Oregon Pinot Noir Camp - Wine Tasting 2004

Pinot Noir is perhaps best known for being the sole red grape in France's famous Burgundy Wine. One of the only other places in the world that pinot nor grapes grow this well is in the Willamette Valley in Oregon. Note that the valley's name is pronounced "Wil-LAHM-ette", and not "WILL-yam-ette" like in the name William. To help drinkers learn more about the Oregon pinot noirs, Spiritus wine shop created a "Pinot Camp" tasting in Hartford, Connecticut at the Pastis restaurant.

The tasting featured two sets of pinot noir wines - 8 in total - from the Willamette Valley region. In addition, we had an extra bonus - the tasting began with a 2003 Pinot Blanc by Witness Tree ($16.49). This was light and fresh, with a citrus pineapple-grapefruit flavor and a gentle finish.

Before we began tasting the reds, Nate Chamberland from Spiritus gave us background on the Willamette Valley region. Unlike Burgundy, which has a base of seashells in its soil, the Willamette Valley has silt along its valley floor. This isn't ideal for grape growing, and the region is known for growing grass seed and hazelnuts. The vineyards instead climb the slopes, where they get reddish volcano soil full of nutrients. In fact the wines are usually classified by how high up on the slopes they are growing. The lower vines from 200-500 feet tend to be full bodied and rich. The medium height vines, between 500-700 feet, are at the ideal altitude for a well balanced pinot noir. Above that, at 700' and higher, the grey stone soil has a cooler climate and does best for sparkling wine creation.

While the pinot noirs of Burgundy get a strong sense of terroir from those limestone / seashell soils, the wines from the Willamette valley instead express the pure flavor of the pinot noir grapes. This gives the winemakers a chance to play more with the style of the wine, vs the natural terroir of the soils. Pinot Noir is traditionally a difficult grape to grow, and a difficult wine to make. That is part of its appeal, that a fantastic pinot noir can be truly spectacular and is only the result of extraordinary winemaking. As Nate said, "Pinot Noir is the Holy Grail of winemakers, and is the last destination of wine drinkers."

The Willamette Valley gets a great deal of sunlight with very little rain, providing ideal growing conditions for the grapes. The winemakers in this region function as a group, sharing information and knowledge to help their region "compete against" Burgundy and other wine regions of the world. Where some wine regions are full of infighting, this region is characterized by general cooperation, as they strive to prove how well pinot noir can succeed outside of France. The winemakers typically use vertical trellising to expose the grapes to as much sun as possible, while planting densely at 40x40 vines per acre to use every scrap of sunlight available. Drip irrigation brings moisture directly to the vines' roots, and is only used when absolutely necessary. There are always exceptions of course, but in general the winemakers of Oregon are striving for the highest quality of grapes even if it costs more - because their goal is such a lofty one. Many wine drinkers consider the wines of Burgundy to be the finest in the world - and Oregon wants to top that.

In fact, Oregon has put together a special LIVE viticultural technique. This stands for Low Input Viticultural and Enology. They are striving for an ecologically sustainable system which keeps the soil fertile and uses the least amount of external resources to create the best quality wines.

Winemakers are flocking to this combination of great climate and supportive winemaking - between 1990 and 2004, the number of wineries here has grown from 71 to 300. Only California has more wineries in the US.

Now, on to the wines!

Set 1 - $50 and below
Set 2 - $54 and above

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All content on the WineIntro website is personally written by author and wine enthusiast Lisa Shea. WineIntro explores the delicious variety and beautiful history which makes up our world of wine! Lisa loves supporting local wineries and encouraging people to drink whatever they like. We all have different taste buds, and that makes our world wonderful. Always drink responsibly.