March 07, 2012

Chehalem Mountains Winegrowers trade tasting

I'm remiss in reporting on a nice trade tasting put on last week by the Chehalem Mountains Winegrowers. (Let me be clear in saying that I was a guest of the association, driven there and back to Portland with other industry types. I also make wine from the Ribbon Ridge AVA, a unique lobe of land tucked into the southwestern corner of the area and represented by this group.) As you can see in the adjacent photo, the event took place at Raptor Ridge Winery, which on the northern slope of the AVA in the lighter colored portion of the map.

The Chehalem Mountains run northwest to southeast and feature three distinct soil types. I love how the association's logo map shows by color the general limits of each soil. The green area represents the sandy soils of ancient ocean floor sediments, lifted over time by tectonic action. This area includes Ribbon Ridge and to my taste delivers a darker fruit expression of Pinot Noir. The red areas represent, naturally, the red volcanic basalt soils most typical in our Dundee Hills, but common here in the steep southern slope of the Chehalem Mountain and the entire Parret Mountain region on the lower right. I find the basalt soils give a redder character to Pinot Noit. Finally, the younger windblown Loess soils on the northern flank, where Raptor Ridge is located. I honestly don't have a good sense of this soil type, in terms of Pinot Noir anyway. Windblown soils are meager nutritionally, which is great for vines. I need to do more research to speak with any more knowledge though.

Obviously this diverse soil range might make terroir oriented wine lovers wonder...why not three AVAs, or growing areas? The association admits on their website that over time it would seem likely that a few subregions will emerge. For now, this broad area of the northern Willamette Valley, that happens to be the closest of our AVAs to the city of Portland, is one big region full of several top quality producers.

On the whole, the wines were delicious. I have made a point here previously that it's simply impossible for me, a local wine producer, to write critically of other local producers. That said, I was delighted in the range of wines, white and red, particularly in the delicacy of style that many are going for. I didn't even get to half of what was being poured, but a few that stood out for various reasons...

Adelsheim's crisp 2010 Pinot Blanc Bryan Creek Vineyard. Wished they were pouring the Auxerrois, which I've loved in the past.

Anam Cara's range of Pinots, particularly the 2008 Pinot Noir Nicolas Vineyard (by the way, I also enjoyed the '08 Et Fille Nicolas Vineyard a few nights later at a dinner in Portland).

Anne Amie's range of wines, including crisp 2010 Pinot Blanc and 2009 Pinots with a soft touch. I'm loving what Thomas Houseman is doing at this property.

Beckham Vineyard's 2011 Rose of Pinot Noir, a beautiful, juicy and dry pink wine from a producer I'd never heard of.

Bergstrom's 2010 Old Stones Chardonnay, really good Oregon chard and fairly priced in the low $20s. The Pinots were also more restrained than I remember from past years.

Dion's delicate Pinots from their 1970s era vines on the far northern end of the AVA.

JK Carriere's 2011 Glass White Pinot Noir, really a very pale rose that I usually enjoy.

Utopia Vineyard Pinot Noirs in general, with nice whole cluster aromatics, toasty but graceful.

The tasting featured an unexpected aspect, which I loved but I can imagine might be difficult for the non winemakers to appreciate - Pinot Noir barrel samples of 2011s from a few unnamed producers. The samples were arranged by the three soil types, but at this stage with many wines still going through their malolactic fermentation, all I felt you could really get was a general sense of the vintage, at least from this specific growing region.

The view from Raptor Ridge on a beautiful late February afternoon.
So how were the 2011s? Dark in color, bursting with flavors even with the sharp malic acidity in some samples still to be converted to the softer lactic acid you're used to in finished red wine. In short, they reminded me of the great 2008. How can that be? 2011 was our coldest season in 20 years, much colder than the cool, late 2008 harvest. The answer I think is in the late and dry harvest, where grapes ended up getting the time to get ripe even at remarkably low sugars. Yes, most producers had some grape lots with pretty low brix (sugar levels), but from my own production experience, my experience tasting other producers barrels (mostly friends), and now tasting a bunch of samples here, all I can say is wow. 2011 has produced some powerful, but not powerfully alcoholic, wines. The best wines will live a long time in the cellar, and like the 2008s they may seem a bit dense at first.

The press better not make any judgements before tasting these new wines. All summer we heard about the cold season and how disaster could be upon us. Then we had a perfect autumn, most unexpectedly but still. Taste the wines when they come out later this year and all through the next. Yes, there will be lots of delicious rose from some of that lower brix fruit. Some people inevitably will produce some red wines that lack sufficient ripeness. When isn't that true? But from what I'm tasting, and believe me I don't have much 2011 wine to sell so this is no sales pitch, I cannot wait to see the 2011s hit the market. And we'll see which critics actually taste wines before making pronouncements.

1 comment:

Sheila Nicholas said...

Glad you were able to join us and especially that you had an opportunity to sample the stellar 2011 barrel samples. This vintage is a testament to the progress we've made in viticulture in the past 10-15 years, teaching us how to farm so that challenging harvests still produce rewarding wines.