Exploring Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

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Elaine, Adam and Sam

This year, the theme for the formal tasting at the Central Otago Pinot Celebration was Pinot from the Willamette Valley in Oregon. The session was ably led by Elaine Brown, who has spent a lot of time in Oregon, with two Oregon winemakers: Adam Campbell of Elk Cove and Sam Tannahill of Francis Tannahill, Rex Hill and A to Z Wineworks. The wines were all quite different, but really enjoyable.

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Eyrie Outcrop Pinot Noir 2014 Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Red Jory (basalt, volcanic) soils here. Decomposed basalt high in iron, with high water-holding capacity, so best in warmer years. This is a highly regarded subregion capable of making really complex wines. This example, from Willamette pioneers Eyrie, is fresh, quite lean and elegant with supple, fine red fruits. Lovely restrained style with some texture but also good acidity and some fine-grained tannins. Really pretty and expressive with elegance. This is naturally made with no acid additions, from organically farmed vines. No stems. 95/100

Elk Cove Mount Richmond Pinot Noir 2014 Yamhill Carlton, Willamette Valley, Oregon
This is from very different soils: marine sediments. They are 50 million years old, left by the recession of the oceans which have then been uplifted. They tend to give more dark fruit character and a different quality of spice. You have to be very gentle with extraction or you end up with real bruisers. No stems. 1996 plantings on own roots, all Pommard clone. This is quite generous, but still well balanced. There’s a freshness to the red cherry and plum fruit with a slight saltiness. Really appealing with ripeness and texture but also a supple freshness to this wine, and a fine spiciness on the finish. Lovely purity to this wine, which is highly seductive but not unbalanced. 94/100

Bergstrom Silice Pinot Noir 2015 Chehalem Mountains, Willamette Valley, Oregon
A large AVA with a range of soil types, including some loess. This is more marine sediments in the west of the AVA, which is quite large. This was the first vintage that was 100% whole cluster. This is concentrated with sweet raspberry and blackberry fruit. Juicy and focused with fine-grained tannins and a hint of green. Supple with a nice spicy dimension under the fruit. Well structured. I think the whole-bunch works. There’s a freshness and a brightness to this wine, which shows beautiful elegance as well as power. 94/100

Francis Tannahill The Hermit Pinot Noir 2014 Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Jory volcanic soils. 100% whole bunch. This has a supple, slightly green edge to the sweet cherry and plum fruit. There’s some brightness here, with perhaps a hint of iron and blood. It’s juicy and generous with a sweetness to the fruit that’s offset nicely by the structure and green herby stemmy notes. Finishes fresh. 93/100

Brooks Janus Pinot Noir 2014 Willamette Valley, Oregon
Destemmed, 10% new oak. Blend of eight vineyard sites but with a preponderance of Eola-Amity Hills. Fresh, slightly lifted nose with red cherries and raspberries. Juicy and lively on the palate with supple, grainy, spicy structure and some complexity. The acid is a bit lifted, but it’s a level that provides a savoury, spicy complexity. Elegant and quite detailed with nice brightness to the fruit. 93/100

Antica Terra Antikythera Pinot Noir 2014 Eola-Amity Hills, Oregon
Marine sedimentary soils, 12% whole cluster, 40% new oak. Ripe, open and floral with lovely sweet cherry fruit. This is really pretty and expressive with good concentration of sweet fruit and a fine-grained structure. There’s a lovely sweetness to this fruit with some raspberry crunch and nice spicy tannic structure. Such a beautiful wine that’s really pretty. 95/100

Walter Scott Sojourner Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015 Eola-Amity Hills, Oregon
From volcanic stony soils. 30% whole cluster, indigenous yeasts, 40% new oak. Supple, fresh and fine on the nose with lovely floral notes. The palate is fresh and expressive with sweet red cherries and a bit of fine spicy oak providing a supporting role. There’s lovely structure and grip. Very fine and expressive with a fine silkiness to the fruit. It’s sleek but still fresh and elegant. 94/100

Day Johan Vineyards Pinot Noir 2015 Willamette Valley, Oregon
Wild yeast, 30% whole cluster, 15% new oak. Smoky, spicy edge to the berry fruits nose. The palate is juicy with pronounced acidity, sour cherries, damsons and plums. This is quite distinctive and savoury with lots of cherry and raspberry fruit, but also some bitterness and sourness on the finish, but it’s not without appeal. 92/100

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