Willamette Valley in February and March
I just finished a two and a half week stint in Willamette Valley working on six different projects. Among these was adding more layers of detail to my knowledge of the region and its subzones by doing a full day in each of the six nested AVAs – McMinnville, Yamhill-Carlton, Dundee Hills, Ribbon Ridge, Chehalem Mountains, Eola-Amity Hills – within the larger Willamette Valley.
For each of the six AVA days I asked a different person with a long-standing background in that AVA, and a community focused perspective on it to organize what they saw as an insightful day of looking at maps, driving the region, meeting with growers and producers, and tasting. It added up to an intensive two weeks, and I’m super grateful for the time people put in.
I also spent time again with Pedro Parra. Raj Parr and I spent time with Pedro in Concepcion, Chile getting to know Itata and Bio Bio and its wines back in December. During that trip we discussed spending a day together in Oregon when we had the chance to overlap there. It was also an opportunity for me to continue understanding the work he does and better understand his views of a specific region, in this case Willamette Valley, as a result. In Chile I met with a number of producers that he has previously or is currently working with so I have been keen to continue getting to know his perspective.
During the rest of my trip I attended the Oregon Chardonnay Celebration, led a seminar for Brooks University – a wine education program for Brooks wines – was interviewed by the Oregon Wine History Archive, did research for leading the IPNC Grand Seminar this summer, and did a few follow up visits with producers as well. Here’s a look at the trip via the compiled Instagram images posted while I was there.
Awesome smashing together of worlds tasting Te Whare Ra whites and Seresin Pinots, both from Marlborough, alongside Brooks wines of Willamette Valley with winemaker Chris Williams, one of my favorite people to taste with any where. #willamettevalleywine #marlboroughwine @brookswinery @janiebrooksheuck @tewharerawinesnz @clivedougall @seresinestate
Wine people have the best t-shirts (and the best time). We were all wearing rock t-shirts on a day talking about vineyard rocks. Best meta geek out ever. From left: me, Pedro Parra, Gavin Speight, Felipe Ramirez. #willamettevalley Homelands represented: Alaska, Australia, Chile + adopted homelands Napa/Sonoma, Willamette Valley. @pedroparraterroir @oldbridgecellars @lamicro
A hike to the top of Temperance Hill in strong North wind with Dai Crisp who has farmed the site, while also sourcing fruit from it for Lumos Wine Co., since 1999. Temperance Hill is one of two vineyards featured in this year’s IPNC Grand Seminar. Gorgeous day. Freezing cold. #willamettevalleywine @lumoswine @dai_crisp @ipnc_pinot
Dai Crisp discussing the unique growing conditions of light and wind that move through the Temperance Hill vineyard in Eola-Amity Hills with my daughter Rachel. A daily wind blows from the west through this site during the growing season. It is the cooling effect of the Pacific Ocean coming through the Van Duzer corridor, a low spot in the Coastal Range, that thickens skins and helps retain acidity in the wines. Today though, long before the start of the growing season, the wind blows down from Alaska in the North bringing with it freezing temperatures and overnight snow. Temperance Hill is one of two vineyards featured in this year’s IPNC Grand Seminar. It is one of the region’s iconic sites. #willamettevalleywine @lumoswine @dai_crisp @ipnc_pinot @buteo_jamaicensis_jr I spend my life with legends. Such an honor to share them with my daughter.
Digging into the specific site characteristics and winemaking choices that go into working with Temperance Hill vineyard Pinot Noir with Walter Scott winemaker Ken Pahlow. Walter Scott is one of the featured wineries who will showcase their Pinot Noir in the IPNC Grand Seminar this summer. Walter Scott has been making Pinot from Temperance Hill in the Eola-Amity Hills since 2012. #willamettevalleywine @walterscottwines @ipnc_pinot
Walking the north block of Temperance Hill with Lumos Wine Co winemaker Julia Cattrall near the close of a beautiful day in the vineyard. Lumos Wine Co is one of the wineries featured in the IPNC Grand Seminar this summer showcasing their Temperance Hill Pinot Noir. #willamettevalleywine @lumoswine @juliacattrall @ipnc_pinot
Awesome look at site consistency across vintage variation and stylistic evolution on Pinot from the North block of Temperance Hill vineyard made by Lumos Wine Co with viticulturist Dai Crisp and winemaker Julia Cattrall. Vintages here 2008, 2010, 2014, 2015 and the 2016, which will be featured in this summer’s IPNC Grand Seminar. #willamettevalleywine @lumoswine @dai_crisp @juliacattrall @ipnc_pinot
Girls in trucks! Life on the vineyard road in winter means squeezing into work vehicles that make it work. Best day ever in Temperance Hill getting ready for this summer’s IPNC with the wine crew. Thank you to Dai, Ken, Julia, and Rachel for giving your time to our vineyard study today! #willamettevalleywine Trucks like this and folks like these feel like going home .. Thank you, @dai_crisp for the photo! @juliacattrall @buteo_jamaicensis_jr @ipnc_pinot @walterscottwines
