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pinot gris


Respect for Pinot Gris

Pinot gris, aka. Pinot grigio, proves to be one of the most under celebrated of grapes. Thanks largely to a trend towards light touch, or sweet style mass produced wines from the variety, the grape now is often thought of as bland, or lifeless.

Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey, however, disagrees, naming Pinot grigio one of the noble varieties, capable of transporting direct expression of its site through its wine. Travels through Friuli support Stuckey’s view. Heritage houses in the region respect the grape. With the local tradition of Ramato style wines, for example, a little skin contact can go a long way to carrying not only copper toned colors, but richer flavor, and stimulating mineral expression. Or, a little lees time, and greater complexity with richness appears.

In Oregon, David Lett of Eyrie Vineyards too believed in the value of Pinot gris, establishing the first plantings of the variety in the new world in 1965, and the first vintage in 1970. In 1976, and then again in the late 1980s, Lett established further plantings of the grape. Lett’s belief was that when grown well, and vinified to allow varietal expression, Pinot gris could produce fresh, flavorful wines.

Eyrie 2012 Estate Pinot Gris

Eyrie’s Estate Pinot Gris consistently offers ridiculous value. Part of its secret rests in vine age, with a huge portion of the fruit coming from vines planted in the 1970s, giving flavor concentration and complexity. Lett’s vision placed Pinot gris as the perfect pairing for salmon, rather than Chardonnay, illustrating Eyrie’s ability to combine flavor with fresh acidity, and mineral length through the variety.

The Eyrie 2012 Estate Pinot gris offers the expressive fruit liveliness of the vintage, with lots of freshness, and mineral crispness at only $15-19 per bottle. It’s sick. Expect fresh melon, accents of lily with greenery, and a hint of rhubarb on tons of crunchy mineral length. This wine is all about palate stimulation, and making your mouth water without gouging your pocket book.

Eyrie 2012 Original Vines Pinot Gris

Eyrie Pinot Gris Original Vines 2012click on image to enlarge

In 2011 Eyrie President and Winemaker, Jason Lett, launched a special bottling of Pinot gris made only from fruit of the original Eyrie Pinot Gris planting established in 1965. It proved to be one of my favorite wines of last year.

For 2012 he continued the project, again vinifying juice from only the original vines for their own cuvée. The wine is aged in old, large wood casks, or tun, remaining on lees for a year, with slow malolactic fermentation to bring a mid-palate creaminess to the intense vibrancy of the fruit.

The 2012 Original Vines proves to be ultra stimulating, offering thrilling acidity and freshness coupled with loads of flavor. The fruit forwardness of the vintage shines here on the wines pink-lightning structure. This wine has definite perspective. No questions asked. Just fresh fruit, mineral-zing truth. I am in love.

If you’re near Oakland, Bay Grape on Grand carries the Original Vines Pinot Gris. It’s a super secret, ultra limited stash so get there quickly and shh…

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com


The Seven Percent Solution: 17 Wineries, Crazy Grapes

Bergamot Alley in Healdsburg did a bang up job hosting a media and trade portion of the upcoming 7 Percent Solution wine tasting (Sarah even created a fantastic book listing wineries, wines, providing note space, and a clever business card holder). The public tasting occurs Saturday.

The event celebrates wines from 17 wineries in California developing their portfolios with lesser known, lesser planted varieties. As the story goes, approximately 93% of the vines in California rest in only 7 grape types. The 7% Solution brought together wines with a focus on the remaining few.

There wasn’t a bad wine poured, and there were a few excellent wines too. It’s hard to choose favorites in a group like that. Some wineries shared unreleased wines, others older vintages and first tries, and a fair number of unicorn wines appeared–wines of such small production they’re spoken of but seen only by the pure of heart that truly believe in their existence. I believe.

