Oregon winemaker fighting elements and cancer to make gorgeous Pinot Noirs

  • By Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman Special to The Herald
  • Saturday, December 3, 2011 10:52am
  • LifeHops and Sips

Winemakers throughout the Pacific Northwest struggled with weather during this fall’s trying harvest, but the winemaker for Willamette Valley Vineyards had a much bigger battle: cancer.

Forrest Klaffke has been with the Turner, Ore., winery for 18 years and has led the winemaking efforts for the past decade.

“He’s an amazing guy,” said Jim Bernau, chief executive and founder of Willamette Valley Vineyards. “He’s a remarkable team member who has incredible dedication. He’s the first one here in the morning and the last one to leave.”

That didn’t change this year during harvest, even though Klaffke has a huge fight on his hands. The aggressive form of cancer he successfully defeated a few years ago came back with a vengeance in September. It started in his throat and has now spread to four areas of his body, including his brain. He’s been through surgeries, radiation treatments and chemotherapy to try to keep it at bay.

Winemakers are famous for dedication to their craft, but Klaffke took that to an entirely different level this fall. When he knew grapes were going to come in, he would actually cancel his chemo treatments so he could give the finicky Pinot Noir grapes all the attention they demand.

“He’s just has an incredible, passionate dedication to this vineyard and to his work,” Bernau said with endearment and awe.

And Klaffke, who grew up in Sacramento and worked in the California wine industry before coming north to Oregon in the 1990s, is making some of the finest wines of his career. We recently tasted through his most recent Pinot Noirs, and they are uniformly superb.

Willamette Valley Vineyards’ wines are broadly available, though the single-vineyard Pinot Noirs are made in limited quantities. Check with your favorite wine merchant or call the winery directly at 800-344-9463.

Look for these Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Noirs and raise a glass to Klaffke’s dedication:

Willamette Valley Vineyards 2009 Elton Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, $45. This superior Pinot Noir opens with aromas of raspberries, Rainier cherries, pineapples, violets and strawberries. On the palate, this is a gentle and elegant wine with flavors of white strawberries, raspberries and cherries. It’s tempting to drink this wine now, but as delicious as it is, it’s likely to develop into something even greater.

Willamette Valley Vineyards 2009 Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, $28. This opens with classic aromas of raspberries, strawberries, pie cherries and mushrooms, with just a hint of orange blossoms. On the palate, this is an elegant wine from first sip, with flavors of vanilla, Rainier cherries, cranberries, Marionberries and chocolate. With 18,000 cases produced, this should be easy to find.

Willamette Valley Vineyards 2010 Whole Cluster Fermented Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, $20. In the Pacific Northwest, this is about as close as we come to a Beaujolais Nouveau style of wine. Every year, this Oregon giant produces a youthful Pinot Noir — the first it releases from each vintage — which is made using a method called carbonic maceration. This means the juice is fermented primarily while it is still inside the grape, before the fruit is crushed. The resulting wine is lower in tannin and higher in fruit. That’s certainly the case with this delicious wine, which shows off aromas of strawberry candy, cinnamon, apricots and black currants. On the palate, this reveals invigorating flavors of strawberries, cherries, cranberries and red raspberries. It’s a great introduction to Pinot Noir — because of the flavors and the price.

Willamette Valley Vineyards 2009 Estate Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, $40. Of Willamette Valley Vineyards’ seven new Pinot Noirs we tasted, this was the biggest and boldest entry. It opens with rich aromas of cedar, strawberries, red currants, cola and baked apples with cinnamon. On the palate, it starts with an easy approach of raspberries, cranberries and chocolate, then is large and in charge on the finish with robust tannins.

Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman are the editors of Wine Press Northwest. For the freshest reviews go to www.winepressnw.com/freshpress.

Talk to us

More in Life

Carolyn Cross repairs light strands on a flower christmas light frame at Warm Beach Camp & Conference Center on Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021 in Stanwood, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
All is merry and bright at Warm Beach

The Lights of Christmas endures as one of Snohomish County’s premier holiday traditions.

Caption: Family photos like this one of the author’s grandmother give extra meaning to this family’s holiday decorations.
Memories linger like the scent of fake Christmas trees

On this family’s tree, the most important ornaments are framed photos of beloved family, especially the ones who have passed away.

The 2022 Infiniti QX60 is available in four trim levels, all with standard front-wheel drive or optional all-wheel drive. (Manufacturer photo)
Infiniti QX60 midsize SUV is all new and deluxe for 2022

An extra dash of exterior drama, upgraded interior, and new Autograph model keep QX60 in the running.

Beachcombing on London’s riverbank.
Beachcombing through London’s long history

At low tide, the banks of the Thames teem with the flotsam and jetsam of centuries gone by.

Some ways to take care of yourself during the 2021 holidays

This is such a busy time of the year! Here are some… Continue reading

Steve Smith gift ideas for gardeners
Ten gift ideas for gardeners

From puzzles to pruners, how to pick the perfect present for the green thumbs on your list.

Seven gift ideas for weathering the holiday season

Smart thermostats and portable power will be thoughtful presents — especially when energy bills and power outages hit.

Photo Caption: Francois-Xavier Lalanne often used animal motifs in his modern, minimalist sculptures. His porcelain eggcup with a chicken's head, wings and tail sold for $2,080 at Palm Beach Modern Auctions.

(c) 2021 by Cowles Syndicate Inc.
‘Pocillovy’ is the obscure hobby of collecting eggcups

It stems from Victorian times, when nearly every type of food had its own specialized dish and utensils.

Orangebark Stewartia, Stewartia monadelpha,
Great Plant Pick: Orangebark Stewartia

This tree’s stunning bark is shown to perfection when it’s planted with a backdrop of evergreens.

Most Read