Lynn Penner-Ash discussing the clonal selections she works with making Pinot Noir from Bella Vida vineyard in Willamette Valley’s Dundee Hills. Lynn was the first winemaker to work with Pinot from the site on Worden Hill Rd in the early 2000s. Penner-Ash is one of the featured wineries for this summer’s IPNC Grand Seminar. She will be showcasing her Pinot from the Bella Vida vineyard for the event. #willamettevalleywine @pennerashpinot @lynnpa @ipnc_pinot
Lynn Penner-Ash describing the growing conditions of the Dundee Hills to Rachel from the edge of Bella Vida vineyard on Worden Hill Rd, one of Willamette Valley’s historic enclaves. Penner-Ash wines and Bella Vida vineyard are both featured in this summer’s IPNC Grand Seminar. #willamettevalleywine @pennerashpinot @lynnpa @ipnc_pinot @buteo_jamaicensis_jr
One of the goofiest, funnest guys anywhere, Patrick Reuter of Dominio IV winery walking through his blocks at Bella Vida vineyard in the Dundee Hills. The site sits near the top of Worden Hill Rd in a higher elevation area of the region. Patrick has been working with the site since the mid-2000s making Pinot for his own Dominio IV label as well as a Pinot Gris Riesling blend for the Bella Vida label playfully called Gris-ling. For this summer’s IPNC Grand Seminar, Patrick will be showcasing his Dominio IV Pinot from the Bella Vida vineyard. #willamettevalleywine @dominio4 @ipnc_pinot
After falling in love with the Dundee Hills, and getting to know the Worden Hill Rd area through a friendship with the Maresh family who were among the first to plant in the area, Steven Whiteside began planting Bella Vida vineyard in the late 1990s. The dramatic steep slopes of the vineyard make it one of the distinctive site’s of the region focused primarily on Pinot Noir. Steve has developed his farming of the site partially through friendships with long-standing farming families in the area and partially through working with some of the region’s most respected viticulturists. Bella Vida vineyard is one of two sites featured in this summer’s IPNC Grand Seminar. #willamettevalleywine @bella_vida_vineyard @ipnc_pinot
Winemaker Brian O’Donnell fell in love with winemaking and was at the forefront of the industry in the 1980s when he started Belle Pente wine with his wife. He makes a small production vineyard designate from the Bella Vida vineyard in the Dundee Hills, which will be featured in the IPNC Grand Seminar this summer. #willamettevalleywine @bellepente @ipnc_pinot
Ellen Brittan introducing the 7th annual Oregon Chardonnay Celebration seminar led by Patrick Comiskey with winemakers Wynne Peterson-Nedry, Anna Matzinger, John Paul, Jason Lett, Thomas Savre, Josh Bergstrom. #willamettevalleywine @ipnc_pinot @occ_chardonnay @chehalemwines @anna.matzinger @cameronwinery @eyrievineyards @tomsavre @joshbergstromwine @ellenbrittan
Huge thanks for all your help! Psyched you were there, @jsemby ! Thank you! #repost @jsemby . . . A powerhouse in her element. An incredible opportunity to learn from Elaine Brown about New Zealand wines alongside Brooks’ Pinot and Riesling @brookswinery @hawk_wakawaka @tewharerawinesnz @seresinestate @clivedougall
Before contemporary agricultural crops, including vineyards, entered the Willamette Valley the local habitat included a predominance of white oak and white oak savannah. The native species are thoroughly adapted to the unique growing conditions of the region from soil pH, to climate, and as a result also foster a wealth of other native species thus promoting overall biodiversity of a place. As agriculture and viticulture have expanded, the white oak, their accompanying savannah, and their associated diversity of native mushrooms, broad grasses, wildflowers, and insect populations have radically decreased. A group of farmers through the region are working to preserve the remaining white oak habitats and increase them as well. At Carabella Vineyards the team has re-established acres of white oak savannah on the property, and also introduced it into the vineyard by creating alternate no-till rows. As the white oak savannah has taken hold in the vineyard they have seen an accompanying increase in native wildflowers, beneficial fungi, and beneficial insects as well, thus improving the overall health of the vineyard. Here the savannah plants are dormant but the Roemers Fescue broad grass species at the heart of the white oak savannah complex can be seen growing between the vine rows. #willamettevalleywine @carabellavineyard @drewbarelymore
Each year the Carabella team does both a vineyard and a cellar experiment to expand their understanding of the place. In 2017 @drewbarelymore worked harvest in Central Otago on @prophetsrock wines and thus learned from the work of both Paul Pujol and François Millet. Upon his return he and Mike Hallock decided to make their 2017 @carabellavineyard cellar experiment a look at the low extraction winemaking techniques used by both @paulpujol and François. Together Mike and Drew vinified both control and experimental side-by-side lots of their traditional approach and the low-extraction approach mimicking what Drew learned in New Zealand. They tried it on two different clonal selections. Here we got to taste them – a side by side of selection 667 Pinot, as @prophetsrock has in Central, and of Wadensville, a selection of Pinot that helped found Willamette Valley. Then we blended them and tasted again. Super awesome tasting experiment. Thank you, Mike and Drew! #willamettevalleywine @carabellavineyard @drewbarelymore @paulpujol
