Running up that hill – Cardiac Hill

Kramer VineyardsWe interrupt this armchair travel series on Rioja with a short trip to the Willamette Valley for two different Oregon Pinot Noirs, brought to you by Kramer Vineyards.

First up, the 2010 Cardiac Hill Pinot Noir, which is from the steepest part of the estate vineyards that Kramer sources fruit from.  Planted in 1995, with rich red soils and ribbons of clay running through the slopes.

Hand harvested blocks due to the steep slopes were treated to a 25% new French oak treatment, and slept for 18 months, where it was then bottled unfined and unfiltered.  The resulting wine is bright and slightly cloudy, with tangering, cranberry, wild strawberry and brilliant acid.  I love the woodsy note on the nose, and the earthy violets in the glass that opens up to tart cherries and cinnamon spice on the finish.  I loved having the comparison to the next wine, but the Cardiac Hill can go on for days, and belies the more traditionally bolder, bigger style of many 2010 wines from the region.  $40

In contract, the 2010 Rebecca’s Reserve comes from just over the field from the Cardiac Hill, but was planted with a higher density.  The grape clusters here are smaller, and tighter, creating wines with more depth and complexity.

Also harvested by hand, the fruit is given the same oak treatment as Cardiac Hill but had an extra month on oak before bottling.  The result is bright red fruit on the nose, with strawberry, crushed raspberry, berry jam, and rich brown sugar.  It is more lush and rounded, with a burst of lemon zest and blood orange on the finish.  I love the baking spice on the palate along with vanilla and cola, with a long lingering finish.  $35

Check out Kramer’s Wines for great examples of Pinot Noir from Oregon’s Yamhill-Carlton region.  Small and mighty, winemaker Kimberly Kramer continue to impress with each passing vintage, be it still or sparkling.

Cheers!

These wines were provided by the winery for a live twitter tasting, always a raucous good time.  Check out #drinkkramerwine and #tastekramerwine for off the cuff commentary!

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The hills are a glow with…

Pinot!

Luminious Hills

On our Blitz Carlton tour of the Yamhill-Carlton wine region, I was lucky enough to visit the Luminous Hills vineyard sight.  I have tasted the wines of Byron Dooley a few times before, as he owns the Seven of Hearts and Luminous Hills labels, but this visit was special.

Byron Dooley tells us about the wine, the site, and how much bees like corked wine!

Joe Power of Another Wine Blog really enjoys his pinot!

Piling in to the trusty Subaru wagon (legally required if you live in Oregon), we trekked up a rough and ready road to the beautiful rolling hills.  The steep slopes of the site are hidden from the main road and are a beautiful hollow in the hills where the cool air pools in the valley.

The vineyard is located in the southwest corner of the Yamhill-Carlton District, in a uniquely high elevation site full of both Jory and sedimentary soils.  The two soils, which are very different, combined with the specific clones that Byron uses to make these wines, create some delicious and complex Oregon Pinot Noirs.

 

Like many vineyards in the area, the bulk of the plantings are Pommard, with blocks of 777, 667,

Bloggers stop at nothing to tweet! Do you have a signal? I have a signal. Where is the signal!

and 115 also planted to add terroir and variety.  The property is dry farmed, which maximizes the site’s terroir, although emergency irrigation is possible if needed in a difficult vintage   Sustainable farmed, the three Pinot Noirs from Luminous Hills are each distinct, wonderful, and full of character – much like Byron himself!

Luminous Hills producers four wines.  I will let you taste them

for yourself, but the details are:

Rose of Pinot Noir – This is such a delicious refresher, with 70% purpose made from Pommard and 777, and 30 Saignee.  The clean, crisp flavors jump out of the glass, and the bolder style is perfect to tuck away in your cellar.

Estate Grown Pinot Noir Yamhill-Carlton – This affordable luxury contains all four clones from the property,  and is a clear picture of the location.

 

 

Estate Grown Pinot Noir – Yamhill-Carlton LUX – this wine is only Pommard and 777, with the richness of the Pommard overlapping the bright spikes of the 777.  The higher elevation of the vineyard produces brighter, elegant fruit.  This is my fave!

Robbin Gheesling of Vineyard Adventures looks longingly at the Rose

Snack time of local cheeses!

