Memorial Day weekend signals the close of Oregon Wine Month, and the Willamette Valley Wineries Association will observe this special time in ways that wine lovers could not have envisioned prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As a result of sheltering-in-place guidelines — and its ironic acronym for wine lovers — this year’s experiences from May 22-25 will center on advance orders, drive-thru pick-ups and virtual tastings. Check for the wineries populating the calendar at www.willamettewines.com.
Despite a crippling reduction in sales, the Willamette Valley wine industry has rallied to help health-care workers in regional hospitals. The cause, spearheaded by Scott and Annie Shull of Raptor Ridge Winery in Newberg, is known by the hashtag #WinesForTheFrontlines.
Since the outbreak, more than 150 Willamette Valley wineries, trucking and storage companies, and wine distributors have donated and delivered more than 1,400 cases of wine and 268 cases of sparkling grape juice to those battling the pandemic in scrubs.
Among the feel-good traditions that have continued for Oregon Wine Month is the relationship with Portland artist John Fisher of Fisher Carlson Co., who contributed the artwork for this year’s Memorial Weekend in the Wine Country poster.
A number of Willamette Valley producers, including Utopia and Youngberg Hill listed below, offer guest lodging among their vines, so inquire to learn when that phase of their operations becomes available again in the wake of the pandemic.
Below are several award-winning wines from Willamette Valley producers that our panels have tasted in recent months. Ask for these bottles via your favorite wine merchant or contact the winery directly.
Saint Josef’s Winery 2018 Whole Cluster Gamay, Willamette Valley $22: All whole-cluster pressed with an extended maceration, this gamay from a second-generation Salmon-Safe producer along the Mt. Hood Territory Wine Trail is richer in style than many domestic contemporaries. The experience provided by the McKnight family begins with strawberry, plum, rosemary, grapefruit peel and earth, as the palate offers wonderful concentration while staying lithe and fresh. This earned a gold medal last fall at the Great Northwest Invitational Wine Competition.
Hanson Vineyards 2017 Gamay Noir, Willamette Valley $25: Jason Hanson and his family grow nearly a dozen varieties across their two vineyards near Woodburn, Oregon, and their work with gamay is receiving worthy attention as interest in this Burgundian grape is on the rise. Pouring a vibrant, gemstone red, it opens with soaring aromatics of raspberry, lavender, cherry lozenges, crushed rocks and bouquet garni. The palate is juicy, alternating between fresh red fruit and herbaceous spice along its frame. Suggested pairings include pate and creamy cheeses. It also earned a gold medal at the Great Northwest Invitational Wine Competition.
Patton Valley Vineyard 2018 Estate PTG Red Wine, Willamette Valley $26: A fresh and fruity blend of pinot noir and gamay, this certified B corporation led by second-generation winemaker Derek Einberger who crafts it as a tribute to the Passe-tout-grains of Bourgogne. It’s characterized by zingy red fruit and freshly peeled citrus, as strawberry and raspberry flavors battle it out with grapefruit, lemon and fragrant flowers. This was awarded a gold medal last fall at Great Northwest Invitational, just as the 2019 vintage was undergoing carbonic fermentation in preparation for its release this spring. Chill it for 30 minutes prior to enjoyment.
Abiqua Wind Vineyard 2016 Estate Isaac’s Reserve Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, $25: Back in 1978, commercial fisherman Pete Buffington began to transform a strawberry field and timberland in Oregon’s Cascade foothills into a vineyard where cool-climate varieties thrive. He devotes his top six barrels of pinot noir for this wine named for his first-born grandson. Engaging aromas of dusty black cherry, toffee and milk chocolate lead to a lighter style of pinot noir featuring red fruit as montmorency cherry, dried currant and strawberry juice make for a pleasing example that presents acidity rather than tannin.
Chris James Cellars 2016 Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley $26: A product of his second commercial vintage, Chris James Barnes leaned on Wagon Road Vineyard for the flagship bottling under his eponymous brand. Gorgeous red fruit and tastefully applied oak allow for cane berries, red cherries, spices and hints of violets to come through on the nose. They are joined by vanilla, caramel and super-smooth tannins on the well-balanced palate.
Youngberg Hill 2015 Oregon Syrah, Rogue Valley, $35: Grower-vintner Wayne Bailey owns one of the most picturesque wine country destinations in the Willamette Valley, and he rightfully focuses on pinot noir and chardonnay at Youngberg Hill near McMinnville. Here, however, he works with Daisy Creek Vineyard near Jacksonville for this stunning syrah. It opens with dark cherry, plum and tapenade aromas. It deliciously features Bing cherry and blueberry juice, backed by black currant skin tannins and a finish of elderberry.
Lenné Estate 2017 Pinot Noir, Yamhill-Carlton, $40: Steve Lutz uses the spring release of his flagship pinot noir to celebrate the 20th anniversary of this boutique project, which pulls entirely from his 16-acre vineyard just outside of Yamhill, Oregon. His release from the 2017 vintage fits deliciously within his traditional profile of bigger styles of pinot noir. It’s round, fleshy and redolent of cassis, damson plum and pomegranate juice with a mouthwatering finish of blueberry. This has the bones for the investment of time. And through the first week in May, Lutz has pledged 40% of profits from online sales to Meals on Wheels.
Gran Moraine Winery NV Brut Rosé, Yamhill-Carlton, $55: One of the jewels in the Jackson Family Wines portfolio within the Willamette Valley, the Gran Moraine estate vines for this methode champenoise approach with chardonnay (57%) and pinot noir date back to 2005 on this site west of Carlton, Oregon. Internationally trained winemaker Shane Moore, a product of Washington State University’s viticulture and enology program, oversaw this complex dry brut rose. Its light golden color offers an enticing nose of cotton candy and pineapple upsidedown cake that are carried up by a wealth of fine bubbles. The mouth-filling mousse brings a stream of starfruit, white peach and blood orange.
Utopia Wines 2017 The Utopia Vineyard Clone 777 Estate Reserve, Ribbon Ridge, $65: Those who seek to drill down on vineyard-designate clonal selection pinot noir should enjoy the exploration at this property where Daniel Warnshuis farms and crafts the wines. He’s surrounded by famous producers on Ribbon Ridge Road northwest of Newberg. His expression with Dijon clone 777 is filled with finesse, starting with aromas of dusty cherry, mocha and minerality. The pleasing structure shows ripeness and complexity as blueberries with cherry pie pick up a food-friendly squirt of Super 100 cherry tomato on the mid-palate that leads out with a long finish of blue fruit and white pepper spice.
Eric Degerman operates Great Northwest Wine, an award-winning media company. Learn more about wine at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.