A great time with you folks! Thank you!! #Repost @carabellavineyard ・・・ It was a pleasure to get a visit from Elaine Brown at the Vineyard this afternoon. She was nice enough to come collaborate on some experiments we’ve been secretly crafting. @hawk_wakawaka #oregonwine #wvcellarseason #pinotnoir #willamettevalley #chehalemmountains #winetasting
This really made me laugh! Thank you for having me today. Really fun to see you here in Oregon! #Repost @drewbarelymore ・・・ Managed to capture this picture of @hawk_wakawaka (the best wine writer since Diogenes) casually chatting with us about wine on a sunny day in a Vineyard overlooking the beautiful Willamette Valley floor. #DIYmarketing #oregonwine #wvwines
Looking into the Northwestern boundary of the Eola-Amity Hills AVA near the town of Amity. This area is relatively cold and wind exposed thanks to its exposure to the Van Duzer Corridor and its cold Pacific incursion. There is also a preponderance of compressed rock and very hard ancient seafloor bedrock. #willamettevalleywine
Lunch with legends. Eola-Amity Hills. From left: Ted Casteel of Bethel Heights, Geoff Hall of Argyle Winery, Betty O’Brien of Elton Vineyards, Dai Crisp of Temperance Hill and Lumos Wine Co, me, Kevin Chambers of Koosah Farm, Leigh Bartholomew of Rose Rock Vineyard and Results Partners, Claire Jarreau of Brooks Winery. #willamettevalleywine @bethelheightsvineyard @argylewinery @eltonwines @lumoswine @dai_crisp @roserockoregon @brookswinery
Deep dive flights into Eola-Amity Hills AVA wines looking at Sparkling, Riesling, Chardonnay, Gamay, and Pinot Noir with flights organized by soil type, elevation, west versus east side of the appellation, and older vintages. #willamettevalleywine @bethelheightsvineyard @walterscottwines @cristomwine @argylewinery @brookswinery @elvwines @stinnocentwine @linguafrancawines @roserockoregon @mimicasteel @antica_terra @ericaalandon
Larry Stone – Very funny. #willamettevalleywine Eola-Amity Hills AVA dinner – killer. Huge thanks to Bethel Heights for hosting! @cristomwine @bethelheightsvineyard @walterscottwines @elvwines @mimicasteel @linguafrancawines @larrystone1 @tomsavre @kpahlow32 @ericaalandon @benjamindicristina @patbethelheights
Remarkable. Bethel Heights in the 1970s and 1980s would bottle individual blocks or single vineyards in small volumes to study the sites and see how they aged, though the vast majority of these wines would be blended together and sold as Bethel Heights wines rather than individually. Here a bottle of the Pinot made from their block at Seven Springs Vineyard in 1985, held to study the block and see how it aged though never commercially released. So how was it ? Showing lovely age and finesse. A beautiful wine. Made at 12.5% alcohol, 3.3 pH. Aged 11 months in French oak. #willamettevalleywine @bethelheightsvineyard @patbethelheights @mimicasteel @larrystone1 @tomsavre @benjamindicristina @kpahlow32 @ericaalandon
Steve Doerner at Cristom would sometimes bottle small quantities of vineyards he worked with as part of the Mount Jefferson cuvee so the vineyard could be seen on its own, though the wines were never released on their own commercially. Cristom bottles their own estate vineyards as single vineyard bottlings. In making the Mount Jefferson cuvee they blend vineyards from around the region and as a result have worked with an impressively long list of sites throughout the Eola-Amity Hills and beyond. Here a Cristom single vineyard wine made from the Seven Springs Vineyard in 2001, never released commercially. Impressively youthful and savory. Made with 50% whole cluster, all ambient yeast ferment. #willamettevalleywine @cristomwine @benjamindicristina @tomsavre @larrystone1 @mimicasteel @patbethelheights @bethelheightsvineyard @kpahlow32 @ericaalandon
Trying to figure out what we mean by fractured basalt? Here’s a look. Basalt is volcanic stone that was formed at or near the surface with exposure to oxygen (versus granite, which is volcanic stone formed under the surface without exposure to oxygen and thus also much harder). Because of its surface exposure, it was formed as the lava rapidly cooled. By definition, basalt is fine-grained and contains about half silica. It is the most common volcanic rock on earth and can be found throughout oceanic islands, many regions on the coastal side of a continent, and through the ocean’s crust. (So cool.) In all three states on the west coast of the United States we find loads of fractured basalt with high iron content. What that means is that the rock itself easily breaks and also turns red when exposed to oxygen. When basalt fractures, the area inside the cracks form small particles of soil that act like iron-rich clay retaining water and releasing mineral ions that can be processed by micro-flora and micro-fauna into forms available to plants. That matters when it comes to vine roots as the fine hair-like roots that form near the bottom of vine roots, and in older vines push between the fractures and pick up both nutrients and moisture. The iron in these soils tend to create a more lifted and open weave to the shape of the wine through the palate compared to wines grown in more compressed sedimentary soils. There is also often a ferric, gunmetal, or even bloody flavor that comes with more transparent wines from such sites. Other minerals can also be present in basalt leading to black or pale ash-like colors, for example, as well as coarser particle structures in some types. In the US west coast wine growing regions from Walla Walla to Willamette Valley to Sonoma Mountain to Napa Valley and beyond, the basalt tends to have that iron-rich, redder character. #willamettevalleywine
