August 18, 2010

A visit to Luminous Hills Vineyard

A few days back I had the opportunity to visit the beautiful Luminous Hills estate vineyard of Byron and Dana Dooley, high in the foothills of the Oregon coast range. Technically this site lies in the sprawling Yamhill-Carlton District AVA. The address however is McMinnville and the site probably has more to do with the McMinnville AVA than Yamhill-Carlton. Perhaps it's something different altogether.

First, soils types vary here as they tend to in McMinnville. Instead of the typical Willakenzie series sediments of the Yamhill-Carlton District, we see that and the volcanic Jory soils more common in the Dundee Hills. Also, the elevation here is high, 600 to 800 feet, whereas most of the Yamhill-Carlton District is mid- to low elevation, typically on rolling hills that simply don't reach as high as this southwest corner of the growing region.

The Luminous Hills site was planted in the spring of 2006. Byron started our vineyard walk on the far west slope, where the sedimentary soils are planted to the Pommard and 115 clones of Pinot noir. The uppermost block of Pommard is on raparia gloire rootstock to devigorate the vines while the rest of the vineyard is on the workhorse 101-14 rootstock. Remember that most vineyards the world over contain grape varieties grafted onto disease resistant rootstock. Nothing different here, though rootstock selection can affect how the vines grow.

Things look good in the Pommard blocks and across the entire estate. Leaves have been pulled a few weeks back, exposing the fruit to light and allowing for better air flow. A second hedging happened just a few days ago. Perhaps another won't be necessary as the vines are focusing more on ripening fruit this time of year. Plenty of leaving remain for ripening, probably in October given the elevation and our cool summer. Below the Pommard blocks we find the 115 clone, which set a bit heavier. The vineyard crew will drop more fruit here and clip off more wings and shoulders to leave fewer and small grape custers, all the better to be nicely ripe come harvest time.

On the eastern side, we find the volcanic Jory soils. Here Byron planted the 667 and 777 clones to give a little more spice to what can be more fruit driven variants of Pinot noir. Most of the vineyard if fairly steep, and it's especially clear in the long sloping rows of these uppermost blocks. In the swale between blocks, you see a gorgeous old Oregon oak that the Dooleys couldn't help but leave in the vineyard.

From the top the view is magnificent, even luminous. The name is apt and the wines gorgeous. I've written about them before and I'll follow this post with some thoughts on the latest wines I tried later in the day of this visit. Needless to say, if you can find either of the 2008s from Luminous Hills, the estate bottling or the more limited "Lux" bottling, try them. They are tremendously delicious and interesting wines that should cellar and evolve nicely.

Above this top area of the vineyard is a fallow area that Bryon says might be planted to white wine, perhaps gruner veltliner. No plans are definite yet, but I like the idea of planting something unusual in this area. Some local gruners, the grape of Austria, have shown great promise. Knowing Bryon's style of winemaking, I bet he'd make something of benchmark quality for our region.

Overal, I came away from this vineyard walk even more excited about Luminous Hills than I was at the start. There are several excellent producers in our region, makers of the highest quality. While Luminous Hills is pretty new, I'm ready to put them up there in that top eschelon. I'm not much for rankings, but clearly this site is special and the wines from it equally so. I've written before that I must disclose that he and I are both sourcing fruit from the new Armstrong vineyard on Ribbon Ridge, so take my words with that in mind. Truth be told, I'm looking forward to learning from Byron. That's part of why I'm so excited. He's such a modest guy, he just shrugs that off, saying he thinks he's going to learn from me. Perhaps, but I'm guessing I'll get the better end of that deal.

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