Memorial Day weekend is traditionally the time, along with Thanksgiving, that Willamette Valley wineries open to the public. But I’m sick this weekend and I don’t really like the crowds and traffic anyway, so here’s a recap of some winery visits earlier this month when crowds were low and the roads clear.
We started at Chehalem, which was holding their annual Pinot Noir “best barrel” event. They selected, naturally, what they think is the “best” barrel in the cellar of each of their three vineyards from 2005 for tasting and purchase. The barrels will be bottled separately. The idea is you’ll get the wine exactly from the barrels you tried.
In theory, it’s interesting. But barrel samples are hard to gague, and the whole notion of a “best barrel” seems hokey. Sure, winemakers always have their “best barrels” but selling that to the public seems to me to undermine the whole “wine as a common beverage” thing.
Still, it was a nice chance to taste 2005 Pinot Noir. The Corral Creek was the only heavily oaked wine, with spicy caramel and red fruits. Hopefully they’ll rack this wine into neutral oak until bottling to keep the oak level in check. The Ridgecrest was nicely peppery with signature black fruit and spice. But this wine still has to finish malolactic fermentation, so it will change considerably before bottling. The Stoller was brighter than usual, showing perhaps the cool harvest. Very nice overall, love the balance and loamy, cherry fruit.
From bottle, we also taste the 2004 Cerise, a mostly Gamay and Pinot Noir blend. Delicious, peppery with cool red fruit, very easy to drink. The 2004 3 Vineyard Pinot Noir was a bit wan, just soft and dull today. And the 2004 Corral Creek Pinot Noir lacked the verve of the Cerise and the 2005s.
Chehalem isn’t open to the public regularly, so this was a nice chance to visit the property. But it seems like more and more producers are opening up to the public, and some are building some pretty significant tasting rooms. So we thought we’d check out Penner-Ash’s new place, a big winery on a previously uncharted hill (wine-wise) surrounded by a new estate vineyard.
The wines are equally large-scaled as the facility. Oddly enough, the 2005 Roseo was my favorite wine. Dry, crisp rose with perfume and nerve, surprisingly good. The 2004 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley fits the house style. Big and rich flavors with a polished texture and just the proper amount of spicy oak for an entry level wine at $40. The 2003 Syrah was not so oaky but not terribly varietal. And the 2004 Rubeo, a blend of more Pinot Noir and less Syrah was more Pinot Noir like, oaky with typcial polish. These are impressive wines, so that our guests loved them. But I find them too flawless, glossy rather than toned and too oak influenced. And the prices don't help, at least for this shopper.
Then on to Bergstrom, another new tasting room that is less grand than Penner-Ash but not less pricey. The 2004 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley was good with spicy red fruit. The 2004 Cumberland Reserve was tannic and chewy, more to the house style here. Even more backward was the 2004 Broadley Vineyard, from Monroe in the southern Willamette Valley. Very dark, monolithic with that’s all structure now. Hard to say where a wine like this will end up, but I wouldn’t count on resolution. The 2004 de Lancelotti, the “estate” vineyard around the modest winery on sedimentary soils, had the most unique aroma, with anise and grass, very interesting but tight on the palate, another wine that needs time to show what it has. Finally, the 2004 Bergstrom Vineyard from the Red Hills, just above the Le Pavillon vineyard on the top of a knoll above Worden Hill Road. The was softer and more fragrant, as you would expect the Red Hills to be, cherries, oak spice, less tannic than the others and tasty. But worth $70? Not to me, but the small crowd seemed sold. I can’t argue with that.
So that was the day. Stay tuned for part two of my recent adventures, a visit to Le Cadeau Vineyard on Parrett Mountain.