RPM’s 2012 Gamay was one of my genuine favorites. Grown in pink granite, there is a nerviness to this wine that accents its flavors beautifully. The RPM Gamay is all about subtle complexity pulsing through beautiful tension. It gives a richness that washes over the mouth with just a pinch of traction through the finish, and beautiful aromatics.

The 2012 Abrente Albarino from Bedrock and Michael Havens remains a favorite (I had enjoyed it too last weekend). Where previous vintages were perhaps softer in the mouth, the 2012 brings in 40% fruit grown in limestone to balance the rich flavors of the Stewart Vineyard with the tension and zing of the Watson. It’s a gorgeous, stimulating combination.

Ryme Cellars woos me with their 2010 Aglianico, a wine others commented may be their best vintage of that grape. The dark fruit comes through with a light bodied presentation and well integrated spice to offer complex freshness.

The Forlorn Hope 2011 “Que Saudade” Verdelho really sings with a fresh, feminine, musk I can’t get enough of–all outdoorsy, pert, and interested, with great viscosity and range of flavor.

The just released Dirty & Rowdy’s 2012 Semillon with focused earthiness and pleasing texture was being poured on Wednesday out of magnum. It’s a treat.

I was also pleasantly surprised to find the Stark 2011 Viognier, a wine that absolutely fights its fruit’s stereotypes to give great concentration and texture on the palate with a long nervy finish. Two Shepherds’ 2011s are drinking perfectly right now so drink while you can (I think they’re about sold out but he’s pouring them). broc cellars 2012 Picpoul still has that surprisingly fresh-complexity of the 2011 but with a richer flourish.

Scott Schultz is pouring his new whites for Jolie-Laide. They’re a nice pair of Gris wines giving fresh spice in the Pinot Gris, and textural focus in the Trousseau Gris. But you’ll have to keep an eye for an opening as he pours. (All the girls were deservedly loving his table.) The Idlewild 2012 Arneis was all seering, pretty, and textural with layers of flavor. They’re one of the labels that helped get the event started too, so be sure to thank them.

Best of all, the 7% Solution was just full to the brim with good, and super fun people.

Here are some photos from the event.

Ryan, Hardy, Pax

Ryan Glaab, Ryme Cellars; Hardy Wallace, Dirty & Rowdy; Pax Mahle, Wind Gap

Hardy, Chris, Nathan, Megan

Hardy Wallace, Dirty & Rowdy; Nathan Roberts, Arnot-Roberts and RPM; Megan Glaab, Ryme Cellars; Chris Cottrell, Bedrock Wine

Forlorn Hope, Dirty & Rowdy

Forlorn Hope Wines, Dirty and Rowdy Family Wines


William Allen, Two Shepherds

Pax, Mick, Nathan

Pax Mahle, Wind Gap; Mick Unti, Unti Wines; Nathan Roberts, Arnot Roberts, RPM

Broc Cellars

broc cellars Picpoul


Sam Bilbro, Idlewild Wines


Stark Viognier


Matthiasson Refosco (one of the unicorns)

Raj, RPM

Raj Parr, RPM

Raj and Duncan

Raj Parr and Duncan Arnot Meyers, RPM


Scott Schultz, Jolie-Laide


Thank you to Pax Mahle. Thank you to Dan Petroski.

Thank you to Kevin, Sarah, and Sam.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.


In 1965 David Lett planted what would be the first Pinot Gris vineyard in North America, 160 cuttings placed in the ground on their own roots in the Willamette Valley. Today those vines still give fruit, and serve as the source material for all of Eyrie Vineyards Pinot Gris vines.

Jason Lett and I spoke recently about these grapes in particular. “Dad had done cuvée from the original vines, and they were delicious” but Eyrie had never sold such bottlings separately. Jason had wanted to find a way to pay homage to these original vines, however, and so in 2008 started playing with the fruit. He’s produced two different styles of wine with bunches from the original vines. One, a Ramato style, with the fruit fermented on skins for an extended period, then left for extended élevage as well. The other a sans soufre bottling meant to keep the wine as close to the juice of the vineyard as possible. Yesterday, I opened a sample bottle of the 2011 sans soufre.