Awesome discussion of the Dundee Hills blond tasting 2014 Pinot Noirs from throughput the AVA with (from left) Russell Gladhart of Winter’s Hill Estate, Chris Mazepink of Archery Summit, Dave Petterson of Vista Hills, Bill Sweat of Winderlea, Don Lange of Lange Estate, me, Alex Sokol-Blosser of Sokol Blosser Winery. #willamettevalleywine @sokolblosser @wintershillwine @archerysummit @vistahillsvineyard @winderlea @langewinery
Fascinating discussion of the Dundee Hills with blind tasting of these eight wines, all 2014 vintage – (from top left) Winderlea Estate, Winter Hill, Erath Prince Hill, Vista Hill Heritage, Sokol Blosser Big Tree Block, Lange Estate Vineyard, Argyle Spirit House Knutsen Vineyard, Archery Summit Red Hills Estate. #willamettevalleywine @winderlea @wintershillwine @erathwines @vistahillsvineyard @sokolblosser @langewinery @argylewinery @archerysummit
Afternoon blind tasting and discussion of Dundee Hills Pinot with (from left) Jesús Guillén of White Rose, Bryan Weil of Alexana, Alex Sokol-Blosser of Sokol-Blosser, Jason Lett of Eyrie, me, Spencer Spetnagel of Durant, David Miller of Anderson Family. #willamettevalleywine @sokolblosser @eyrievineyards @whiteroseestate @durant_vineyards @alexanawinery
Afternoon Dundee Hills blond tasting and discussion wines revealed, all 2014 vintage (from top left) – White Rose Estate, Sokol Blosser Old Vineyard Block, Anderson Family Vineyard, Eyrie Sisters, Durant Bishop, Stoller Reserve, Domaine Serene Fleur de Lies, Eyrie Daphne, Alexana Signature, Eyrie Outcrop. #willamettevalleywine @whiteroseestate @alexanawinery @durant_vineyards @sokolblosser @eyrievineyards @stollerwine @domaineserene
Getting started with a full day of blind tasting the Chehalem Mountains to investigate if, how, and what sense of place are offered by the wines organized by neighborhoods. The wines across multiple flights will not be revealed until the very end of the day. All wines from the 2013 vintage. Here with the first group of winemakers focused on the Laurelwood neighborhood. From left: Tom Fitzpatrick of Alloro, Harry Peterson Nedry of RR (Ribbon Ridge), David Adelsheim of Adelsheim, Luisa Ponzi of Ponzi, Adam Campbell of Elk Cove, Katie Santura of Chehalem, Shannon Gustafson of Raptor Ridge, Gina Hennings of Adelsheim, Sam Schmitt of Adelsheim. #willamettevalleywine @adelsheim @elkcove @ponzivineyards @raptorridgewinery @chehalemwines @alloro_vineyard @petersonnedry
Moving into the second Chehalem Mountains neighborhood discussion and blind tasting of the day, this one focused on producers from Parrett Mountain and wines from the 2013 vintage. Here with producers from left: Michael Cheng of Adelsheim, Harry Pedersen-Nedry of RR, David Adelsheim of Adelsheim, Tom Mortimer of La Cadeau, Adam Campbell of Elk Cove, Mike Hallock of Carabella, Jim Prosser of JK Carriere, Andrew Beckham of Beckham, Sam Schmitt of Adelsheim. #willamettevalleywine @adelsheim @elkcove @jkcarrierewines @carabellavineyard @petersonnedry
Preparing the final blind flight for discussion looking at 2013 wines from the Basaltic Bench that runs along the western side of Chehalem Mountains up to the eastern side of Ribbon Ridge. Tasting and discussing with (from left) Michael Cheng of Adelsheim, Harry Peterson-Nedry of RR, David Adelsheim of Adelsheim, Bruno Corneaux of Tresori, Ian Burch of Scott Paul, Kelly Kidneigh of Mad Violets and Trout Lily, Gina Hennen of Adelsheim, Sam Schmitt of Adelsheim. #willamettevalleywine @adelsheim @tresorivineyards @scottpaulwines @madvioletswineco @petersonnedry
Five key neighborhoods in the Chehalem Mountains. Laurelwood on the eastern side is wind blown loess over basalt. Parrett Mountain in the southeast is basaltic. The Basaltic Bench on the eastern side of Ribbon Ridge is colluvial basalt. Tomorrow we look at the Marine Sedimentary soils of Ribbon Ridge (nested within the Chehalem Mountains). #willamettevalleywine @chehalemmountains
The Eastern side of the Chehalem Mountains in Washington County is dominated by what is called the Laurelwood soil series, which consists of windblown loess on top of basaltic soils. The loess soils consist of fine while quite gritty, textural particles. Over time they become weathered and form small shot pebbles, or pitoles, that cause farmers to call these shot soils (as shown here at the base of a vine). When wet, loess sticks together, though it contains virtually no clay, and is actually high draining. The result is that in younger vines, with shallower roots vine stress can readily happen in very hot, or dry low water years. As vines get older they root into the underlying basalt, which has a much higher clay content, and thus also water holding capacity. Much of the area is planted to hazelnuts and blueberries. Partially because of its proximity to Portland there is comparatively more residential and less agriculture through this area, and only sparse vineyards. Vines from the Laurelwood soil series tend to include lifted floral aromatics, a lifted blue-purple-register palate, slightly rustic tannins and plenty of acidity. #willamettevalleywine @chehalemmountains
