When it comes to wine, I am a terroirist. I love to explore the ways that climate, soil and vineyard affect the distinctive aromas and flavors that end up in my glass. Last week, Donna and I joined our son, Duncan, and daughter-in-law, Lisa, on a trip to the Willamette Valley of Oregon--an ideal place to learn terroir, which is more intricate and complex than I imagined.
Over the past several decades, a number of French and American wine enthusiasts have been attracted to Willamette Valley because they believe it is a special place to grow and produce fine Pinot Noir. The cool maritime climate gives the grapes the acidity they need, and the mineral-rich soil contributes to an array of unique smells and flavors. It rains a lot in Oregon, but the rain is well timed for the grape grower--lots of rain in the Spring when the vines need it followed by a Summer that is often bone dry and a rainy fall that comes after the grapes are already harvested. In addition, the soils provide good drainage.
One of my favorite wineries, WillaKenzie Estate, advertises itself as an estate where "Place matters: Our terroir is our inspiration." The name, WillaKenzie, actually refers to the ancient soil in this part of the Chehalem hills. And the estate bottles wines from several vineyards that offer unique traits. Emery, located on the highest elevation of the estate, has the deepest topsoil and produces wines with deep flavors and fine, silky tannins. Triple Black Slopes is the steepest slope on the estate with thin topsoil and excellent drainage. The wine is known for its power, intensity and structure. We sampled these wines and others (Aliette, Kiana) during our excellent tutored tasting at WillaKenzie.
In addition to the special vineyards, WillaKenzie offers an Estate Cuvee, which is a blend of some of the best barrels from several vineyards. It is an excellent wine, as my notes from last year will confirm. It also offers a less expensive Willamette Valley bottling that includes grapes from vineyards on the nearby Dundee Hills. The soil there is Jory, highly prized for producing elegant wines with spicy, peppery traits.
Stoller Family Estate is located in the Dundee Hills. Our tasting there included an excellent 2017 Reserve Pinot Noir and two younger wines, the 2019 Helen's Pinot Noir and the 2019 Nancy's Pinot. I posted notes on these wines last week.
Another important factor in all of these wines is the Pinot Noir clone or clones used in the blend. At Willamette Valley Vineyards, we got to sample from barrels of seven different clones: Pommard, Wadenswil, Dijon 113, Dijon 114, Dijon 115, Dijon 667 and Dijon 777. In the wines we tasted there and at Colene Clemens (located in Chehalem near WillaKenzie) we could detect the dark fruit, earth and mushrooms typical of Pommard; the cherry, raspberry and rose petal of Wadenswil; the nutmeg, clove and allspice of 667; and the blackberry, cassis and licorice of 777. The Victoria, Adriane and Margot cuvees from Colene Clemens combined Pommard, Wadenswil, Dijon 667 and Dijon 777 in a captivating artisanal package.
The best part of wine, of course, is the hedonistic pleasure of smelling and tasting. But there is much, much more to the process of creating this pleasure. Last week, we had a short course that combined meteorology, geology, horticulture and more. I loved it.