Drinking the Eyrie Vineyards 2011 Original Vines Pinot Gris

Eyrie Original Vine Pinot Gris 2011

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The wine evolves in the glass. At first opening it offers the tang of carrots and tomato leaf fresh from the garden, an herbal lifted nose and palate. The wine uncurls over the course of the day–lofted, fresh aromas, apricot and plum, just cut button roses, bread with light honey lifting from the glass. The palate moves as well. There is a stimulating vitamin buzz through the mouth carrying into a long soil and saline finish. The flavors offer lilies with their greens, fresh bread and grain with hints of butter, and the groundedness of coffee. The overall presentation is fresh, delicate while lively. I admire this wine both for its history and for its interest.


Thank you to Jason Lett for extending this wine to me.

The Original Vines Pinot Gris bottlings from Eyrie Vineyards will be released later this Spring. (I have a bottle of the 2009 Ramato as well and have been reluctant to open it, the gift of irreplaceable treasure. Though I can’t wait to view its copper color.)

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

Visiting Omero Cellars and Sarah Cabot

the tasting room in Carlton

inside the tasting room

getting ready to walk through the vineyards on Ribbon Ridge, our greeter

The Omero Cellars property rests in the smallest AVA in Willamette Valley at only 1300 acres, Ribbon Ridge. Omero’s vines are predominately Pinot Noir planted in 2009, with 26 total acres, 22 of which are Pinot Noir, 4 acres Pinot Gris. 2011 offered the first vintage of fruit off the property.

After completing studies at the Northwest Wine Academy with South Seattle Community College (as well as a degree in Jazz Composition from Berklee College of Music in Boston), Sarah Cabot sought harvest internships in Willamette Valley. The difficulty was found in her already having a secure position with the restaurant Wild Ginger in Seattle. Finally, she got the guts up to quit her job. The same day she gave notice she arrived home to an email about a harvest internship at Belle Pente, and the possibility of work as their Assistant Wine Maker, if she’d relocate, and proved the right fit. She hit the road.

“There has been a lot of serendipity for me in all of this.” –Sarah Cabot

“I love working with Pinot Noir. I love making whites. Those two are favorites. … There is no end to what we can learn. Each vintage is so different. I’m really playing mad scientist right now. Quality and knowledge in wine making come from trial and error. So, I always experiment, and put a lot of thought into my experiments before starting them, and talk with peers about them too. And then there are also the tools from school to work with. ” –Sarah Cabot

rains fell at bud break this year, causing some of the blooms to stay shut, thereby not turning into fruit. The phenomenon is known as “shatter”, leading to clusters with fewer grapes. Without shatter a Pinot cluster would form a small fairly cohesive fist shape. Here the open nature of the cluster shows the loss of berries caused by the opening rain. Asking Cabot about the health of her clusters this year she is surprised at the amount of shatter, but quickly remarks she’s okay with it because of what the loss of fruit now can do for the complexity of the wine in the end.

The Pinot Gris is planted on incredibly steep slopes. The Omero Cellars 2011 Pinot Gris offers juicy, bright fruit, with touches of light citrus powder, good movement of acidity, and a smooth mouth feel.

The wines are made to be served with food, and so we ate. Roasted Beets served with a goat cheese whip, and a reduction of pink grapefruit, peach, rosemary, and lavender.

Served with the 2008 Omero Cellars Pinot Noir made with fruit from Chehalem Estate Vineyard, which was planted in 1983. The wine offers rich aromatics, with light caramel notes, pepper, dark fruit, and rose floral, plus rose bramble notes. The palate follows. I am disinclined to spit. This wine has a lot to offer now, but also wants time to show the joy of experience.

Beet greens, red quinoa, fresh green beans, roasted potatoes, broccolini, cherry tomatoes, and balsamic. Oregon vegetables are one of the five necessities for a good life.