Getting close up with the soils of Parrett Mountain in the Chehalem Mountains. On the southeastern point of the AVA, Parrett Mountain reaches to 1200 ft elevation and descends in a series of steps towards lower elevations. The soils through the region are primarily silty clay loam loaded with basalt cobbles on top of basalt bedrock. In much of the mountain the cobble top soils are only between one and two feet deep. The little bit of hummus near the very top helps the vine get just enough nutrients to reduce excess stress. The cobbles mean good air in the volcanic soils as well as good drainage. At the same time there tends to be enough clay to allow dry farming once the vines get established. Wines from these sorts of soils tend to give red fruits and earthy notes, with a bit more compact character than Dundee Hills, accented by some of the purple floral aromatics similar to those seen in the Laurelwood area. #willamettevalleywine @chehalemmountains
The western side of the Chehalem Mountains is full of incredibly steep slopes much of which eroded into lower elevations below. As a result, to the east of Ribbon Ridge (which is an AVA nested within the Chehalem Mountains) much of the vineyard land is varying degree slopes of colluvial basalt that eroded off the basaltic mountain peaks above. This Basaltic Bench area of the Chehalem Mountains is full of red volcanic soils as a result, but the character of that soil – cobbled to gravels to more silty clay – varies significantly, as does the depth of top soil, as does the steepness of the slopes in which it appears. The wines from this area, then, do tend to be red fruited and full of spice but also vary in other characteristics. There tends to be ample while fine tannin and also plenty of acidity. Here at Quarter Mile Vineyard the colluvial basaltic soils are more of a silty clay loam full of iron, with a lot of earth that has volcanic pebbles as shown here, then suddenly intensely cobbled bands in some blocks. The vines shown here were planted in 1974 and are entirely dry farmed. These sorts of volcanic silty clay soils with enough gravel or more cobbles for good air and good drainage tend to do well with dry farming, and also offer enough nutrients plus oxygen in the soils to give generally good balance to the vine. By comparison, Laurelwood loess can more readily mean vine stress in younger vines; with Marine Sedimentary soils it can be harder to either get good root depth or enough water holding capacity depending on how compressed the bedrock beneath is. With lots of top soil depth, the challenge in volcanic clays can instead be excess vigor. The result is that the three major soil types in the Chehalem Mountains need relatively different farming practices, and also result in distinctly differing styles of Pinot Noir. #willamettevalleywine @chehalemmountains
After spending the morning discussing the history and current knowledge of the Ribbon Ridge AVA with Harry Peterson-Nedry, the first to plant in that area of Willamette Valley, now getting ready to blind taste and discuss wines of the area with some of its hallmark winemakers. From Sam Schmitt of Adelsheim, Jeff Meader of Eminent Domaine, David Paige of Paige Wines, Doug Tunnell of Brick House, Brad McLeroy of Ayres, Josh Bergstrom of Bergstrom, Harry Peterson-Nedry of RR, David Adelsheim of Adelsheim. #willamettevalleywine @adelsheim @petersonnedry @brickhousevineyards @bergstromwines @joshbergstromwine @ayresvineyard @eminentdomaine
Moving into a thorough going discussion of a Marine Sedimentary subzone of the Chehalem Mountains on the easternside of Ribbon Ridge, West of the Basaltic Bench that eroded down the western face of the mountain range this is likely to be one of the more complex soil areas of the AVA though we’ll see how the wines express in the blind tasting. From left: (standing) Sam Schmitt of Adelsheim, (sitting – starting from red plaid and running clockwise) Jay Somers of J. Christopher, David Paige of Paige Wines, Brad McLeroy of Ayres, Josh Bergstrom of Bergstrom, (standing) Harry Peterson-Nedry of Rr, Shannon Gustafson of Raptor Ridge, David Adelsheim of Adelsheim, Michael Davies of Rex Hill, Bruno Corneaux of Tresori. #willamettevalleywine @joshbergstromwine @adelsheim @joshbergstromwine @petersonnedry @ayresvineyard @raptorridgewinery @rexhillvyds
