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Category: Oregon

Pure Pinot

Pure Pinot

A recent weekend in the Chehalem and Ribbon Ridge AVAs of Oregon has eloquently reminded me of the importance of context. My bride and tasting partner, Stephanie, and I spent two days sipping our way through 2011 and 2012 pinot noir cuvées, reserves, single vineyard selections, and 2013 futures. While critically discerning aromas and tastes at the second winery, context finally descended upon me–nearly all of these pinots rise to the realm of exceptionality. 


Many wine regions, great and small, have crawled into bed with pinot noir, but nearly all have found her a coy mistress. Most fail to bring out the best in her, making instead either a simple, light table wine, or a juicier, one-dimensional slurper. Respected producers in the Willamette, however, have teased this mistress into delighting wondrouslyHow fortunate we are. A handful of Willamette wineries fail to inspire, but a little research will lead you to one of the plethora of noteworthy pinot producers in the valley. Take advantage, even if only for an afternoon of tasting.

Wines of note:


  • 2012 Beaux Frères Willamette Valley Pinot Noir: Always a joy when a winery’s entry-level pinot delights as much or more than single vineyard or reserve tiers. Beaux Frères has earned its acclaim. Structure, beauty, and nuanced complexity coexist. 
  • 2012 Chehalem Corral Creek Vineyards Pinot Noir: Blue fruits and blackberries balance well with gentle tannins. 2012 provided an abundance of heat, allowing this typically gentler vineyard to produce a larger, but still well-balanced wine. 
  • 2011 Trisaetum Coast Range Estate Pinot Noir: A reminder that I love elegance. In 2011, cool conditions dominated, but many outstanding wines exist despite the challenges. Add this bottle to that list. Red berries, acid, and agile weight meld delightfully. 


Trisaetum 2011 Pinot Noir



Gorgeous Barbera

Gorgeous Barbera

Barbera, the lesser known grape of Piedmont, Italy, often goes unnoticed by the broader wine community outside of Piedmont. However, show up at a restaurant in Barolo, Italy and you will see bottles of Barbera d’Alba and Barbera d’Asti* gracing the tables around you. This is significant as Barolo, a wine named after this restaurant’s commune and made with the Nebbiolo grape, has wine critics shooting fireworks out of their pens. While worthy of the praise, Barolo sits in the castles of the elite, largely untouchable due to its weighty fee–yes, get out your gold. Barbera, however, is the people’s wine.

It also pairs impeccably with your Thanksgiving feast. For those looking to support local wineries this holiday season, the Columbia Gorge AVA of Wagon** country provides. Barbera is grown in few vineyards outside of Italy, but has found a home within the Columbia Gorge. On a recent trip to the Gorge, I tasted multiple bottles of Barbera. All delighted and impressed on this two-day venture. Why Barbera this season? If your host uses as much butter and cream in the gravy and potatoes as mine, Barbera provides an outstanding balance of round, smile-inducing fruit–dark cherry and plum–and zesty acidic zip to cleanse your palate between savory bites. Recommendation: Marchesi Vineyards 2012 Estate Barbera.

For those without access to the boutique Barberas of the Columbia Gorge, Barbera d’Alba and Barbera d’Asti will not disappoint. As always, talk with your local wine shop friends (they should be friends) for recommendations. These are not wines of greatness, but they are wines that delight–without breaking the bank ($9-$18 for many noteworthy bottles).

Be thankful!

*Those new to Italian wine, Asti and Alba are the mentioned locales well known for growing Barbera, and you will find them labeled as Barbera d’Alba and Barbera d’Asti
**Wa-gon = Washington and Oregon

A Sense of Place

A Sense of Place

A sense of place through honest winemaking and minimal intervention.

Those with a pulse on the wine industry have familiarized themselves with a new additive called Mega Purple, and its brethren Mega “Cherry Shade” and Mega Red. These concentrates are made from the teinturier grape, a lesser known, though massively produced, varietal from the steamy central valley of California. This grape is used to fill portions of bottles under $10 (and often higher priced wine, shhhhh). If your wine provides nothing more specific than “California” as its geographic location, you will be drinking some Teinturier, likely straight juice and concentrate.* 

Mega Purple is not inherently evil, nor is the grape used to make it. For most of us, our simple economic realities will require us to consume some (or even a lot of) Mega Purple. Some evidence suggests that most bottles under $15 use some form of the concentrate. Why? It rounds out the flavor in bottles lacking fruit, adds richer color, smooths bitter tannins from hard press, and, perhaps most important to the industry, provides consistency. Some wineries, especially mega-wineries, want a dependable, repeatable product. All of the benefits and trappings of this industrial model show in the finished wine. Economies of scale—check. A “go-to” bottle under $10—check. Wines using Mega Purple, however, notoriously mask or even eliminate varietal and locational character. The dark-underbelly of this relatively new phenomena* is a loss of place—homogeneity. 