The 2009 Omero Cellars Pinot Noir from the Ribbon Ridge AVA but declassified to name as Willamette Valley fruit. The wine offers rose, and lavender spice with a belly of red fruit aromatics. There is a soft mouth feel carrying pepper, and rose perfume alongside thoroughly integrated red fruit and light caramel notes.

Shaved zucchini squash, corn, truffle oil, and shaved Parmesan

Carlton Farms Pork Ribs served in a blackberry and Omero Pinot Noir reduction. I like meat. #meat

The 2010 Omero Cellars Iliad offers rose and cherry blossom with integrated spice and pepper, and a perfumed palate carrying deep date notes. The flavors here are fluid, while also rich and concentrated.

The 2010 Omero Cellars Odyssey–their reserve wine that vintage–shows a darker, fuller, and richer presentation alongside the Iliad. The aromatics show spiced, with pepper, and cooked (not jam) cherry. There are rose back notes here integrated in with the fruit.

What is consistent in Omero Cellars wines is a rich presentation with plenty of movement. There is a focus here on dark-flower aromatics, concentrated fruits, and acidity.

Tartlets from mixed greens and vegetable juice pulp, plum-apricots, with black pepper crumple, Oregon hazelnuts, and truffle honey. Oregon hazelnuts are another of the five things necessary to living a good life.

As a surprise, Destiny Dudley pulled out the first wine Cabot ever made to go with dessert–a 2007 Late Harvest Pinot Gris made in 5 gallon buckets and Cabot’s garage. The wine is remarkably fresh, and only a touch sweet. It offers orange blossom, and quince in a delicate nose, with white herbs, nuts, white peach, very light residual sugar and white pepper, all well integrated through the palate, and served in a label-less bottle (my favorite).

Thank you very much to Sarah Cabot for the wines, and walking me through the vineyards.

Thank you very much to Destiny Dudley for the fantastic food served for lunch.

Thank you to Amanda Moore.

Copyright 2012 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

Growing up the only exposure I had to wine occurred during our family’s once a month dinner outing to the now defunct Hong Kong Chinese Food Restaurant in midtown Anchorage, where we spent our winters. The same waitresses worked there for the several decades the business stood. Every visit they would happily greet us, sit us at a large round table (with a lazy-Susan in the middle that fascinated me), and bring my mom a glass of plum wine. It was her occasional treat. As a result, my wine exposure didn’t really begin until my late teens when my dad announced he’d be drinking a glass of Pinot Noir a day. The doctor had told him to.

My wine education, however, started with a succession of three moments I remember distinctly because of how they changed me. The first occurred when a friend brought me a bottle of good Chianti Classico for an early-20s birthday. It was the first time I realized red wine could be good. The second arose when my sister Melanie took my sister Paula and I out to dinner at the end of a long commercial salmon fishing season and ordered a high price bottle of Brunello. It was the first time I realized I could love red wine. The third, thanks again to Melanie, occurred when she opened a bottle of Eyrie Pinot Noir and told me their story. Listening to David Lett’s story of taking a risk by leaving California and planting in the Willamette Valley before anyone else had dared, then tasting the wine that resulted–it was the first time I realized by wine I could be enthralled. In this way, Eyrie Vineyards instigated my deeper passion for wine knowledge and wine tasting combined.

Eyrie Vineyards 2009 Pinot Gris

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In the late 1960s David Lett moved from the Davis area of California to Oregon, convinced it was the place to grow the cooler climate grapes of the Pinot family. After a year or so of looking for the right spot he settled in the Willamette Valley to begin cultivating the vines that would later transform the area into one of the highest regarded Pinot Noir regions in the world.

In the midst of introducing Pinot Noir to the valley, Lett also stood as the first to plant Pinot Gris in North America. Pinot Noir’s lighter sibling is now the second most planted variety in the Willamette and has spread to other areas of the United States Western growing regions as well. 1970 marked the first release of Eyrie’s Pinot Gris, the first to be bottled in the United States.