Estate Grown Pinot Noir – Yamhill Carlton- Utilizing the 667 clone from the top of the vineyard and the 115 from the bottom, the Astra has more whole cluster fermentation and is a rich, bold wine.

I hope you will stop by the tasting room in Carlton when you are in the Willamette Valley!  Byron, Lena and the chocolate will be waiting for you!

 

 

 

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!

Soléna Soléna Soléna!

I first found out about Soléna Estate wines from my blogger friend Ryan Reichert, (@oenoblog)when he moved to Oregon to start his new career in the wine industry.  Through Ryan, I was introduced to Lynnette Shaw, the tasting room manager at Soléna.  When Lynnette was in San Francisco for the Chronicle Wine Competition Grand Tasting, we got to talking about all things social media and how Twitter, Facebook, and blogging can increase exposure to your brand and introduce your wines to new audiences.  I’ve talked a lot about changing perceptions and increasing your market share through exposure, and this was another opportunity for me to share my passion for new media.

Fortunately for me, Lynnette left me with samples of Soléna’s current releases to sample and share, and knowing that I was a pinotphile (thanks Ryan!) I was excited to explore a bit of Oregon.  Being a California girl, with some much world class wine available at the source an hour away from my house, I find myself occasionally getting stuck – although I am not complaining about my love of the Cellar Rat, Cartograph, Holdredge, and MacPhail, in the well trodden track between my house and Sonoma County.  I suppose stuck isnt’ exactly the right word, since i don’t really find myself that motivated to climb out of the so called ditch, but exploring other regions reignites my passion for wine, and allows me to refresh my palate with new wines.

Soléna’s Estate was started by Laurent Montalieu and Danielle Andrus-Montalieu, and the name is derived from the French word Solene, and the Spanish Solana, for the sun & moon.  the first vintage was the 2003 Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, from Domaine Danielle Laurent vineyard in the Yamhill-Carlton appellation.  Low yields in the source vineyards and various vineyard techniques including biodynamics produce high quality fruit and some amazing wines of distinction.


2007 Pinot Noir – Hyland VineyardSome funk on nose, which I expected from Oregon, with rose petals, lots of mushrooms, forest floor and wet river rock.  What I didn’t expect was that this was a BIG pinot, with dark ripe raspberry, blueberry, baking spice, and a touch of jalepeno.  While it did seem a touch hot to me, I did really enjoy this wine.  If you should find it, BUY it.  It is a great example of an unfined and unfiltered pinot from a different region.

2008 Grand Cuvee Pinot Noiris the entry level Pinot from Soléna, and can be found more readily in major markets.  Once again, I found lots of forest floor and mushroom, but this blend had more ripe cherry, red berry, and rhubarb flavors followed by cranberry and strawberry.  This has the softest body, and a plush finish.  The Cuvee is a blend made from a selection of grapes from the Willamette Valley in Oregon, and the blending process allows the winemaker to select the best of each vineyard to create a masterpiece.  It’s a bit like a full symphony versus a single stanza, and while it was indicative of Oregon, I found it very much like a Russian River pinot in the cherry berry cola flavor profile.  This wine retails for $25, and is a MUST BUY for the high QPR.


The final Pinot Noir that I tasted from Soléna was teh 2006 Domaine Danielle Laurent. With a small production of 573 caes, this single vineyard designate from Yamhill-Carlton has black cherries and clove, which you immediately feel on the tip of your tongue.  This wine cries for food, and the dark earth and spice would be perfect for a pork roast or brown sugar glazed salmon.  At $45, it’s a splurge but worth it if you are exploring the Oregon pinot regions.

I enjoyed my meander through the Oregon wine country, and I suggest anyone who is a Pinot Prince or Princess to do the same.  I am guilty of being blinded by the amazing wines right in front of me in Russian River, carneros, and Anderson valley, and I forget that slightly farther to the north, there is a world class region waiting to be explored.  For this California palate, I was a bit wary of breaking the glass door between California and Oregon, since in the past I have been less than enthused with some examples, but I am happy to report that my taste buds have grown up and gone to Pinot heaven.

Special thanks to Lynnette Shaw and Soléna Estates for providing this samples and being a great dinner companiona s I rambled on about social media and the wine writing revolution!