Famous for French Burgundy, the Drouhin family found a home, and great success, in the Dundee Hills of Oregon. This has only reinforced the idea that Oregon is more like the French hillsides of Burgundy than its hotter American sister to the south, California.
At the family’s vineyard, we discussed rootstocks, trellis systems, crop yields and clone choices. Over all, we learned that the best vines for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay for Oregon’s climate and topography were those from France like Pommard and Dijon. In fact, Oregon Chardonnay is growing in popularity since many of the vineyard managers have ripped up the California clone vines (specifically clone 108) to replace them with Dijon, making for elegant, long-lived Chardonnays that are reminiscent of Chablis.
Though she must have been eight months pregnant, Van Duzer’s Vineyard Manager Rebecca Sweet couldn’t stop herself from pruning the vines at Domaine Drouhin.
I found canopy management to be interesting since the vineyard managers were so passionate about the choice of each shoot for the next vintage’s crop. You didn’t want the strongest and most vigorous shoot. Instead, you wanted to trellis one that would produce a balanced amount of grapes and leaves to, in the end, make for more elegant wines.
Hunting for the Great White
Though we were there specifically to increase our knowledge of Oregon Pinot Noir, one of my favorite seminars was “Hunting for the Great White.” The three leading white varietal grapes are Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, and Riesling–in that order. Oregon’s white wines account for 27 percent of the plantings and 38 percent of case sales. I have always been a fan of Oregon Pinot Gris since it is such a food-friendly wine. It is as easy to sell as it is to drink! Ripe notes of peach and honeysuckle, followed by bright and lively acidity? How can you go wrong? Can you find the 1995 Argyle?
But one of the most eye-opening parts was to taste the 1995 Argyle Reserve Chardonnay that was still youthful! The acidity of Oregon wines is key. Mind you, I am not saying that these wines are overly acidic and need time. Instead, I am saying that these wine makers have a good grasp of balancing fruit and acidity for wines that can be consumed fresh or mature.
The multiple personalities of the Pinot Noir seminar rounded out our educational portion. During this, we were able to taste through many different Pinot Noirs from multiple vineyard sites and vintages, to test whether there is a consistent “Oregon Pinot Noir element” to each wine. With a winemaker at each table, we were able to pick their brains and pull from each other’s experiences to come up with conclusions. The famed salmon bake at Stoller Vineyards was our final chance to commune with the people of the Oregon wine country and each other.
Choose Your Own Adventure Day
Thankfully, our “Choose your own adventure” day didn’t start until 11 a.m. Though I could have gone for a helicopter ride or gone whitewater rafting, I thought a study in food and wine pairing would suit me best. About 30 of us gathered at the R. Stuart Winery, where we were walked through the Zing program. Co-owner of R. Stuart Winery, Patricia Rodgers Ridgeway, has developed this food-science-based program to highlight the potential of wine and food pairing.
We focused on six different wine elements and eight food elements. The wine elements were acidity, viscosity, fruit, sugar, alcohol and tannin. The food elements were salt, oxalic acid or bitter; acidity; umami; fat; sugar; spice; and protein. The hardest part of all was not to account for smell. My entire career, the major component to wine tasting has been smell, but with pairing, it’s more tactile. When the food and wine elements are combined in your mouth, what is the experience? Also, what is the overriding element in the food? Yes, you may be having a salad with chicken (protein) and tomatoes (umami), but is the dressing sweet like tropical poppy seed or fatty like buttermilk ranch? This is why when I am asked what goes with a certain protein, like salmon, I always ask how it will be prepared. Only then can I make an educated pairing.
An Exhilarating Experience
My experience in Oregon was eye opening and exhilarating! The people of Oregon wine country are warm, generous and fiercely passionate about not only winemaking but also sustainable and organic farming. Though they believe the Pinot Noir from Oregon is world class, they remain humble, trying new techniques and listening to one another when problems, like phylloxera, arise. I am excited to bring in some of the over 500 wines that I was able to try during my trip.
Here are some of the standouts (Don’t worry! I won’t tease you with the ones you can’t get!):
- Four Graces Pinot Blanc, Willamette Valley, 2011 $19.99 – Green apple, lychee and peach spring from the glass. Apple follows on the palate, with a grapefruit-like tartness to the finish.
- Domaine Drouhin Arthur Chardonnay, 2010 $29.99 – As stated above, this French family knows its Chardonnay. The 2010 was a long, cool vintage that leads to lively acidity. The 2010 Arthur has citrus and floral notes on the nose, with a creamy mouth feel.–a real knockout!
- Patton Valley Pinot Noir Rose, Willamette Valley, 2011 $18.99 – This rose is not only reminiscent of Provance Rose in color but also in flavor. Pink grapefruit, rose petals, and fresh strawberries–it’s dry on the finish, but the mouth-watering acidity leaves you wanting more!
- Apolloni L Cuvee Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, 2009 $19.99 – Lovely nose of black flowers and herbs–on the palate the warmth of the 2009 vintage brings on loads of lush black fruits, with a soft, toasty vanilla finish. This wine is as pretty as Laurine Apolloni, for whom it was named!
- Erath Estate Selection Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, 2009 $33.99 – Loads of baked cherry pie and spice on the nose, with a ripe, juicy plum and raspberry on the palate. Long, lovely finish with a terrific balance of French oak and lingering acidity. A very pretty expression of Oregon Pinot Noir.
Alfredo Apolloni and I at Stoller Vineyards
When the 2010s come in, be sure to snatch them up because they are going to be in short supply, and they are incredible! Special thanks to the Apolloni family for sponsoring me on this amazing journey!