Gary and I recently visited Willamette Valley, tasting with some of our favorite winemakers and discovering a few new finds, each special, unique and, as Willamette Valley goes, producing stellar Pinot Noir wines. We have toasted a few of them on our recent “Wine and Film, A Perfect Pairing” podcast on reVolver Podcasts. Notes on the wines, winemakers and their special stories are below.
To listen to the shows, follow the link here and click “Episode 29,” and “Episode 27.” And, be sure to subscribe through iTunes, Google Play Music, Spotify or IHeartRadio.
Also, as we mentioned in the shows, for anyone in the Dallas area, January 24 we will welcome the Willamette Valley Vintners and over 60 winemakers, including many we have discussed on the show, to Dallas for a grand #PinotInTheCity tasting at the Westin downtown. Some of the key winemakers who will be here include our buddies David Adelshiem and Winemaker David Paige of Adelsheim Winery, Shane Moore of Gran Moraine and Zena Crown, Josh Bergstrom of Bergstrom, always charming Melissa Burr of Stoller Family Vineyards, adorable Annie and Scott Shull of Raptor Ridge, and Ft. Worth native Rollin Soles of ROCO Winery. Tickets and details here.
I do feel blessed to get to do what I do, speaking and writing about wine, visiting regions all over the world, learning about the stories of passion and dedication that winemakers and owners share, dedicated to creating the best wines they can. In all of the travels I have done, all over the world, my heart always takes me back to Willamette Valley, OR. A lot has to do with the wines, as I could drink Pinot Noir, happily, every day. But mainly for the people.
On this most recent trip we tasted with a handful of the best. Over dinner with David Adelsheim, founder of Adelsheim Winery, and his sweetheart, the incredible, Eugenia Keegan of Gran Moraine, and running operations for the newly acquired Jackson Family Wines wineries, Penner-Ash and Willakenzie, I pinched myself a few times, feeling privileged to call them friends. And, friendship often has its privileges. Over the course of our beautiful meal with them, Eugenia shared the 2014 Gran Moraine Chardonnay, the first for the winery, and David revealed two special guests, a 2008 Caitlin Chardonnay, his signature Chardonnay, and a 1987 Elizabeth Reserve Pinot Noir. If there was ever a question of how Willamette wines will age, this stunning bottle proved they will age beautifully. Earthy, mushroom and truffle filled, but also still lively with acidity and fruit, two elements that often fade when a wine ages. Beautiful.
A new find for the trip was Nicolas-Jay Winery, tasting with Associate Winemaker, the young and dynamic Tracey Kendall. After traveling through New Zealand, Australia and Washington, the Seattle native actually joined the team at Adelsheim in 2011 as enologist. In 2014, with Adelsheim winemaker, David Paige’s, blessing Tacey joined Nicolas-Jay. Nicolas-Jay was started in 2014 by music executive, turned winery owner, Jay Boberg (who is noted as the man behind binds like REM, The Go-Go’s, The Roots and Blink 182,) and renowned French Winemaker Jean-Nicolas Méo.
Tracy is considered one of the rising stars of the Willamette Valley, melding her gifted palate with an understanding of viticulture and fermentation science. The trio work in unison, making the decisions for this up and coming winery in the region.
Though young, the wines of Nicolas-Jay are making their mark early. They are big, intense and earthy. Pinot Noir for steak lovers with bold fruit and earth, like some Burgundy, yet still an approachable elegance. The inaugural 2014 Nicolas-Jay Willamette Valley Pinot Noir a part of the Wine Spectator top 100 list and #8 on the top 50 from Seattle Times. As more and more new wineries pop up in Willamette, this is one to watch as their future looks promising.
We also spent time with Matt Wengle, Winemaker for Lemelson Vineyards and Winery. Laid back, earnest and quite generous with both his time and knowledge, this young winemaker, who arrived in Willamette not long ago after stints in California, New York, Chile and South Africa, is doing some special things at Lemelson.
Though I had heard of the winery of years, this was our first trip to visit. Started by environmental advocate, Eric Lemelson, in the early 1990’s, with a focused commitment to the earth, the land and to his community. An architect of LEED buildings, Lemelson’s “green” principles are reflected everywhere you look at the winery.
Since it’s inception, all vineyards have been farmed organically. This is both good for the environment, as well as the actual fruit, as you truly get a sense of the land, the terroir, the fruit in every glass. Matt’s hands-off approach to winemaking carries this through to his award winning wines. Their Lemelson Thea’s Selection Pinot Noir was also a part of the Wine Spectator Top 100 for 2016, a steal for $30 a bottle. He is also producing a stellar bone-dry Riesling that sings with minerality and subtle fruit.
I love how many strong, smart, determined female winemakers we have met in Willamette. Though it is never a focus to find great women, I am thrilled that in this region it isn’t difficult to find great women in prominent roles, like as winemaker, in the wineries of Willamette.
One favorite that I simply can never spend enough time with is Melissa Burr of Stoller Family Vineyards. Working with sustainably grown fruit, with a focus on the environment, while making delicious wines, has been the focus of this Willamette Valley native for the 14 years she has been with the winery. Though her Pinot Noir is excellent, one thing I have always loved about Stoller is their impressive production of Chardonnay wines. From their crisp, light and fresh, stainless steel fermented Stoller Chardonnay, that is filled with juicy citrus and orchard fruit, to their warm, toasty, barrel aged Reserve Chardonnay, to some new wines they are creating in limited supply, like Chardonnay using concrete eggs, adding a mineral note to the expressive wine.
They also had just unveiled their first sparkling wine, Stoller “La Rue” Brut Rose. I am always up for a bubble, especially one made in the traditional method from premium Pinot Noir fruit. Juicy, red cherry, strawberry and watermelon filled, much like their still Rose, but with added layers of orange peel, brioche and spice. This one won’t last long. Thankfully, the dedicated craftsmanship of Melissa will ensure special wines like these will continue to shine for Stoller Vineyards.