When I traveled to Portland, Oregon in the Summer of 2017 for the Society of Wine Educators conference, I didn’t know that it would be the beginning of a beautiful friendship with Oregon wine. I had tried a number of Oregon Pinot Noirs in my life but that experience was my first witnessing the breadth and depth of the industry. Last year, I was lucky enough to work with the Oregon Wine Board on producing their New York event in May, Oregon wine month. We had 60 wineries visit and the wines and producers were lovely to a person. I’m so happy it was last year and not this year.
May is Oregon wine month and while I can’t visit at the moment, I can travel in my memories and taste Oregon wines. What I discovered through my travels that summer and through seminars was how delicious Oregon Chardonnay and Pinot Gris are in addition to their well-known Pinot Noir.
One that I loved was from the Eyrie Vineyards winery. This winery was founded by the pioneer of the Oregon wine industry, David Lett, and seems like a good place to start when thinking and writing about Oregon wines.
In February 1965, some 55 years ago, Lett rented a temporary nursery plot near Corvallis, and planted the 3000 vinifera grape cuttings he gathered from UC Davis. These were the first plantings of Pinot noir and Chardonnay in the Willamette Valley.
After much exploration, Lett decided that Dundee Hills had the right combination of soils and climate for his grapes with the correct exposition and altitude. Today, the Dundee hills are in the center in the Northern Willamette Valley. It was the first region to gain international recognition. In 1966, Lett and his wife Diana planted their first vines. This vineyard is one of the winery’s five estate vineyards today.
Jason Lett is the winemaker and the son of the founder. He considers himself a steward of the land and the wines certainly show that level of care. The vines are not-irrigated and have never been treated with herbicides, systemic chemicals or insecticides. When harvested, the grapes are gently destemmed, crushed and pressed in slow cycles. The wine ferments in mostly neutral French oak barrels and ages in their cellar for one year on the lees.
The wine ferments on its natural yeasts. It was a beautiful example of a chardonnay with creamy apple notes, brioche and toast. It also had ripe apple and pear and floral undertones on the nose and palate. The wine they are selling today is a 2016. While not inexpensive at $60, I think it can rival some of the most coveted wines from other Chardonnay producing region. Great acidity, salinity and depth of floral and fruit flavor, this wine can age and is very elegant with complexity and a long finish.