September 01, 2008

Oregon Vineyard Maps: Eola-Amity Hills AVA

The Eola-Amity Hills AVA map shows an area due south of the Dundee Hills stretching all the way to Oregon's capital city, Salem. The AVA is really two distinct areas, the Eola Hills in the central and south, and the Amity Hills in the north. The dominant soil type here is volcanic, specifically the Nekia, which is similar to the red Jory soils of the Dundee Hills. The distinction is that, where Jory soils are up to twenty feet of red clay eroded from the basalt bedrock, Nekia soils feature but a few feet of soil before you hit bedrock.

The two areas were combined when the Eola Hills winery apparently objected to an AVA with their exact name, which would have forced them to use grapes only from the AVA for anything they bottled under the Eola Hills name. Seems reasonable, mostly. An AVA doesn't mean much if there's a winery that uses the exact name but gets grapes from elsewhere. Nevermind that Eola Hills winery isn't actually in the Eola Hills, rather down in Rickreall to the southwest on OR Highway 99W.

So we have the Eola-Amity Hills conjoined AVA. The Amity Hills to the north are a distinct east-west range with some nice, rocky south facing exposures. Myron Redford's Amity Vineyard is perhaps the most historic in the area. Antica Terra is a nice, again rocky site. To the east is the large Willakia planting from Premier Pacific, another investment of the California State workers' pension. To the east, there are a number of other independent vineyards, among them the Jesse James Vineyard that's now a single vineyard bottling from Bethel Heights.

Below Amity Road, the Eola Hills begin. The range is largely north-south, with lots of eastern and southern exposures. South facing sites are obviously attractive for catching maximum sunlight. Eastern exposures are attractive for getting morning light that wakes up the vines early but avoids some of the most intense rays of mid- to late afternoon. Western exposures are notable in the Eola-Amity Hills for their direct exposure to the winds coming through the Van Duzer Corridor to the west. That gap in the Coast Range to the west brings in cool air from the Pacific Ocean that complicates ripening. Aside from west-facing sites that have some wind protection, you tend to see mostly southern and eastern facing vineyards in this AVA.

From the north, we see the aptly named Eola Hills vineyard. Also, there's Elton, known best for its bottling from Ken Wright Cellars. Moving to the south, we find the Jerusalem Hill vineyard bottled by Cristom. Then Seven Springs, perhaps my favorite in the state, once bottled by a number of great producers, now a monopole of sorts of a high dollar California concern.

Moving further south, we come to the heart of the Eola Hills, a broad opening to the south that's the most densely planted area in the AVA. There's Witness Tree and Cristom to the east, Temperance Hills high up to the west, Bethel Heights below it along with their Justice Vineyard, and the old O'Connor Vineyard that's been renamed Zenith by its latest owner Tim Ramey. More on that site, where I visited recently, in an upcoming post.

To the southwest, we find a variety of sites including Cherry Hill, Holloran's La Chenaie, the large Eola Springs Vineyard, and other notable sites such as Carter Vineyard, Canary Hill, and Cubanisimo. I'm sure there are sites not included on this map -- I'm not familiar with every one by any means. However, one notable omission is the Chemeketa Eola Viticultural Center's test vineyard at the very south of the AVA, off Doaks Ferry Road. This site is home vineyard of Chemeketa Community College's viticulture and winemaking program, run by Oregon wine veterans of Barney Watson and Al MacDonald.

Finally, to the southeast, we come to the outskirts of the city of Salem. There's Redhawk vineyard, a fine site, but really the jewel here is Evesham Wood's Le Puits Sec vineyard. This small east-facing site is the estate vineyard of inarguably my favorite Pinot Noir producer in Oregon. Proprietors Russ and Mary Raney are absolutely delightful people making elegant wine that are all about finesse. The vineyard itself, however lovely, doesn't quite suggest the beauty of the wines it gives. Check these out if you can find them.


Anonymous said...

Vincent, so who owns the Seven Springs site now?
And how is your wine coming along? When can I have a taste? ;-)

Ruben Ramos

Vincent Fritzsche said...

As I understand it, Al MacDonald still owns Seven Springs. It's simply under long term contract to a California group.

My wine is coming along well. I'm getting a label put together and then I'm going to have a little tasting event, probably in November, to launch it to friends, family, readers, etc. Stay tuned.