Youngberg Hill Winery

Driving up to the inn & winery, past the rolling hills south of McMinnville, through the farmlands, you feel like you are on top of the world.  Turning in to the driveway of the winery, and you realize why the current owners, Wayne Bailey and family choose to purchase this particular spot.

in 2003, the Baileys purchased the property, and proceeded to radically change the way the vineyards and winery were managed.  The vineyard was moved to organically farmed grapes, and they are still lint he process of being more biodynamically farmed as we speak.  Today, Youngberg Hill is a small, family owned winery that produces Oregon Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris (as well as a renegade Pinot Blanc).  Today, an inn operates on the vineyard property, offering luxurious accommodations with sweeping views of the McMinnville hills.

The winery sits on 50 acres, on top of a hill, surrounded by the estate vineyards.  It’s easy to have Wayne’s infectious enthusiasm rub off on you, and I sat on the deck of the inn, nibbling on a light lunch, tasting the delicious wines.  Wayne’s dream was to create a winery that produced distinctive wines, while respecting the environment and local climate accordingly.  For 22 years, the vineyard has been producing these lovely wines, while maintaining a green philosophy that is so dominant in Willamette’s wine making industry.

With 20 acres planted to 3 blocks of Pinot Noir and one block of Pinot Gris, each block is unarmed for one of the Baily daughters – Natasha, Jordon and Aspen, as  well as the Camelot block that was planeted in 2008.  Natasha is 7 acres, and is the largest of the Pinot blocks.  At 600 feet, it sits on marine sediment from the sea that once covered this area.  Jordan is 4 acres, and is on a steeper slope that is volcanic soil, at 800 feet.  Both of these blocks are planted with 60% Pommard and 40% Wadenswil, from the original vineyard planting in 1989.  The third pinot block, Camelot, is smaller at 3 acres and sits between the two sisters, with a blend of volcanic and marine sediment.  This is planted to 777, and was a more recent addition in 2008.  The Aspen Pinot Gris is dry farmed, and is between 525 and 600 feet.

The vineyards are all hand harvested and field sorted before the secondary table sorting begins.  Youngberg Hill does not use whole cluster fermentation, and all of the fruit is destemmed.  Traditionally, they use a native yeast fermentation, but as most wineries do, there is an emergency box with commercial yeast, to assist when things get stuck.  The importance of native yeast cannot be stressed enough – since it’s a complex blend that comes in from the vineyards, as well as the house style in the cellar.  Replacing that with a single staring with do a disservice to to the wine, and as Youngberg is striving to be sustainable, organic and local, they shy away from those practices.

Some of the other sustainable practices in place today include reducing soil erosion with cover crops, a primary focus of biodynamcis.  The winery also uses alternative pesticides such as biodegradable oils, soaps, and plant extracts, and is aggressively pursuing the goal of 100% sustainability in its vineyard.  In 2005, they earned their LIVE and Salmon Safe certifications, two key sustainable organizations in Oregon.  In 2010, Youngberg Hill was certified by the Oregon Wine Board as sustainable.  The latest goal is to be biodynamically certified.

It was a beautiful afternoon and I can’t wait to go back and visit!  The inn is on the isolated hilltop, and is the perfect place to bring a book or three, and disconnect for the weekend.  The staff will be sure to take excellent care of you as you sip on the wines below, gazing out at the stunning views below.  I know I will be planning a weekend as soon as I can!

2011 Aspen Block Pinot Gris – The 800 foot elevation gives this Pinot Gris a brilliant and bracing citrus acidity that is well balanced and delicious.  Lots of grapefruit and Granny Smith apple.  This is a beautiful porch pounder for your early fall sipping!


2011 Pinot Blanc – The Pinot Blanc is the only non estate wine in the line up, and is from the Larkins Vineyard in the Eola Hills.  The nose has bright grapefruit and lime citrus, with luscious stone fruit and cream on the palate.

2009 Estate Pinot Noir – this is a blend of the 2 older blocks of Pinot, Natasha and Jordon.  It has an earthy dust, mushroom notes and flavors of the forest floor, with a nice acid profile with bright cherries and spicebox.  A hint of minerality with cinnamon dusted plum to finish.

2009 Natasha Block Pinot Noir – This is the 24th leaf of the block.  There are richer cherry cola notes, and lots of Dr. Pepper, prune, and rhubarb notes.  A darker one but wonderful.

2008 Jordan Block Pinot Noir – This is the upper block, on volcanic soils.  It producer more intense black cherry, brambleberry, and fig notes.  There was a lot of root beer, with nice earth and bark finish.  The Jordan uses 20+25% new oak, that gives it a great balance.

Thank you Wayne for hosting, and I look forward to visiting again soon!

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!

A little vertical

I walked by the TWELVE Wines tasting room in McMinnville, OR last Labor Day weekend, but didn’t get the chance to pop by since we were on our way to meet my dear friends from Republic of Jam, Lynnette & Amy.

As luck would have it, I was contacted by their PR rep, and received samples of the 2005, 2006, and 2007 Pinot Noir 144 to taste.  Yay!  Twelve Wines is a family owned winery in the Yamhill-Carlton area of the Willamette Valley AVA in Oregon, where they have 11 acres of Pinot Noir planted.

First up, I opened the 2005 Pinot Noir 144 after a long day of spring cleaning.  Sipping away in a long bubble bath while reading about Spain, I really enjoyed the boldness of the wine on a cold San Francisco day.  the trick with bold Pinots is that they don’t really evote a Pinot Noir feeling however.  This wine is 50% Pommard clone, 17% Wadenswil clone, and 33% 115 clone.  It was 100% destemmed, and fermented in 50% new French Oak for just shy of a year.  This was a big Pinot, with flavors of cranberry, dark strawberry and rich raspberry with some strawberry jam, with huge cherry pie filling.  I detected a bit of cola nut as well as some strong dark plum characteristics.  I’d TRY this if you’;re curious about the area, but you might save your money for the later vintages.  I enjoyed this wine, but prefer my wines from Oregon to be a bit more Burgundian in style, and not so much Santa lucia highlands.  there was an unexpected smoke to this, and it was way to full bodied for my expectation of Oregon.

In contrast, the 2006 has a much higher acidity and a lot more zing.  This is somewhat surprising given that 2006 was quite a warm year in the willammette and the ABV is over 14%.  There were a lot of bright cranberry, hibiscus, and raspberry flavors, followed by a touch of violets and spice rack, with some root beer and bark, and a touch of vanilla.  It was much lighter than the 2005, but stil had a medicum body with crisp acidity.  I think it was great with food and would BUY it if i found it on the shelf.

As luck would have the wines kept getting better and better.  nowing that, for hte most post, Oregon is known to have the best vintages in odd years, I was looking forward to the 2007. I certainly was not dissapoitned as this was my favorite of the three by far.  It was was classically burgundain, iwth lovely acidity and bright red fruit.  The spice notes were earthy and forest floor, and it was simploy a lovely example of what I love about Oregon wines.  big bright red cherries and a touch of nutmeg were clearly present, but it almost tasted older than an 07, in the very best way.  this is a MUST BUY for me and is still affordable for this quality of wine.  This is a wine that you MUST BUY if you are in the area and are a Pinotphile!

I fully expect great things to continue to come from TWELVE Wines, and really look forward to seeing what else they come up with.  They also make a Pinot Gris, and I look forward to tasting that when i thaw out.

Happy drinking, and I look forward to bringing you more pinot nori from the 2011 Pinot Noir Summit in Feburary!

No people were harmed in my desire to run to the nearest Pinot Noir, but these wines were provided as samples.