There's a rustic old house on Chehalem's Corral Creek Vineyard, just north of 99W in Newberg, Oregon, tucked behind the crush pad and perched on the edge of Riesling and Pinot Gris vines, where I stayed on my visit to the Pacific Northwest last fall. It's the house where owner and winemaker Harry Peterson-Nedry has lived for the last 13 years, though now it's also home to harvest interns from as far away as New Zealand through crush, and it's full of its owner's warmth and hospitality, a wide collection of wine glasses and a big, long wood dining table perfect for big meals and tasting parties.
I was a fan of Chehalem's wines (pronounced shu-hay-lem) long before I visited the winery, always impressed with the sheer verve and complexity from the range, from their entry-level Pinot Noir on up through the single vineyard wines. But it wasn't until I met Harry, a quick-to-smile North Carolina native who still speaks with a gentle southern twang, that I realized the wines were not just Oregonian in style, but very Harry, too--thoughtful and generous, but not in your face.
Watch our video interview with Harry Peterson-Nedry, then read on to learn more about the man, the winery and which wines we currently have in stock.
A special thank you to my friend Karen Petersen, who helped me film this and a number of other videos while I was in Oregon.
Harry is one of the linchpins of Oregon wine, planting the 55-acre Ridgecrest Vineyard back in 1980, the first vineyard developed in the newly-designated Ribbon Ridge AVA. Partnering with Bill and Cathy Stoller in 1990, he started Chehalem and began expanding his vineyard holdings not long after, adding Corral Creek and Bill and Cathy's 175-acre Stoller Vineyards in the Dundee Hills to the portfolio. The different soils and microclimates at each vineyard create Pinot Noirs with distinctive characterisitics--from the big, briary, black-fruited style of the Willakenzie soils found at Ridgecrest to the softer, rounder red-fruited wines from the Jory and Nekia soils at Stoller to the brighter, red-fruited, more tannic wines from the Laurelwood soils at Corral Creek.
But Pinot Noir isn't Chehalem's only game. In fact, Harry has represented Oregon in the International Pinot Gris Symposium in Germany, is one of the founders of the Oregon Chardonnay Alliance (ORCA) and is a passionate advocate for Oregon Riesling. He says he gets bored easily, which is why you'll also find Pinot Blanc, Grüner Veltliner and Gamay Noir wines from Chehalem properties, to keep it interesting. (The winery's 2007 "Cerise" a Burgundian passetoutgrains blend of Gamay Noir and Pinot Noir,which is sold out here, was easy-drinking and fun, filled with tangy cranberry and sweet strawberry aromas and flavors.) As a consumer, one of the best things about Chehalem's wines is that they are affordable AND good, allowing you to try a wide variety from the winery without breaking the bank.
K&L currently has the following Chehalem wines in stock:
2008 Chehalem "3 Vineyards" Willamette Valley Pinot Noir (375ml $14.99; 750ml $24.99) From the region's defining vintage so far, this has lovely aromas of ripe red and black fruit, forest floor, bacon and violet, and a polished, fresh palate with plenty of secondary notes underneath, if you can hold onto it long enough to let it evolve.
2009 Chehalem "3 Vineyards" Willamette Valley Pinot Gris ($16.99) No innocuous, flavorless white wine, this. Chehalem's Pinot Gris has honeysuckle, mango and passion fruit character galore, built on a bed of slate-y minerality. Juicy, bold and broad.
2009 Chehalem "Reserve" Willamette Valley Dry Riesling ($19.99) The great unsung varietal of the Pacific Northwest, this dry Riesling has lovely lemon marmalade qualities with surprising hints of Ranier cherry to complement the stone fruit and spice. Great acidity and weight. As one of my favorite varietals when aged, I'm looking forward to seeing how this evolves.
2008 Chehalem "Inox" Willamette Valley Chardonnay ($15.99) A figgy, flinty, crisp Chardonnay that easily demonstrates the varietal's potential in the Northwest, now that earlier-ripening Dijon clones have made their way there. I'd easily drink this in place of Chablis.
2007 Chehalem "Ian's Reserve" Stoller Vineyards Dundee Hills Chardonnay ($29.99) A more unctuous, pear and apple-flavored style of Chardonnay, spiked with baking spice and creamy at the core, the Ian's still has the acid backbone that so many wines in this style lack.
2009 Chehalem "Wind Ridge Vineyard" Ribbon Ridge Grüner Veltliner ($18.99) Staving off boredom for Harry is awfully tasty for the rest of us. This is the second vintage of Grüner from Chehalem and it's spicy, dry, minerally and fun. I love all the white pepper and ginger notes, which complement quince and muskmelon character like a pillbox hat complements a Chanel suit.
Visit the winery's website.
Visit the winery's tasting room in downtown Newberg, Oregon.