Sunday, May 5, 2019

Our Premier Willamette Valley Pinot Noir Picks – Part 2

Story and Photos by Dave Nershi, CSW
Vino-Sphere Publisher

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 and picked our favorite Pinot Noir from each. We profiled the first four in Part 1. In our second installment we profile three more stellar wineries. Uncork and enjoy!

Le Cadeau Vineyard Rocks Pinot Noir

Le Cadeau Vineyard features a patchwork of rocky soil and outstanding cuvée parcels.
Le Cadeau is a stylish and refined name for a vineyard. French for “the gift” it is certainly more appealing than its original nickname, “the black hole.” The 28-acre vineyard, owned by Deb and Tom Mortimer, was carved out of a forested, rocky hillside in Dundee Hills.

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Pinot Noir vines love rocky soil but it was very expensive to plant amid the broken volcanic basalt, requiring much hand work. Hence Deb’s nickname of “the black hole.” The money, time and backbreaking effort has been worth it. Today Le Cadeau is a patchwork of distinctive vineyard blocks producing exceptional Pinot Noir.

The vineyard site has many variations in slope and soils and is divided into five cuvée parcels. Over the years, Le Cadeau has used up to four winemakers at a time – each handling a different cuvée. However, the wines and unique terroir, not the winemaker, really define Le Cadeau.

The 2017 “Rocheux” Pinot Noir comes from the rocky western part of the vineyard and shows red warming fruit flavors balanced with earthiness. The 2016 “Diversité” Pinot Noir comes from the northern end of the estate which has cooling nighttime breezes. It is a rich and spicy wine made from nine different clones including the Swiss Mariafeld. The 2016 “Merci” Reserve Pinot Noir is made with heritage clones (Calera, Swan and Mt. Eden) and offers tastes of blueberry, black cherry and mocha with a silky texture.

Our Pick – Le Cadeau 2016 “Merci” Reserve, Chehalem Mountains – SRP $80

Lenné Estate – Focused, Site-Driven Pinot Noir

Steve Lutz and Lenné Estate focus on single clone Pinot Noir in Yamhill-Carlton.
From his hillside tasting room overlooking Yamhill County, Lenné Estate owner and winemaker Steve Lutz dispenses uncommon Pinot Noir wisdom. “Clones each have a personality even if it is expressed slightly differently by the vintage,” said Lutz. “It’s fun to show people that. We are a terroir-driven winery.”

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Quite a terroir it is. The steep hillside vineyard faces south, but the tough to farm Peavine soil has little organic matter and would crush a less determined winegrower. “The first five years were brutal,” said Lutz. “We made mistakes.” The perseverance has paid dividends. Struggling in the nutrient-poor soil, the vines yield small berries with concentrated flavors.

Lutz coaxes rare flavors of chocolate, cola and mocha in his Pinot Noir. The 2016 Jill’s 115 Pinot Noir using the 115 clone has fine grained tannins, cola notes and a silky finish. The 2016 Kill Hill Pinot Noir is named after the most treacherous vineyard area to pick and is made with 114 and 667 clones. The flavors are brambles and lovely black raspberry. The flagship 2016 cinq éluse Pinot Noir is a five-barrel blend of the best barrel from each clonal block.

These bottles are drinking beautifully now, but Lutz suggests waiting about 10 years after the vintage year. “Pinot can be one dimensional when young,” he said. “It’s like having a conversation with a toddler. When it gets to a certain point, you get all the wonderful aromatics and velvety richness. That takes bottle age.”

Our Pick: Lenné Estate 2016 cinq éluse Pinot Noir, Yamhill-Carlton – SRP $78

Youngberg Hill – Farming Exceptional Wines

Family, farming and premium cool-climate Pinot Noir are Youngberg Hill hallmarks.

Wayne Bailey has farming in his blood. Growing up on a farm in Iowa, he helped his father grow corn, soybeans and hogs. His career path took him away from the farm, but during a visit to Burgundy, his interest in winegrowing skyrocketed. “Wine is an agricultural product,” said Bailey, “and in Burgundy its about farming, farming, farming!”

Bailey found the ideal spot to renew his farming roots and pursue his love of cool-climate Pinot Noir. The Youngberg Hill estate in McMinnville covers 50 acres of hillside with 20 acres of vines, a nine-room inn with one of the best views in Willamette Valley, and a popular event center. The inn also features the Youngberg Hill tasting room.

The two oldest blocks of Pinot Noir vines are named after daughters Natasha and Jordan. The Aspen block is planted to white grapes and is named for the youngest daughter.

While the Aspen Chardonnay shows how sublime Oregon Chardonnay can be, Youngberg Hill Pinot Noirs are truly remarkable. The 2015 Natasha Pinot Noir is made with 30-year-old vines and delights with deep notes of blackberry and toast. The 2015 Jordan Pinot Noir can be considered a Premier Cru, with elegant notes of cherries, earth and spice.

The Youngberg Hill winegrowing is described as a practical approach to biodynamics. “I may not prune on the exact day prescribed, but I do generally farm in conjunction with the moon cycles, said Bailey. “And that’s biodynamic farming.” The results are undeniably great.

Our Pick: Youngberg Hill 2015 Jordan Pinot Noir, McMinnville – SRP $50

There you have it. Seven great reasons to visit Oregon Wine Country. Go to for more information to plan your visit to Willamette Valley. If you haven’t already read Part 1 of our story, check it out now.

Le Cadeau vineyard photo courtesy of the winery.

You may also enjoy these related articles:
Oregon’s Willamette Valley Encompasses Diverse Beverage Scene
Willamette Valley Overflows with Dining and Lodging Options

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