Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

Oregon's Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

The Willamette Valley is Oregon’s leading wine region, with two-thirds of the state’s wineries and vineyards. It is recognized as one of the premier Pinot noir producing areas in the world.

Wine producing in the Willamette Valley has a recent history going back only to 1965, when three UC Davis refugees believed that Oregon was an ideal place to grow pinot noir and other cool-climate varieties. Five years later, five other bonded wineries began planting vineyards with 35 acres. Then in 1974, growers in the Willamette Valley recognized the importance of clones of wine grape varieties. Previously, growers only knew that they needed to match the variety to the climate, which produced high quality grapes but low yields. So Oregon started planting pinot noir with different varieties of clones, mostly Pommard and Wadenswil, which provided a greater complexity of flavors, earlier ripening times and higher yields. Pinot noir in Willamette Valley is all about the clones.

When the Willamette Valley American Viticultural Area was finally approved in 1983, winemaking in the region was on its way and growing fast. At last count there were 418 Oregon bonded wineries with 20,300 vineyard acres, of which 378 are located in the Willamette Valley.

The valley follows the Willamette River running north-south for about 100 miles between Oregon's Cascade Mountains and the Coast Range – spanning 60 miles at its widest point. The Willamette Valley appellation is huge and varied and includes six sub-appellations: Dundee Hills, Yamhill-Carlton, Ribbon Ridge, McMinnville, Eola-Amity Hills and Chehalem Mountains. Its climate is the promised land for pinot noir – boasting a long, gentle growing season with warm summers and cool evenings; bursts of Indian summer into fall; mild winters, followed by long springs. The vintage, the oak aging, and especially where the grapes are grown – all influence the taste of these pinot noir wines.

The rustic quality of Willamette Valley pinot noir can be described as ‘cranberries’ and ‘forest floor’. They are not fruit-forward wines like the California pinots, but are more nuanced and subtle, with high acidity that don’t always explode with lush fruit. Depending on the sub-appellation, flavors range from plum and currants, to cherry and cinnamon – and from raspberry and black tea, to black cherries and vanilla.

The future certainly looks bright for Willamette Valley's celebrated pinot noir.


The Fifty Best Willamette Valley Pinot Noir Tasting of 2014


The Tasting:
The Fifty Best held a “blind” tasting of recent release Willamette Valley pinot noirs with 15 pre-qualified wine judges. All six Willamette Valley sub-appellations were represented in this tasting. Strict tasting rules were applied. The order of service was established beforehand by lottery. Each of the wines were poured into fresh glasses from new sealed bottles and served at room temperature. Only ice water and white bread were available to cleanse the palate.

The judges wrote down their impressions of each wine on score sheets. The scoring was done on a 5-point system, with 5 as the best. Double-Gold, Gold and Silver medals are awarded based on a set range of final point scores received from the judges. There were no bronze medals awarded for this tasting.

The tasting notes that follow are summaries of the judges’ opinions, with all replicated commentary eliminated. The sub-appelations are identified for each brand. Prices indicated do not include tax.


Here are the final results:

Lumos Wine Company - 2012 Temperance Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir


Lumos Wine Company
2012 Temperance Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir

(Eola-Amity Hills AVA)

Although 2012 was a particularly warm year, this wine was produced from a certified-organic vineyard with a relatively high elevation, keep growing days cool resulting in a complex, flavorful wine.

Aroma: Black cherry, cherry, blackberry, berries, berry coulis, black currant, plum, red earth, clay.
Palate: Juicy ripe fruit, plum, dark plum, stewed plums, blackberry, ripe cherry, strawberry, tobacco, smoky, slight oak, earthy, Old World Burgundy style, lovely body, plush mouthfeel, good structure, perfectly balanced.
Finish: Flavorful, smoky, oaky, Old World, excellent.

Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal

Aubichon Cellars
2012 Vista Hills Pinot Noir

(Chehalem Mountains AVA) $50

This wine - fermented and barrel-aged in top-tier French oak - hails from a vineyard located about a half-hour car ride southwest of Portland.

Aroma: Bright cherry, currants, blackberries, stewed plums, red tomato, slightly herbaceous, pine needles, smoky spice.
Palate: Cranberry, juicy cherries, dark cherries, currants, black plum, plummy fruit, ripe fruit, zesty red fruit, stewed plums, fig, forest floor, leather, light oak, mineral notes, soft tannins, medium acidity, balanced, succulent, lush mouthfeel, elegant.
Finish: Sweet cherry, lean, crisp, angular, mineral, woody, smoky, Burgundian, medium.

Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal

Aubichon Cellars 2012 Vista Hills Pinot Noir

Le Cadeau Vineyard 2012 Merci Reserve Pinot Noir

Le Cadeau Vineyard
2012 Merci Reserve Pinot Noir

(Chehalem Mountains AVA) $48

Winemaker Jim Sanders produced only 95 cases of this wine from “heirloom clones” of grapes grown in the Chehalem Mountains and aged in high-quality French oak.

Aroma: Bing cherry, cherries, berries, plum, cinnamon, licorice, black pepper, pine, oak, clay, elegant.
Palate: Juicy plums, ripe blackberries, strawberry, cherry, dried fruit, dark red grapes, almond oil, sweet spice, green pepper, vegetal, black tea, earth, some oak, fruit forward, acidic.
Finish: Black fruit, blackberries, green bell pepper, leather, tar, smoke, very New World, medium.

Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal


Torii Mor Winery
2012 Olson Estate Vineyard

(Dundee Hills AVA) $65

This wine is produced from grapes grown on a 40-year-old vineyard, imparting complex flavors into the finished product.