Place matters. Not only in wine. Dr. Woodard, a mentor and professor of mine, spoke eloquently of the grounding nature of our native environment—the oaks in our neighbor’s grove, the Cardinal aggressively hoarding the bird feeder, the tall, fat thunderheads steadily trodding across the prairie. This sense of place is powerful. Energy giving. Life giving.

Swirling and tasting wine in the Columbia Gorge of Oregon

In front of me sits a bottle of 2011 Fourmen Pinot Noir from Vista Hills Vineyard in the storied Dundee Hills of Oregon. I swirl and smell place—bright, candied cherry, hints of earth, and acid. While industrial wine may be an enjoyable reality, or one forced upon us, we all benefit from taking the time to seek out bottles, at least on occasion, that speak of a specific place. With some care, conversation with local wine shop owners, and wise purchasing (case discounts, for example), wines of place can be found at many price points ($12 for my bottle tonight). 

Tonight, I drink to diversity. I drink to place.

Reasonably priced wines of place**:

  • Beaujolais, France 
  • Muscadet, Loire Valley, France
  • Southwest France 
  • Douro, Portugal
  • Toro and Jumilla, Spain
  • Columbia Valley, WA—seek out second label wines from esteemed producers. Example: StoneCap Wines.
  • Occasionally, if patient, even the Dundee Hills of Oregon’s Willamette Valley 

*For clarity sake, filters and additives have long been used by wine makers. Mega Purple-styled concentrates are, however, relatively new.
**Get to know a knowledgable steward at your local wine shop to find wines that allow the terroir from these regions to speak—not all wines from these locales are produced with fidelity.

Chapter 24 Vineyards–a Luscious Welcome

Chapter 24 Vineyards–a Luscious Welcome

Courtesy of Chapter 24 Vineyards

Steph, my spouse, and I relocated to Portland, Oregon in June. Steph is a Portland native, and we are both thrilled to be back in the northwest where we met. I have many passions that Oregon can reward–wine rises high on the list. Summer weekends spent in the tasting rooms and wineries of the Willamette Valley left me with two very notable memories. Today will focus on the first.

Chapter 24 Vineyards is a relative newcomer to Oregon. “Though she be but little (and new), she is fierce!” Fierce for the sheer force of their four wine line up from their 2012 vintage–Two Messengers ($30), The Fire ($60), The Flood ($60), and The Last Chapter ($90). Pinot Noir rarely inspires the use of the words fierce and force, but these words are directed at the accomplishments of Chapter 24 Vineyards. The Last Chapter has all the elements of a deeply beautiful, memorable pinot noir–elegance, balance, and length swirl their way into your psyche. I melted after smelling the wine alone. I continue to swoon.

One of the collaborators for this producer, Mike Etzel, is the son of Beaux Freres head wine maker. Consequently, Chapter 24 has access to some premium fruit from multiple vineyard sites. Great fruit speaks for itself, particularly with Pinot Noir, and speak it does with The Fire, The Flood, and The Last Chapter. 

While their core three wines speak profoundly for themselves, Two Messengers stands tall against other entry-level bottles by producers in the Willamette Valley. Wine makers show their talent with their lowest tier wines, as they are almost always working with less than ideal fruit. Chapter 24 pulls off a clean sweep with their line up by starting your tasting with this classic, pleasurable Willamette pinot. 

Finally, kudos to the Chapter 24 team for their ingenious marketing plan, which names wines after the geologic soil types of particular vineyard sites–The Fire from the volcanic, higher elevation sites, and The Flood from the lower elevation sites formed by the Missoula Floods. Notably, these wines do not and cannot claim specific AVA designations, as they span multiple AVAs within the larger Willamette Valley AVA; however, they are largely sourced from highly respected sub-appellations within the Willamette Valley. 

Add Chapter 24 to the top of your list. It will not disappoint.