amity area is influenced by the Van Duzer gap, which allows in cool coastal breezes.  This marine cooling trend taht happens every afternoon cools down the vineyards and tend to create more natural acidity in the Pinot Noir.  This wine had dusty plum with cocoa powder, slight sandlewood notes, and hints of walnut.  It is a young and fresher style of pinot.

2010 Ana Vineyard Pinot Noir – Back in the Dundee Hills AVA, the Ana Vineyard also has some of the oldest Pinot Noir in Oregon.  With mostly Pommard and 777 clones, the vineyard sits on the ridge top at 450 feet, sloping down to 350 feet.  Sitting in a bowl, the afternoon sun heats up the vineyard and creates bolder, fruitier fruit.  This was a clear and bold wine, with classic cherry flavors, bordering on sweet.  The acidity came out after the first taste, and I would call it craisen with raspberry juice.

With many more wines in the library Winderlea is worth a stop on even the shortest of visits to the Willamette Valley.

Cheers!

 

Anderson Family Vineyards – Oregon wines of distinction

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 develop on the vine.  Unpredictable rains and a mellow season produced balanced flavors and bright fruit.

A blend of 50% barrel fermented and 50% stainless steel, with 60% malolactic fermentation, it is full of hazelnuts, lemon curd and apple flavors.  It’s a richer chard, but not buttery and has a lovely minerality with a pear finish.

2008 Chardonnay – 2008 had a cool season with late blooms, with warmer days in October.  This leads to a longer hangtime, which brings bigger, fuller flavors to the wine.  In the case of chardonnay, it means big ripe flavors, but maintaining a bracing acidity.  This year had a brighter citrus base, with a touch of butterscotch and meyer lemon, with more spice.

2009 Chardonnay – 2009 was a very hot year.  With a series of unpredictable heat spikes dotted with cooler days and nights, the fruit was very ripe, with a touch less acidity than 2008.  This developed in to a clear citrus, blood orange, and higher acid wine with a long wet river rock finish.

Finally, the core of any Oregon wineries line up – Pinot Noir.  With a classic style full of spice and earth, the Anderson Family Pinot Noir’s did not disappoint.

I was thrilled when the 2007 was still available; widely panned by critics at the time of release, it’s always been one of my faovrite years for Oregon Pinot Noir.  Now, of course, the critics are back peddling and saying how nicely it’s developed in teh bottle  Whatever, it’s simply delectable!

2007 Pinot Noir – The big deal about 2007 is that it was a cool, wet year.  This made a wine with bright acid, clean fruti notes, and earthy underpinnings.  Classic flavors of cola, baking spice and red fruit with a lighter body are the makings of a great year in this bloggers mouth.  mind.  I found notes of dried berries, rhubarb, and spices, especially cloves.  It was classically 2007 with mushrooms and earth, followed by a mineral rub.

Left in the barrel for longer than normal, this wine has intense aromas with tons of baking spice.  The 115, 667, 777, Pommard and Wadenswil clones in the final blend give it the powerful fruit base of the Pommard with the spice and earth of the 115 and 117.  Yum!

2008 Pinot Noir – A bigger vintage in general, there is more dark fruit than red fruit.  The hot season needs time to simmer down.  The late summer forced longer hangtime of the fruit, which I think gives it a bolder feel.

2009 Pinot Noir – While 2009 set a new record for warm days, the summer was finicky with hot days and cool days.  There was a narrow window when the fruit ripened; I currently prefer the 09s to the 08s, because the cool days provide some lovely acidity along with the big red and black fruit.

It’s a deeper bolder Pinot than the 07, but not as big as the 08.  I found lots of pomegranate, bright berry and classic cherry fruit, followed by baking spice.  Less earthy overall, this will be a crowd pleaser.

Thank you Jonothan and Cliff for taking the time to show me the wines!  If you are in Newberg, please be sure to call Anderson Family Vineyards for a visti you will not soon forget.  I brought home the Pinot Gris and 2 of the 07 Pinot Noirs.  I can’t wait to revisit them!