Domaine Drouhin, Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills AVA, Willamette Valley, Oregon, Wine of USA, 2013
Firstly, some notes on Oregon, followed by the Willamette Valley AVA …
A short history of Oregon wine
There is some debate as to when and by whom, pinot noir was first planted in Oregon. The consensus seems to be one David Sommers, who planted predominantly riesling, with small amounts of other varieties, including pinot noir, in what is now the Umpqua Valley AVA, in 1959 (7).
The realisation that the terroir of the north-western part of the Willamette Valley particularly suited pinot noir, came in the mid-1960s, when David Lett established a commercially viable planting with Eyrie Vineyard in the Dundee Hills. From this kernel interest grew, with more vineyards established in the Valley, gathering speed from the 1970s. The somewhat short history of the wine industry is well covered in (2).
Willamette Valley AVA
Oregon wine production is dominated by the Willamette (River) Valley AVA (with 70% of total Oregon plantings), the River running south to north for about 140 miles before draining into the Columbia River at the Washington state border. The valley is in the rain shadow of the Coast Range to the west, which protects from the westerly rain potential of the Pacific, and is separated from the relatively dry but not quite desert-like region to the east, by the Cascade Mountains.
The main AVA comprises 6 sub-AVAs, all to the west of the River, of Chehalem Mountains, Dundee Hills, Eola-Amity Hills, McMinnville, Ribbon Ridge and Yamhill-Carlton, with just a handful of producers in the land to the east of the River. There is a total of 18 AVAs in Oregon.
The latitude and effective climate of Oregon are similar to that of Burgundy. The climate is cool maritime, so warm dry summers with a significant diurnal range, and cool wet winters. Annual rainfall is about 75 cm, similar to eg Nottingham, but unlike Nottingham, most falls in winter.
Soils are well-drained, based on volcanic basalt, sedimentary rock and loess.
Vineyards are planted on east through south-facing hillsides, above the level of the frost-prone fertile valley floor, at elevations in general of about 60m, but can be up to 300m. The cool climate suits pinot noir, which dominates plantings with 14kha (2014), an order of magnitude greater than the next variety pinot gris, but also chardonnay, riesling and other minors.
Production and markets
There are about 700 vineyards and 500 wineries (2014). The number of new entrant wineries tripled in the last ten years, but investment costs and timescale to profit involved, means that many are not yet financially viable, and some are struggling.
The Valley produces close to 90% of all Oregon pinot noir (2014). Production is characterised by small-scale of a few hundred to low thousands of cases, with high quality, niche interest and relatively high pricing, and, with the exception of some of the larger operations, production aimed mainly at the US market. Reference (6) suggests that international exports have increased by 50% over recent years, but from, or to what absolute level, is not given. The hold-up is the lack of volume and distribution channels to venture further afield, unlike eg New Zealand pinot noir, which benefits from the established channels, price model, and dominant position on the international market, of flagship Marlborough sauvignon blanc. But, as reported in (4), there is recent movement in size of operation, as some financially distressed production is bought out by, or to form larger, enterprises, eg Jackson Family Wines (3).
This wine: varietal pinot noir, natural cork closure, 13.5% abv, BBR, £29 (2015)
WSET style tasting note
Appearance: clear and bright, pale intensity ruby, showing tears.
Nose: clean on the nose, of medium intensity, developing, with aromas, as they come, of red currant, red plum, blueberry, black berry, peony, warm dried herbs, sweet spice – vanilla and cinnamon, a little toast, sweet tobacco, dried red pepper and liquorice.
Palate: a dry wine, with medium (+) acidity, well-integrated medium (-) ripe tannins, medium (+) alcohol and a (just) medium body, medium (+) intensity, with flavours of red currant, red cherry, raspberry, cranberry, peony and cinnamon, dried red berries, black cherry and liquorice. A long length with a rich clean red fruit finish.
Quality: a very good quality wine, with nicely balanced acidity and tannins with alcohol and intensity of flavour, lacking a little on the nose but unusually more intensity on the mid-palate, showing some complexity from wood and bottle ageing, with embryonic tertiary development. A decent level of concentration following into the initially unexpected, long length.
Readiness for drinking/potential for ageing: drink now, but has potential for ageing – a sound acid structure supporting the modest tannins, together with fruit, concentration of flavour and signs of tertiary development, suggest 3-5 years cellaring would be beneficial.
- Domaine Drouhin Oregon.
- History of the Oregon Wine Industry. Hall, L.S. (2001). Excerpt from her text Wines of the Pacific Northwest. Mitchell Beazley. [online]. Accessed 13/03/16.
- Jackson Family Wines. (2016). Decanter Magazine. Expansion into Oregon. [online]. Accessed 13/03/16.
- Oregon producer money woes. (2016). Statesman Journal article. [online]. Accessed 13/03/16.
- Oregon wine. Good coverage of all 18 AVAs. [online]. Accessed 13/03/16.
- Oregon Wine Press. News and commentary. [online]. Accessed 13/03/16.
- Pinot File. (2011). Oregon pinot noir: who planted first? [online]. Accessed 13/03/16.
- Willamette Valley Wineries Association. Comprehensive and quite detailed coverage of terroir and production statistics. [online]. Accessed 13/03/16.