OREGON’S 2008 VINTAGE ELEVATES PINOT NOIR

Over the last decade, Oregon has emerged as one of the world’s great Pinot Noir producing regions. Now, with around 400 wineries, the state has developed into a world-class wine tourism destination.

The Oregon wine industry also has become a leader in the sustainable agriculture movement. This is seen in the increasing number of growers and wineries participating in four related certification programs.

LIVE (Low Input Viticulture and Enology, Inc.) certification promotes responsible stewardship of the land by recognizing practices that reduce reliance on synthetic chemicals and fertilizers and maintain biological diversity.

“Salmon Safe” certification recognizes practices that help restore and maintain healthy watersheds.

Organic certification from Oregon Tilth is awarded to those that meet biologically sound and socially equitable criteria. Many wineries also employ organic and sustainable farming practices without official recognition.

The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building certification acknowledges achievement in sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection, and indoor environmental quality.

Most of the wines in my tastings were from the highly touted 2008 vintage and confirmed the vintage’s reputation. As a group the wines show intense fruit and ripeness – yet only one had more than 14 percent alcohol – resulting in wine with power and elegance. They aren’t cheap but most have avoided the price inflation of comparable wines from Burgundy and California. My recommendations from recent tastings are listed below.

Arcachon. This second label for Oak Knoll is named after a community southwest of Bordeaux, which was the home of the founder’s ancestors. The 2008 Willamette Valley ($12) is a very good value; quite flavorful for the price.

Cana’s Feast. Also known for their Italian varietal wines from Washington grapes, the 2008 Meredith Mitchell Vineyard ($48) is supple and balanced with a sense of earth and brown spices with fresh acidity lifting the finish.

Carabella. Owned by a Colorado trained winemaker, Carabella’s first vintage was in 1998. The vineyard, located in the Chehalem Mountains of Oregon’s Willamette Valley has produced an excellent 2008 ($39). Expect admirable complexity from berry fruit, spice and even minerality, carried with good weight and a supple texture.

Four Graces. Established in 2003, The Four Graces is named in honor of the founders’ four daughters. Half of the vineyards are farmed sustainably; the other half using Biodynamic principles. The 2008 Willamette Valley ($29) combines blackberry fruit with earthy, mushroom notes in a firm and, well, graceful frame.

King Estate. Founded in 1991 by the King family, King Estate has grown into one of Oregon’s largest wineries and most popular wine tourist attractions. They also have been pioneers of organic and sustainable farming. The flavorful and firm 2009 Signature Collection ($27) continues a successful streak for this wine.

Ponzi Vineyards. Established in 1970, the Ponzi family and have been leaders in Oregon’s wine industry and the responsible stewardship movement. Truly a family winery, production now is being carried on by a second generation. The vineyards and winemaking are LIVE certified. The winery is a sustainable, gravity-flow facility. And the complex and silky 2008 Willamette Valley ($35) is one of the rewards.

Sokol Blosser. Ever since the first vines were planted in 1971, this family has been leaders in the sustainable agriculture movement utilizing a variety of stewardship practices, including organic farming, sustainable business practices, energy efficiency, and low impact packaging, a LEED certified winery, Salmon-Safe, and Carbon Neutral Challenge. The 2008 Dundee Hills ($34) is 79% organic, with black cherry, earth, spice and good structure with supple tannin.

Stoller Vineyards. The Stoller family has farmed this property since in 1943. Bill and Cathy Stoller became owners in 1993 and began the gradual conversion to vineyards. The new winery is solar-powered and gold-level LEED status. Add Salmon Safe and LIVE certified. The 2007 Dundee Hills “JV” ($25) shows bright cherry fruit and spice in an early drinking style.

Toii Mor. Although founded in 1993, the estate vineyard was planted in 1972.  The owners are focused on farming sustainably (LIVE certified); reducing carbon and energy usage; and employing solar energy and a gravity flow winery (LEED Gold). The 2008 Willamette Valley ($22) was fermented using indigenous yeasts and shows dark cherry, earthy mushroom and toast with crisp acidity.

About Rich

I first became interested in wine while I worked in numerous liquor stores during college in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. In the years following college, I researched, tasted, traveled to vineyards in California and Europe, participated in countless tastings. I began writing about wine in 1995 with a column in Out Front Colorado. For me, wine is more than a drink. It is food. It is a connection to the earth. It is culture. There is just something amazing, even magical, about the transformation of grapes into wine. It is also remarkable how drinking wine with food enhances the taste and enjoyment of both. Appreciation of wine has become an integral part of my approach to life, which emphasizes balance, respect for nature, physical and emotional health, and an appreciation of our nature as social beings. In 2006, I was awarded a fellowship to the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers.