Fall in Oregon is a bit like Russian roulette if you're a winemaker. But the gamble--against cool weather, mold, rot and rain--is more than worth it...if you win. On the day I visited Amy Wesselman of Westrey Wine Company at the vineyard she owns and farms in the Dundee Hills with her husband and partner, David Autrey, it looked like Mother Nature might have the upper hand. I had been trying to outrun the rain on the drive over the Eola-Amity Hills from Bethel Heights, but as I bounced along the dirt road that led the Oracle Vineyard the dark, thick clouds told me we were done for.
But Amy was optimistic. Before we climbed into the Gator to head out into the vineyard, she plucked a grape leaf from a nearby vine. It was bright green and healthy and looked like it had been painted with moon dust. More importantly, it was dry. I looked from the leaf to the clouds, and suddenly saw a sprout of sunshine poking through.
Amy and David are certified philosophers (with degrees from Portland's Reed college), and they began learning about wine while Amy was finishing her thesis. Their neighbor, John Paul from Cameron Winery would frequently knock on their door to try and persuade them to come prune for him, or rack wine, whatever he needed help on. So they ditched class and they worked, realizing along the way that they could travel the world and learn to make wine.
The pair make Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir, and the wines are wonderfully charming and soil-driven. "They produce some of the best value wines in Oregon," says K&L domestic wine buyer Bryan Brick. And none of their wines is more illustrative of that fact than the 2008 Westrey Willamette Valley Pinot Noir ($19.99) mentioned in the video. There are few wines at this price point that offer the same crunchy raspberry and blackberry character or the same minerality, balance and structure.
We're also getting in more of the 2008 Westrey "Oracle Vineyard" Dundee Hills Pinot Noir, which is a steal at $24.99, especially given the spectacular 2008 vintage. This wine has that bright raspberry fruit character so characteristic of the Dundee Hills that Amy talks about. Floral notes, garrigue and filigreed-but-firm tannins all get a lift from juicy acidity, making this a wine that will easily cellar if you can hold onto it.
Finally, we'll also be getting in a few more bottles of the 2008 Westrey "Justice Vineyard" Eola-Amity Hills Pinot Noir ($27.99), which is a little more expensive, but worth every penny. This has blacker, jammier fruit than the other two Pinots, a quality you'll find in other wines that use fruit from the site. Farrmed by Mimi and Ted Casteel of Bethel Heights, this is tangy and earthy, with violet overtones, but still incredibly well-integrated and structured.