Aroma: Plum, dark fruit, currants, cranberry, cherry, blackberry, subtle cherry, pepper, some cinnamon, spice, tobacco, leather, oak, earth, dust, classic pinot nose.
Palate: Bright cherry, black cherry, cranberry, currants, raspberry, strawberry, berries, black plum, unripe apricot, white peach, vanilla, oak, earth, tobacco, earthy, bright acidity, very well balanced.
Finish: Tart cherry, dried plum, herbs, very elegant, high quality, long.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

Torii Mor Winery 2012 Olson Estate Vineyard

Winter's Hill Vineyard 2012 Block 10 Pinot Noir

Winter's Hill Vineyard
2012 Block 10 Pinot Noir

(Dundee Hills) $44

Made from grapes grown in a high-elevation, certified sustainable vineyard, this wine was processed entirely in stainless steel.

Aroma: Plum, rich dark plum, blackberry, black currant notes, some strawberry, cassis syrup, bell pepper, sweet spice, oak notes, Old World.
Palate: Juicy ripe currants, plum, dark plum, cherries, black cherry, raspberry, strawberries in balsamic, creamy fruit, vanilla, cinnamon, clove, black pepper, tea, leather, complex, rounded.
Finish: Fruity, spicy, high acid, long.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

Dobbes Family Estate
2012 Patricia’s Cuvee Pinot Noir

(Dundee Hills) $53

This complex wine was aged for over a year in a combination of new and used French oak.

Aroma: Cranberry, fresh cherries, red berries, raspberry, blackberry, light currant, cinnamon, sweet spice, creamy, tea, wet earth.
Palate: Big cherry, dark cherries, black cherry, tart cranberry, black plums, slight minerality, medium tannin, high acid notes.
Finish: Cherry, strawberry, tart, coffee, medium-long.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

Dobbes Family Estate 2012 Patricia’s Cuvee Pinot Noir

Panther Creek Cellars 2010 Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir

Panther Creek Cellars
2010 Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir

(Yamhill Carlton AVA) $50

Made from grapes grown in the northern Willamette Valley that features quick-draining soil with elements of marine sediment. This wine was aged for 16 months in French oak (30% new) prior to release.

Aroma: Cranberry, preserved cherries, red currant, strawberry, apple, sour peach candy, cola, basil, herbs, floral, leather, very rustic, dusty, light smoke.
Palate: Tart cherry, black cherry, cherries, currants, strawberry, plum, nectarine, vanilla, cinnamon, leather, tobacco, pine resin, dusty tannins, some earth, smoky, lean body, high acidity.
Finish: Soft, oaky, wood barrel notes, smoky, lovely, short-medium.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

Dobbes Family Estate
2012 Grand Assemblage Pinot Noir

(Dundee Hills) $26

With grapes from a particularly warm growing season, this wine was aged predominantly in neutral oak barrels to keep it fruit focused.

Aroma: Plum, black plum. raspberry, strawberry, blackberry, black currants, cherry, dark cherry, pomegranate, black grapes, cinnamon, black pepper, black tea.
Palate: Berry fruit forward, raspberry, cherries, sour black cherry, currants, plum, dark fruit, clotted cream with strawberries, black pepper, smoky, coffee, leather, oak, high acid, lush body, nice structure.
Finish: Black cherry, raspberry, floral, mulling spice, cinnamon, tart, earthy, long.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

Dobbes Family Estate 2012 Grand Assemblage Pinot Noir

Lumos Wine Company 2010 Temperance Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir


Lumos Wine Company
2010 Temperance Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir

(Eola-Amity Hills AVA) $38

This wine is produced from certified organic grapes grown in a vineyard on the site of an ancient volcano.

Aroma: Cherry cola, macerated black cherries, raspberry, strawberry, currants, cranberry, green apple, savory herbs, herbaceous, earthy, forest floor, coffee, tobacco, oak.
Palate: Crisp cherry, tart cherry, red plum, raspberry, cranberry, red currants, tangy fruit, savory herbs, herbal, eucalyptus, minty, earth, light oak, silky tannins, structured, well balanced.
Finish: Tart cherry, black pepper, tobacco, leather, lean, acidic, oaky, Burgundian, food friendly, long.

Silver Medal
Silver medal

Tyee Wine Cellars
2012 Estate Barrel Select Pinot Noir

(Corvallis) $45

Grapes were sourced from a vineyard adjacent to the winery, and only 100 cases of this wine were produced from barrels specially selected by highly-acclaimed winemaker Merilee Buchanan Benson.

Aroma: Bright cherry, currants, raspberry, blackberries, rich dark plums, vanilla, cinnamon, spice, tobacco.
Palate: Strawberry, black cherry, plum, rosemary, slightly grassy, green, earthy, bright acid, silky tannins, lovely structure, full mouthfeel, well balanced.
Finish: Black cherry, sour cherry, tart, acidic, very pleasant, medium-long.

Silver Medal
Silver medal

Tyee Wine Cellars 2012 Estate Barrel Select Pinot Noir

Youngberg Hill 2011 Oregon Pinot Noir

Youngberg Hill
2011 Oregon Pinot Noir

(McMinnville) $50

This wine is produced from grapes grown on a certified-organic vineyard that is situated only 25 miles from the Pacific Coast and experiences sunny, cool days.

Aroma: Pure berries, juicy blackberries, red currant, cranberry, black grapes, black plum, faint spice, black pepper, tea, pine, leather, oak, slight smoke.
Palate: Bright cherry, cranberry, plum, red plum, red currant, strawberry, berries, dried cherries, black pepper, white pepper, herbaceous, coffee, wood barrel, oak.
Finish: Herbal, tart, long.

Silver Medal
Silver medal




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