Soils of Ribbon Ridge and the portion of the Chehalem Mountains just east of the Ribbon Ridge boundary are primarily Marine Sedimentary soils uplifted from the ancient seabed. They consist especially of eroded sandstone and siltstone with some sections of mudstone. The Marine Sedimentary soils tend to have less water holding capacity than the volcano, basalt-based soils of the region. As basalt decomposes it creates fine particles that essentially form clay, which has higher water holding capacity than silt-sand particles. Ribbon Ridge, and it’s marine sediment, is known for its profound aromatics in both the nose and palate. Wines carry an ethereal quality with a base of red fruits but a focus on flowers, herbs, and mushroom notes all in a structured while delicate presentation. The Marine Sedimentary soils on the eastern side in the Chehalem Mountains seem to bring a little more heft to the wines creating a sense of muscle to the tannin with a mix of red fruits and spice bursting with a midpalate of flavors. Parent material in the Willamette Valley is predominately Marine Sedimentary or Volcanic, with a bit of windblown loess as well, but the soil presence in any particular area tends towards outrageous diversity. While most of the volcanic basalt in the area flowed in as Columbia River basalt, a few lava chimneys pushed through the seabed in the region while it was still underwater, creating unique basalt deposits entirely native to that specific site within the uplifted seabed of marine sediment. These localized lava flows tend to be full of basalt cobbles. Here in Brick House Vineyard is one example. A mini field of basalt soils full of boulders in the middle of an (almost) entirely Marine Sedimentary based region. #willamettevalleywine @brickhousevineyards
The McMinnville AVA is characterized partially by massive, very localized, soil diversity, all from uplifted seabed but from uplifted volcanic and sedimentary seabed. Here, a cut into the soil of a vineyard that is eroded iron-rich basalt soil full of Marine Sedimentary pebbles, here more white in color. #willamettevalleywine @brittanvineyards
McMinnville AVA hosts primarily volcanic basalt parent material but rather than the Columbia River basalt formations, which were formed on land, that appear in many portions of Northern and Central Willamette Valley, the basalt of McMinnville AVA are largely (though not only) formed underwater. The result is an importantly different range of basalt types, leading to importantly different basalt based soils throughout the McMinnville AVA. While the Columbia River basalt tends to be high in iron and so also reddish-orange in color when exposed to oxygen, the basalts in McMinnville are more varied, and in many cases rather dark in color. Additionally, many of the vineyards showing basalt in McMinnville are also quite rocky, which is not always the case in other basalt-driven AVAs. Here, a highly rocky basalt block at Brittan Vineyard. #willamettevalleywine @brittanvineyards
McMinnville AVA basalts were not formed during the Columbia River basalt flows, which run through huge portions of Washington, Idaho, and Oregon. Instead, most McMinnville AVA basalts were formed underwater and then uplifted to the surface of what is now the far western edge of the Willamette Valley. The ages of these underwater lava flows also vary significantly, resulting in very different looking basalt rocks through the AVA. Basalt forms as lava quickly cools. The speed of it turning to rock can create a vesicular structure where water or air pockets were essentially caught in the lava as it cooled. The basalt rock on top here looks rather white, because it was made so long ago then continued to sit on the ocean floor for so long that marine sediment accumulated over it and the vesicular structure now contains rock made of marine sediment. How cool is that? In parts of the McMinnville AVA the uplifted rocks are from profoundly different ages of formation. The oldest uplifts often show this surprising combination of volcanic and marine sediment. The basalt rock in the middle here still shows the vesicular structure, or holes, that have not filled with other materials. Notice too it is also an orange-red color as it includes iron, which has oxidized from air exposure. The basalt on the bottom here is much darker in color, incredibly hard, and is believed to be both the youngest of the three, and also formed after the ground was uplifted from the seafloor in a lava vent on land. It having essentially no holes, unlike the other two examples, meaning it would have cooled more slowly. #willamettevalleywine @brittanvineyards
As if the soils of McMinnville AVA weren’t complex enough just looking at the volcanic side of things, the marine sedimentary soils are diverse as well, and any one vineyard is likely to contain both volcanic and marine sedimentary parent materials. In the vineyards of Youngberg Hill, a band of shale runs through the midst of their Bailey block. Though the Bailey block is predominantly volcanic rock and its resulting soils, just under the surface on one side of it runs a band of shale, which is a form of marine sedimentary mudstone. It is yet another example of how complex the soils resulting from uplifted seabed can be. Other marine sedimentary soils in the McMinnville AVA are from sandstone and siltstone. #willamettevalleywine @youngberg_hill
Geological parent materials native to Willamette Valley are entirely volcanic or marine sedimentary in nature. The massive Missoula floods though also carried in materials from all over including erratic boulders of various parent materials and various sizes. These can be found spotted in a number of parts of the valley, mainly, though not only, through the valley floor. Generally the rather mixed nature of the flood soils are seen as less ideal for grape growing as the deeper sections especially are overly vigorous as well as overly fertile. The erratic rocks can be fascinating to find though. Some of the most fascinating erratic rocks through the region though were carried in not by the floods but instead by glacial activity long before the floods. The first image of the white stone is one such sample found in the McMinnville AVA. The second image is of The Erratic Boulder, also found within the McMinnville AVA, the largest such rock carried thousands of miles from its origins across the continent by glacier. It was over 160 tons originally when first found and about three times larger than it appears now as people are people where ever they are so lots of them have chipped off bits of it over and over, over time because geez. It’s still cool but geez. #willamettevalleywine
In considering what it means either to make a wine that expresses your site, or to make the best wine from your site, one of the crucial questions rests in selecting aging vessel. In much of the world oak barrels are standard for Pinot Noir. Different barrel types have huge impact on how the wine shows and the forest source, wood aging and preparation, and cooper all change how the oak marries to the wine, even on older barrels. Ariel Eberle became head winemaker at Yamhill Valley Vineyards in 2016 and began doing oak trials with different coopers and barrels to investigate which the team prefers with their Pinot. Here she tastes me through some examples to investigate the fruit signature of their McMinnville AVA site via the lens of oak choices. #willamettevalleywine @yamhillvalleyvineyards
Discussing the climatic site specificity found in the McMinnville AVA thanks to the undulating crests, folds and valleys of this eastern side of the Coastal Mountains with Couer de Terre owner and winemaker Scott Neal. Though the McMinnville AVA is less exposed to the Van Duzer corridor than the Eola-Amity Hills, it still faces a persistent cooling breeze and afternoon wind. Overall temperatures in the McMinnville AVA are cooler as a result, as are nighttime temperatures, with budbreak, bloom, and harvest generally a bit later than elsewhere in Willamette. At the same time, the McMinnville AVA sits in a rain shadow receiving less overall precipitation and less general storm impact than much of the rest of the valley. Even so, most sites are still dry farmed. The undulating topography of the AVA means within these general conditions there is enormous specificity by site, and on most sites enormous specificity even block by block. Lower blocks at Couer de Terre, for example, stand in a bowl more protected from wind, for example, while the top of the site is hit by it quite directly. Such variation greatly changes how the vine responds with differences in vine size, vigor and canopy, fruit set and crop size, and even how physiological development and ripeness progress. Generally the McMinnville AVA tends to have both darker color in the skins, and more tannin, as well as lower pHs and higher acidity levels at ripeness. The result is wines with bright acidity and plenty of freshness with still tons of presence on the palate. #willamettevalleywine @cdtvineyard
Soils of the Yamhill Carlton AVA are almost entirely marine sedimentary soils of sandstone, siltstone, and in some few areas mudstone. The soils tend to be well draining and generally with moderate to low clay content. Many of the wines in the area tend towards ample tannin that can be more muscular without being aggressive, though in some sites winemakers can need to be careful not to over extract tannin as well. Fruit tonal character through the region tends towards purple and black fruits without being riper than the red fruits of more basalt based soils. #willamettevalleywine
Soil structure, drainage, water holding capacity, and resulting temperature holding capacity all impact the physiological development of a vine. For example, soils with higher clay content also have higher water holding capacity. The higher moisture content can impact the vine on a daily basis by literally lowering the overall soil temperatures surrounding the vine. Cool evening temperatures effectively sit in soils with some clay later into the day than they do in soils with little to no clay. To put that another way, it takes ground with more clay longer to warm up. Vines progress in their development through the course of the season not just thanks to sun exposure and ambient air temperatures but also because of ground temperatures. Soils in the Yamhill Carlton AVA are all eroded sandstone, siltstone and in some places mudstone. That means there is little to no clay, and also less water holding capacity. The soils effectively warm up more quickly in the course of any particular day. At the same time over the course of a growing season marine sedimentary soils with little clay like this will also go drier earlier in the season than volcanic soils of Willamette Valley, which naturally have higher clay content. The drier soils encourage vines to switch from the earlier vegetative phase – grow canopy, essentially – to the reproductive phase – make and ripen fruit, essentially – earlier. So, predominately volcanic subzones of Willamette Valley, even with higher temperatures, can actually step into stages of fruit development later than cooler areas with drier soils. The Yamhill Carlton AVA can often begin the fruit ripening process earlier than some of the warmer subzones of the area while still maintaining cooler air temperatures during that ripening process. Wines from Yamhill Carlton tend to have darker fruit character, and more robust structure, while still maintaining acidity. As a result, the darker fruit tones characteristic of the AVA can still correlate with vibrant acidity and moderate or lower alcohols, creating a fascinating interplay of characteristics unexpected in many other Pinot regions. #willamettevalleywine
