What To Drink Now: Wonderful Willamette Valley

Gary and I were talking the other day about where is the first place you want to travel to when we start traveling again? (Yes, we know the world has opened up in this Covid environment, but busy island life and a bit of uncertainty are keeping us safe and well on the Big Island for now.) And, the vaccine can’t come fast enough….

But, we are now planning and tops on the list, Willamette Valley. Oregon’s serene wine country has always held a special place in our hearts. Gary’s hometown of Portland is just down the road, so we have been to the region a dozen times, watching it grow and develop. It has been a while, though, and the small AVA of yesteryear has given way to a significant wine country community filled with diversity, personality, and such good wine. Really any cool-climate variety thrives in the area, with Pinot Noir being the primary go-to for wine lovers of the region.

Pinot Noir

When Burgundy’s Maison Joseph Drouhin family looked to expand their terroir-driven production, Pinot Noir, to another part of the world, they didn’t look to Sonoma, Anderson Valley, or the Central Coast. Instead, they headed straight to Oregon, starting their Willamette Valley winery in the volcanic Dundee Hills in 1987. Led by fourth-generation winemaker Veronique Drouhin-Boss, and viticulturist Philippe Drouhin, Veronique’s brother, Domaine Drouhin, exemplifies world-class Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. The red, basalt-based, volcanic Jory soils of the Dundee Hills give the wines an earthy, mineral-rich earthiness, that adapts ideally to Old World Heirloom (suitcase clones) from Burgundy. Domaine Drouhin Dundee Hills Pinot Noir ($45) is silky and seductive, opening with bright aromas of wild strawberry, wild thyme, lavender, and fresh cherry. It was juicy and balanced, with clean acidity, and nicely polished tannins, delivering red plum, ripe blackberry, cherry, dried leaves, toasted spice, and earthy truffle.

Also nestled in the Dundee Hills, on the site of his family’s former turkey farm, Bill Stoller began Stoller Family Estates, marking 2001 as the winery’s first vintage. Shortly after, they brought in rock-star winemaker Melissa Burr in 2003 to become the first (and only) winemaker for the estate. Stoller has been a favorite since my early days of understanding Willamette Valley wines. As their vineyards have aged, their wines have continued to shine, delivering some of the best selections from Willamette. In 2017 Stoller became the 5th winery in Oregon to attain Certified B Corp status. This certification ensures full transparency in how they conduct business in every aspect as B Corp companies strive to be stewards of social change. Stoller Dundee Hills Pinot Noir ($35) opens with bold aromas of fresh berries and wildflowers, followed by layers of black and red cherry, cranberry, and toasted spice.

Bergstrom Winery

In 1999 Bergstrom Winery began in the Chehalem Mountain AVA, dedicated to producing earthy, Burgundian-style Pinot from Willamette’s rugged terroir. Led by winemaker/vintner/GM, Josh Bergstrom, its organically farmed estates develop premium, highly sought-after fruit. Bold, dense, and slightly brooding, Bergstrom Cumberland Reserve ($50) reveals the power of Willamette, with Josh allowing the fruit, and the place, to speak through his wines. Slightly peppery and spicy, with black and blue fruits melding with crushed violet, toasted cedar, dried leather, and sweet spice. Allow the wine to open a bit before enjoying and pair with a braised or grilled beef or game dish.

Always a favorite, Adelsheim showcases some of the finest in the region, celebrating 50 years of crafting consistently delicious Pinot Noir from their Chehalem Mountain home. Adelsheim Breaking Ground Pinot Noir ($45) celebrates their Chehalem home, delivering a textured and rich wine layering blackberry, black cherry, forest floor, and crushed stone filled wine ends with a luscious, somewhat unexpected, yet completely welcome finish.

Initially most well-known for its sparkling wine, Argyle Winery has emerged as a leader in producing quality still Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Argyle Nuthouse Pinot Noir ($55) is made from a mix of Old World Burgundy clones, planted in the mid-1990’s in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA within Willamette, including 667, Pommard, and 115, lending concentration and texture to the lenghty, layered wine. Juicy and fresh, while delivering richness, the wine opens with crushed berry, cherry, and plum, leading to toasted spice and black tea. There is a lovely note of freshness and vibrancy for the wine’s richness, keeping the tannins soft, and the wine in complete balance. Argyle Reserve Chardonnay ($35) blends three estate vineyards within two AVAs, Dundee Hills and Eola-Amity Hills. This blend allows creation of a complete wine filled with crushed stone minerality and earthiness from northern Dundee, vibrant freshness and acidity from Eola-Amity Hills, melded together in a honeysuckle, lemon leaf, white peach, and apricot filled wine with a lush, juicy finish.

A deep respect for the environment and in protecting Mother Earth, environmental lawyer Eric Lemelson, began Lemelson Vineyards to redefine with way wine could be made. Working completely organically in the vineyard, and sustainably in the winery, Lemelson Pinot Noir defines Oregon and Willamette Valley’s authenticity. Lemelson Thea’s Select Pinot Noir ($34) is bold and powerful, with black cherry, ripe boysenberry, earthy truffle, black tea, and woody herb notes. Elevated, elegant, and powerful.

Siduri Winery’s Willamette Valley Pinot Noir ($35) enjoys 15% whole cluster fermentation, giving a freshness to the earthy, forest floor and wild herb-filled wine. Marry those flavors with red plum, cranberry, and dried herb for a savory selection ideal with anything from roast chicken or pork tenderloin, grilled salmon, or mushroom risotto.