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Falling in Love with Oregon, One Pinot at a Time...

Beth Ribblett

Picking grapes at the Wahle Family Vineyard in Yamhill

Oregon Pinot Noir has been slowly, subtly, seeping its way into my wine consciousness since I met James Moises in the summer of 2009.  Wrongfully lumping it into my not so favorite category of new world wines, it has always been lurking just a bit under the radar for me.  And even though our wine reps have been bringing me Oregon Pinots for years, it was my personal relationship with James that made me want to learn more about this place that was drawing him away from his lifelong medial career and home town of New Orleans to make wine.  Well I got all of my questions answered on our trip last month with him to the Willamette Valley.

The Holmes Hill Vineyard, a 310 acre site in the Eola Hills

Oregon is a special place, and while there are a handful of big money, fancy wineries in the area, the majority of the producers are small and passionately making artisan wine from tiny, individual plots of land that they are farming themselves or from carefully selected purchased fruit.  Take Mark Wahle, James' business partner, as an example.  His family planted the earliest commercial vines in 1974 on a hundred acre plot in Yamhill.  He and his mother Betty Wahle manage the vineyard from the tending of the vines, picking of the grapes, and maintaining long term contracts to sell fruit to other wineries, as well as using it for their own wines.  One foggy, rainy morning we assisted in the picking of 3 tons of grapes with Mark, Betty, James and one worker, that were being sold to Ponzi. They are the real deal; farmers and stewards of the land who put their heart and soul into those vines and it is hard work!

The Carlton Winemakers Studio

Mark and James both currently make their wine in an eco-friendly, recycled-material-using, cooperative winemaking facility where a bunch of top-notch Oregon winemakers all share equipment and resources.  The Carlton Winemakers Studio became a leader in "green" winemaking when they came LEED Certified,  Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, an internationally recognized green building certification system. There is a wonderful environmental awareness pulsing through Oregon wineries and an amazingly collaborative, friendly wine community.  Winemakers and owners talked freely about what wines they made and how they made them.

Biodynamic winemaker Patrick Reuter of Dominio IV

And then there are the wines themselves.  I have to admit, I thought I would get bored with drinking Pinot for 5 days straight, but I didn't, not in the least.  The wines are the the perfect blending of the old and new world; subtle, elegant, higher acidity levels but still with beautiful, intoxicating fruit.  The different vineyard sites and vintages offered such unique expressions of the grape that I just couldn't, and still can't, get enough.  And what a treat to be spending time with Mark and James who know all of the winemakers and vintages and selected the most beautiful examples of what Oregon produces for our drinking pleasure!
One of our favorites from the trip.
And most importantly, Oregon is a pretty fabulous place that makes fantastic wines without any pretense.  It's a place where quality over quantity is the rule, sustainability is a lifestyle and where visitors always feel welcome and the winemaker is never far away…

James pouring a taste of the 2012 Yamhill from the tank.
So I'm on a bit of an educational quest right now in terms of Oregon wines.  And part of that quest is involving the drinking of at least one 2008 Pinot per week until the 2008's are gone from the city.  Not that 2008 is the end all be all vintage, but I had to start somewhere!  Each week I'll be writing about the wine that I've chosen, sometimes they will be available for retail, but sometimes not like the Willakenzie I had the last bottle of last week...and yes the educational research is also for an upcoming customer trip that I am putting together for next year's harvest, but more on that later!

Last week we popped the 2008 Willakenzie Estate Pinot Noir Aliette and this week's victim was the 2008 Dominio IV The Black and the Red. Look for my posts on my 2008 Pinot Quests weekly on swirlandsavor.