J Christopher Wines
Oregon wine country revisited, part 4

Website: www.jchristopherwines.com

When I arrived to meet Jay Somers at the winery it was early evening, and he'd been blending the 2013s all day. Jay is a dude. He looks like a rock star, and in his spare time he is one – he's a guitarist in a Portland-based band called Poncho Luxurio (it's sort of a fusion of jazz/blues/funk). He's also a biodynamic sort of guy, using the Thun calendar to govern vineyard and winery operations.

He's now got a nice new winery sitting on a 40 acre estate block in the Chehalem Mountains AVA, but the beginnings of J Christopher were more humble, back in 1996. 'I started with $3K and two tons of Pinot Noir' says Jay. In the past he has worked with the likes of Neil McCullum at Dry River in New Zealand, and when he started his own label he was an assistant winemaker at Cameron. 

Ernie Loosen of the Mosel was a customer of Cameron, and the two became friends, which led to Ernie becoming a partner in the venture in 2010. 'He wanted to do a Pinot Noir project,' Jay says. Ernie was already doing business in Oregon: he has an import company based in Portland, which imports his own wines plus those of friends. Ernie's involvement made the new winery and estate vineyards a possibility.

'My experience growing up was working in road construction,' Jay reveals. 'I don't have a good way for describing fruit but I have a huge mineral thing.’ He says of his Lumière Pinot from Eola Amity Hills, 'to me this smells of wet rock with some fruit thrown in. It is the most mineral AVA.’

What does he look for in Pinot Noir? ‘I like the refined Chambolle character,' he says. 'Amoreuses is my favourite vineyard in Burgundy. I am looking for a seamless delicate feel, but not light wines.'

Of recent vintages, he likes the rather difficult 2011. 'It was an opportunity to make classic wines with good natural acidity and low alcohol.' He says that the 2013s are interesting because they have a similar alcohol profile to the 2011s. It is a vintage of blending skilfully.

As well as Pinot Noir, Jay also makes excellent Sauvignon Blanc: it's not what Oregon is known for, but he does it really well, in a grown-up sort of style. 

Jay is not afraid of new barrels. Some of his wines have 30% new oak, but he says he can do this if he knows which barrels work with his wines. Regarding clones, he points out that Dijon clones are fine, if you blend them. 'What you don't want is 5 hectares of 777 clone. There's a lot of hatred for Dijon clones here.' He adds that one limiting factor about Oregon is the shortage of older vines. 'When we get to 30 or 40 year old vines we'll see quality move another notch.'


J Christopher Dundee Hills Pinot Noir 2011 Oregon, USA
'For me Dundee is the most refined and feminine of the AVAs,' says . 'It has iron rich soils and classic Dundee Pinots have a sanguine, iodine quality.' Fresh, cherryish and bright with some dark fruit. Keen and lively with a bit of structure and some savoury notes. 93/100

J Christopher Nuagen Pinot Noir 2011 Chehalem Mountain, Oregon, USA
Fresh, supple and bright red cherry fruit nose. The palate has juicy, supple fresh red fruit. Nice precision with some finesse to the red berry fruits. Nice savoury, grippy finish. Needs time. 93/100

J Christopher Lumière Pinot Noir 2011 Eola-Amity Hills, Oregon, USA
On the east slope of Eola, more like Cristom, with lots of broken basalt in the soil. Wet stone mineral nose with black cherries. Fresh, lively bright red cherry and plum fruit with good acidity and some raspberry and cranberry notes. Lovely focus and grip. 94/100

J Christopher Sandra Adele Pinot Noir 2011 Dundee Hills, Oregon, USA
25-35 year old vines from Abbey Ridge and Charlie's Vineyard. Fresh, lively and herby with a bit of spice and some bloody notes. Lively, focused raspberry and fresh cherry fruit. So clean and vivid. 94/100

J Christopher Bella Vida Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011 Dundee Hills, Oregon, USA
This is the first time this vineyard has been bottled on its own, at age 15. Mostly Wadenswil clone, which tends to be later and higher in acid. Supple and lively with bright, focused linear cherry fruit, and lovely wet stone minerals,. There's a bit of spice and hints of tar. Savoury and refined with nice freshness. Taut raspberry and cherry fruit with some iron notes. 94/100

J Christopher Lia's Vineyard 2011 Chehalem Mountains, Oregon, USA
This is the furthest plot up the hill, mostly old vine Wadenswil, which has phylloxera. Very aromatic and bright with lovely plum and cherry fruit. Lively with a hint of ginger. Fresh, focused, bright palate is juicy with high acidity. Fresh and berryish, supple and rounded with a hint of ginger and even some saltiness. 92/100

J Christopher Olenik Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011 Chehalem Mountains, Oregon, USA
Marine sediment soils and a warm site. Rich, powerful, fresh and focused with nice acidity and grip. Some mineral intensity here. Quite backward. 93/100

J Christopher Sauvignon Blanc 2013 Willamette Valley, Oregon, USA
Highly aromatic and grassy with pretty lemon and grapefruit notes. Delicate palate is bright  with lovely citrus fruit as well as passionfruit and tangerine. Expressive and pretty. 92/100

J Christopher Über Sauvignon Croft Vineyard 2012 Oregon, USA
Fermented and aged in large acacia barrels. Complex with savoury herb notes and subtle wax and nuts. Lovely mouthfeel with grapefruit and herbs, as well as savoury depth and keen acidity. 92/100

Johan Vineyards
J Christopher
Big Table Farm
Walter Scott
Antica Terra

See also:

Visiting Oregon, July 2008 (series)

Wines tasted 07/14  
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