The overall growing conditions of a region’s subzone, or nested AVA, when studied and understood can give a great overall picture of the underlying character of a region and the character range that can be found in its wines. The fine tuned details come back to the specific topography, conditions, and farming of any particular site. Soil architecture offers various general conditions but whether cover crop is used, whether in row tilling is done, and how the soil is worked or not worked, as examples, have significant impact on the character of a particular vineyard. Many of these choices are specific to the site itself as well as the stylistic interests of the winery getting fruit from the site. A drier site, for example, may not support cover crop. At the same time farming choices also inform the site character as they shift the life of the soil over time. Parent material of soil remains consistent in our human lifetimes but soil drainage, degree of compaction, microbial flora and fauna presence – which all impact water retention, air in the soil, and a vines ability to uptake nutrients – are changed over time by farming choices. Here, an example of a vine row from a no till, no herbicide vineyard. No till vineyards tend to be uncommon in New World farming but are a fascinating example of how farming transforms a site. The plantlife throughout the vineyard rely on surface water, transforming the water availability to shallow vine roots, thus encouraging vines to go deeper. The dense forest of ground-level plants lower the surface temperature of the soil, thus changing how the vine moves from the vegetative-growth to fruit-growth phases. The plant life of the cover crop and lack of tilling also encourage and support complexity or micro flora and micro fauna in the soils, which increase air-ability within the soils and also nutrient uptake for the vines. #willamettevalleywine
One of the things I love about old vines is how they become their own microcosm, supporting a complex community of other plants, insects, and animals. Each begins to express its own unique character too. Here in Willamette Valley the ways these old vines develop reflects the climate conditions of the region, as well as the farming with which they’ve been raised. Farmers I’ve known that spend huge portions of their life with one site even speak of the individual vines sometimes as family. Here, the first vine photo is of Pinot Noir in the South Block of the Eyrie Vineyard. The second is Pinot from Quarter Mile, the first of the Adelsheim vineyards. #willamettevalleywine @eyrievineyards @adelsheim
Cutest thing you’ve ever seen? Yes. Grower Dick Crannell and I hanging out for happy hour on the hill chatting at Brooks about growing regions around the world. Growing up commercial fishing I was part of the fourth generation of active fishermen in my family. One of the things about being mentored into that industry by so many generations, was that to really hone your understanding of the region and the craft it was important not just to do the work itself, but also to listen to those that worked the industry before you. With fishing no two seasons were ever the same but the elders of the industry knew details that could be understood again and again in changing seasons, like, as examples, if the wind was blowing from the north and the tide was going out, the fish would pool on one side of the river in the shallows, or if it was a cold spring and the tundra cotton was late, the fish would be too. Listening quietly as the fisherman spoke meant learning some of those details. The point was that by spending time with those that had been doing the work longer you could learn the history of the place, how to read the natural characteristics that repeat and correlate with certain sorts of seasons, and thus deepen your knowledge of the work, the people, and the place all together. Those that have been doing the work longest are the region’s brain trust, so to speak. They carry the region’s library of knowledge. The next generations can innovate by understanding the work that has been done before. A total honor, and a ton of fun, to sit with Dick Crannell, one of the iconic growers of Eola-Amity Hills. #willamettevalleywine @brookswinery @dick_cranne
Yet another unexpected wine from Willamette Valley? Here’s one. Brittan Syrah-based Rhône blend from a head-trained, field blend of Syrah, Grenache, Petite Sirah, Viognier, Pelorsin, and a few others, all grown in the McMinnville AVA and co-fermented. It has never been bottled on its own before and will be in very small quantities so keep your eyes peeled. It is super fresh, mouthwatering, cool-climate delicious at only 12.5% alcohol. You want this. #willamettevalleywine @brittanvineyards
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Looks like a fantastic visit! You are always welcome to visit @Southern Oregon, Hawk!
What a great, objective travelogue and technical survey! Visual, verbal, and hedonistic.