Pinot Gris shows as a grape of subtlety that is on the one hand seen as readily approachable (if for being inoffensive), but on the other hand sometimes boring because of it. It’s a reputation that winemakers of the Willamette Valley have worked to transform. In the midst of this transformation stands Jason Lett, second generation wine maker of Eyrie Vineyards. Alongside others of the Willamette Valley, Lett has worked to understand the best of the grape, and encourage the public to see its value. In his book, The Great Wines of America, Paul Lukacs credits Eyrie with opening the new standard for quality American wines of this varietal.

The 2009 Eyrie Pinot Gris shows a well-balanced combination of yellow skinned stone and orchard fruits along side the spice of citrus zest and grounding chalk minerals. The wine has an impressive range for its subtlety. It carries hints of smoke, and dried beach grasses alongside brightening acidity. This is a wine to drink with ease and attention both–it offers a story of features, while being readily drinkable.

Interestingly, David Lett remarked that he preferred drinking his Pinot Gris alongside salmon. I’d be thrilled to try but imagine it as most appropriate with the lighter flavors of a King, rather than the hardiness of a Sockeye. This wine made me crave ceviche.

Eyrie Vineyards 2007 Chardonnay

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Jason Lett continues the Eyrie philosophy of low intervention. His focus is on maintaining a healthy vineyard well-balanced too with other plant life and animals on site. The property readily includes wild hawks building their nests high above the vines–the source of the label name, Eyrie (the name for the nest of a bird of prey)–visiting vine tenders as they work.

Lett also describes how he keeps ground cover plants among the vines, such as simple grasses. The effect of having other plants growing with the vines is that they absorb the water from regional rains so that the vines have to root deeper to find their own fluids. As Lett explains, without this ground cover the vines become more water logged, thus diminishing the flavor of the grapes. Most fascinating, it would also appear that the focus on the balanced vineyard has helped to ward off disease bearing pests. Gratefully, Eyrie vines remain healthy even as some vine diseases have moved their way into Willamette Valley.

Eyrie’s Chardonnay is known for having incredible aging potential with vintages as far back as the 1970s still showing focused interest. Jason Lett describes himself not only as the president and winemaker of Eyrie, but also the curator of their wine library. The process of curating their extensive library includes thorough testing of each bottle that leaves the premises for tasting. As Lett expains it, older bottles are tasted and examined for flaws, and then reassembled to ensure high standards. Older vintages of the Eyrie Chardonnay have been highly praised by some of the best palates in the industry both for their quality and their incredible sustainability in the bottle.

The 2007 Eyrie Vineyards Chardonnay showcases a wonderful combination of ripe pear and melon alongside citrus and and crisp apple. The richness is complemented by hints of smoke and smoked meat, while the citrus and bright acidity are accented by touches of wild flower honey. I hesitate to gush too much, lest you not believe me, but my first thought in tasting this wine was to wonder why I hadn’t been drinking it all along, for years. There are yeast notes, pleasing minerality, and medium high acidity here.

It’s a wonderful wine.

Eyrie Vineyards 2009 Pinot Noir Original Vines Reserve

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The Original Vine Reserve ushers from those same Eyrie vines planted in 1966 by the Lett family. The rich flavors here carry excellent balance with concentrated aromatics, that shows as more delicate on the palate. The complexity here is lovely with dried red fruits on the nose opening to brighter flavors in the mouth. Hints of violet and black cherry on the nose grounding to red cherry and fig in the mouth. There are earthy mushrooms, touches of tobacco, and dried green herbs showing here, again with more dried aromas that open to fresher flavors. I love the smell of this wine. The texture in the mouth is smooth, with a pleasing range of palate complements. There is certainly great aging potential here, and the wine is also drinkable now.



To read more by me on Eyrie Vineyards 2008 Estate Pinot Noir, and their sustainability practices:


Or, about their Pinot Blanc:


Copyright 2012 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com