Story and Photos by Dave Nershi, CSW
For Pinot Noir lovers, Willamette Valley in Oregon Wine Country is the promised land. This famed region 30 miles south of Portland produces more than 80% of Oregon’s Pinot Noir and is home to more than 750 vineyards. We visited seven top wineries during our recent visit. We picked our favorite Pinot Noir from each. Here are profiles of the first four, with the remainder coming in our second installment. Uncork and enjoy!
David Nemarnik is the winegrower and owner. Of Italian/Croatian heritage, he founded the winery in 1999 and honors his family’s food and wine traditions and respect for the land in its operation.
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The estate is a living farm with sheep, registered Hereford cattle and chickens. Hay, hazelnuts and chestnuts are grown on the farm. Alloro hosts an autumn Whole Farm feast prepared by a local chef to celebrate the estate’s harvest. Typically, 90% of the ingredients used at this dinner were grown on the estate. L.I.V.E.-certified, Salmon-Safe agricultural practices strive to promote natural biodiversity and improve sustainability every year.
Nemarnik likes to be creative with the grape varieties he grows – he is considering adding Nebbiolo -- and vineyard management. The focus, however, is on premium Pinot Noir.
Wines are made exclusively from the 33 acres of estate vineyards, which has dark brown loess topsoil layered on brick-red decomposed basalt Jory soils. Three estate Pinot Noirs are produced including Riservata, a barrel select that nicely reflects the passion and complexity of Alloro Vineyard wines. Chardonnay, Riesling, Rose of Pinot Noir are also made. The perfect ending to your tasting is Vino Nettare—a dessert wine made from 65% Muscat and 35% Riesling.
Our pick: Alloro 2016 Riservata Pinot Noir, Chehalem Mountains - $50 SRP
|Dave and Sara Specter offer plenty of surprises, including Seyval Blanc, at Bells Up Winery.|
Bells Up Winery A Micro-Boutique Winner
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“Bells Up” refers to a dramatic moment in classical music where the composer instructs French horn players to lift the bells of their instruments up and project sound with maximum intensity. The Specters’ passion for music and excellence in wine have blended in Bells Up Winery, a micro-boutique operation, producing about 500 cases of wine annually.
The winery is in Newberg on the site of a former Christmas tree farm. Tastings are by appointment only, allowing visitors a personalized experience. Bells Up produces versatile, food-friendly Pinot Noir sourced from micro-growers in northern Willamette Valley and a small selection of other Oregon-grown varieties.
The 2018 Prelude Estate Rosé of Pinot Noir is a fuller bodied rosé made from estate vineyard grapes. This is a great wine to enjoy on the winery patio overlooking the vineyard. The 2016 Titan Willamette Valley Pinot Noir is a bold Pinot Noir that aged seven months in French oak.
Bells Up has received notoriety for its recent release of its Helios Estate Seyval Blanc. Its Seyval planting is the first in Willamette Valley and the resulting wine is crisp with candied lemon flavors.
Our pick: Bells Up 2015 Titan Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley - $40 SRP
|Katie Santora is winemaker at Chehalem, a pioneering Willamette Valley winery.|
Known for its single-vineyard Pinot Noirs, Chehalem also produces whites with fresh fruit flavors and a wonderful minerality. Winemaker Katie Santora uses a transparent touch to let the terroir shine in the bottle.
Chehalem is considered a vineyard winery. A treat for wine lovers is to savor and compare the Pinot from its three estate vineyards. The Ridgecrest Vineyard was the first planted in the prestigious Ribbon Ridge AVA and renders tartness and strong tannins. The Corral Creek Vineyard offers bright fruit balanced by aging in new French oak.
The Stoller Vineyard has 210 acres planted to vine, making it the largest contiguous vineyard in Oregon’s Dundee Hills. The accent is on warming red fruit with good acidity and a nip of spice. Each single vineyard Pinot is a distinct experience. An impressive reserve range is also available.
The Chehalem tasting room is in downtown Newberg. The winery is open by appointment and offers tastings and tours, including a visit to the Corral Creek Vineyard.
Our Pick: Chehalem 2015 Stoller Vineyard Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills - $50
|Winemaker Aaron Lieberman is the creative force behind a superb stable of Iris wines, including some bubbly.|
Driving the winery’s recent expansion is the Greek concept of Areté, constantly striving to reach full potential and attain excellence. Leading the charge in the winery is winemaker Aaron Lieberman, who in addition to stints at several prestigious Oregon wineries, spent three years in Guatemala with the Peace Corps.
The Iris label delivers impressive Willamette Valley flavors at a remarkably low price while the Areté range ramps up the complexity and elegance. The 2015 Iris Pinot Noir conveys lush blackberry and plum flavors and a silky finish. The 2015 Areté Pinot Noir blends select barrels from the estate’s Chalice Vineyard and is aged 15 months in French oak puncheons. It’s a lovely, elegant wine rippling with black cherry and oak flavor notes.
Iris also produces Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and rosé in addition to wines from several other varieties. Quite exceptional, but in limited supply, is sparkling wine. Blanc de Noir, Blanc de Blanc and a Blanc de Noir rosé are produced, but often in such small quantities that it goes quickly.
The Iris tasting room overlooks Chalice Vineyard in the rolling foothills of Willamette Valley near Eugene.
Our Pick: Iris Vineyards 2015 Areté Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley - $59.99 SRP
Continue on to Part 2 right here.
Chehalem tasting room photo courtesy of Chehalem.
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