By: Jim Boyce | K&L Staff Member
Oregon Pinot Camp 2013 kicked off with a reception at Sokol Blosser winery with fifty producers in attendance. With temperatures in the mid '80s, the weather could not have been any better for soaking up the beautiful wine country view, enjoying great food and wine, and meeting great people. We were informed that Oregon summers do not typically start until July 4th, so (this being early - June 22nd) we best enjoy the sun while it lasted. Sure enough, the next three days had us dodging raindrops and using the graciously provided umbrellas!
The goal of attendees at Pinot Camp is to get the vineyard-to-bottle rundown of what it takes to make wine in the crazy climate of Oregon. We were brought to Penner-Ash, where they had dug two pits - the first of marine sedimentary origin; the second of volcanic basalt only 200 feet away - to demonstrate the vast difference in terroir characteristics of the Willamette Valley. While there, we were presented with a small group Pinot Noir tasting to highlight how wines grown in each distinct soil type differ. (For example, Pinot Noir grown in marine sedimentary soils usually has a darker fruit profile, with prevalent baking spice notes and “spikey” tannins.)
After that, we were brought to Elk Cove Vineyards for the farming presentation. Here we were educated on vineyard and clonal selections, canopy and water management techniques, and farming decisions for the future. They really emphasized the fact that finding the right sites to plant is paramount, farming in the Oregon climate requires constantly adapting in the vineyard and trying new, innovative technology on all scales.
Moving on to Lemelson, we learned about (and tasted) the impact that winemaking decisions have on the wines. Decisions that relate to timing of harvest, reception, pre/fermentation, aging, and finishing all have a perceptible effect. Each producer has their own definition of the 'best' strategies, and what works for one producer can differ greatly from the next guy. Steve Doerner illustrates this point very well at Cristom, where he will use different percentages of whole clusters depending on the vintage in his winemaking.
The camaraderie of Oregon winemakers stood out as they told stories of how it is not usual to call around to see how a neighbor is dealing with early frost or migratory birds decimating the crop. Or how they dealt with the 2010 vintage, the coldest on record in the past 30 years of Oregon winemaking. (Only to be outdone by 2011, which had the latest latest bud break in history!) As the winemakers talked about all these tough vintages, they always paid homage to Oregon's pioneer winemakers who, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, decided against popular opinion that great Pinot Noir could be made here, and dove in head first.
We tasted many Pinot Noirs from the 2010 and 2011 vintages, which offered a refreshing look at how these two difficult vintages are coming along now. (They are coming along beautifully, in case you were wondering).
But what's a Pinot Camp without whites? Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc, the faces of Oregon whites, took center stage, but from the very beginning we also saw many other white varietals including Chardonnay, Riesling, Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Viognier, Gruner Veltliner, Gewurztraminer, Moscato, and Tocai Fruilano! While a few of these newcomers have yet to find their footing, the majority were serious winners. 2011 - a cold, wet, and very late vintage - produced some of the finest white wines I've had from Oregon to date.
Overall, we experienced a nice balance of old favorites and new arrivals, and it was great to see some long lost old faces to make grand returns. The perennial offerings from Bethel Heights, Chehalem, Cristom, Domaine Drouhin, Elk Cove, Eyrie, Ponzi, St. Innocent, and Willakenzie continue to impress, along with new personal favorites like Anne Amie, Stoller, and Trisaetum.
We lingered at the Trisaetum tent more than once to 'cleanse our palates' with some of their insanely good Rieslings. The 2012 Coast Range Dry Riesling (24.99) is full of nervy, racy acid, great weight, and mouthwatering minerality. The 2012 “Estates Reserve” Riesling (a 50/50 blend of Coast Range and Ribbon Ridge fruit - $34.99) is a Spatlese style Riesling with plenty of stone fruit and mouthwatering acidity. The 2010 Trisaetum "Coast Range Estate" Yamhill-Carlton Pinot Noir ($49.99), made from a blend of four barrels, has huge aromatics, juicy berry fruit, cola notes, and baking spice nuances. Keep an eye out for a K&L/Trisaetum Pinot Noir coming in the near future!
While the summer is still here, make sure to try a bottle of 2012 Patton Valley Willamette Valley Pinot Noir Rosé ($16.99), easily one of the favorites of the trip. Full of fresh strawberry and watermelon fruit, light spice, and impeccable balance, this is a refreshing warm weather winner. The 2010 Stoller "Reserve" Dundee Hills Chardonnay ($25.99) and 2011 Domaine Drouhin "Arthur" Dundee Hills Chardonnay ($29.99) are both shining examples of what Oregon can accomplish on the Chardonnay front, with both showing a combination of new world fruit and old world acidity and balance.
The last night of OPC was a traditional salmon bake at Stoller Winery. This is where the big guns are pulled out, with magnums and jerobaoms of older vintage wines as far as the eye could see! My notes (and memory) became a little fuzzy that night, but I do remember trying some older Argyle sparkling, '05 Willakenzie and '08 Penner Ash “Shea Vineyard” Pinot Noirs, in addition to another 20-30 more wines.
My last day finished up with some important stops in Portland: breakfast at Voodoo Doughnuts, a tour at Clear Creek Distillery, and a house smoked pulled pork sandwich and beer at Cascade Barrel House, all of which are must visits for anyone in the Portland area! OPC really reinforced my adoration of Oregon wine. With the beautiful countryside, great people, and delicious food, wine, and beer, Oregon should be near the top of everyone's travel list!