Oregon … for us in the Eastern part of Canada it’s a land of myth and mystery — kind of like the Orient was for our ancestors. In Western Canada, it’s a hop, skip and jump over Washington and helps to encompass what is known as the Pacific Northwest wine region, which includes both Washington and British Columbia.
Here in the East we hear rumours of the great wines being made there in the Big “O,” especially the Pinot Noirs, but we only see a mere smattering of these wines trickle through our respective liquor boards. Many say it is because of the small amounts of these wines that are being made.
The good news is that Oregon does more than just Pinot Noir, though it is what they are most commonly known for. They also do a great job with Pinot Gris and Chardonnay, which make up the two biggest white varietal plantings in the state, and, even more surprising, in that order.
Oregon is one of the top five wine-producing states in the USA. According to the 2014 stats of The National Association of American Wineries, it follows California, Washington and New York — sitting comfortably in fifth spot behind … (wait for it) … Pennsylvania. Those same stats show the number of actual wineries in Oregon, which puts them in third place behind California and Washington but ahead of New York and Virginia. The major AVAs of the state are the Willamette Valley, Southern Oregon and the Columbia Gorge, which follows the Columbia River and includes both Oregon and Washington lands.
The question remains, for those of us who have never been, or been exposed to enough of its wines: what makes Oregon such a wonderful place for grapes and winemaking? I spoke with a gentleman who has made Oregon part of his trifecta of regions. Thomas Bachelder started his label back in 2009 and decided to use grapes from his native Ontario, his love, Burgundy and his former state of employment, Oregon, as the basis for his Pinot Noir and Chardonnay dominated wines. He seemed the perfect person to ask what makes Oregon such a lure, not only for a winemaker, but for a wine lover as well; and hopefully put it into a context that we can all understand.
“Oregon is known for its wet winters, but the summers are bone dry and the wines sing of the intense luminosity of those pacific hills. Working with fruit from both the Sandstone and Volcanic (Basaltic) strata that predominate in Oregon, we aim to capture the fruit, coax perfume and elegance out of the famously-concentrated Oregon Pinot Noir and find the stunning minerality of Oregon Chardonnay in all of its lacy purity. There are very important similarities in the way Oregon and Niagara are planted. Not only are the Oregon vines planted on a wider spacing than Burgundy, the vines are younger … this naturally gives the New World wines a fruit forward character that is evident, even after 16 to 18 months of barrel age and subsequent bottle age. In addition, Oregon vines must be lightly irrigated to get them through the parched (but not too hot) Oregon summer.”
Now that we’re all salivating at the thought of putting Oregon wines to our own lips, here’s a bunch to look for next time you’re in the mood to head west (or at least as far as Oregon).
Argyle Artisan Series Reserve Pinot Noir 2012 ($49.95)
Light yet generous of flavour with cherry and strawberry framed by spice and fine tannins.
Duck Pond Pinot Noir 2012 ($29.95)
Straddles the line between Burgundy and California with good tannins, sweet cherry and peppered minerality.
Adelsheim Pinot Gris 2012, Willamette Valley ($24.95)
What really gets you hooked on Oregon Pinot Gris is the minerality and it is definitely here, along with nicely balanced fruit and acidity — but that minerality, wow.
Carabella Estate Pinot Noir 2012 ($46.95)
Boysenberry, cassis, black cherry, and hints of liquorice all get in on the action before that signature minerality takes over on the finish.
Bachelder Pinot Noir 2012 ($34.95)
One of the best Oregon Pinots I have tried, from the master of Pinot and Chardonnay: cherry jumps out of the glass with notes of cranberry and violets. This is one to linger over and enjoy.
Adelsheim Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2011 ($39.95)
Soft and supple upon entry, fruit is subtle and delicate with sour cherry and cranberry taking centre stage, by the time the finish rolls around you’ll find a nice balancing spice and backing acidity.
Domaine Serene Yamhill Cuvee Pinot Noir 2011 ($69.95)
Once again we have a Pinot with an abundance of fruit, cherry, cranberry and strawberry with a tart finish that sings with acidity and minerality.
Jolete Pinot Noir 2012 ($44.95)
Seemingly simple, but simply delicious is the best way to describe this one: vanilla and smoke with spiced-raspberry and violet encrusted strawberries, very pretty indeed.
Bachelder Johnson Vineyard Chardonnay 2012 ($44.95)
Silky Chardonnay with creamy apple and pear puree, hardly shows the oak that was used in the crafting of this wine; there’s also a touch of vanilla that creeps into the mix, but you’ll definitely get the minerality on the finish.
Planet Oregon Pinot Noir 2012 ($25.95)
Pleasantly Pinot-esque with its earthy raspberry, dried red fruits and a pleasant spicy finish; it’s not complex, but for those looking to explore Oregon Pinot it’s a great place to start.
Plowbuster Pinot Noir 2012 ($25.95)
The one thing you can say about a well-crafted Oregon Pinot is that it is quite pretty. The Plowbuster is fruit forward, to say the least, with its dusty cherry, hints of plum and touch of cinnamon.
Elk Cove Pinot Gris 2013 ($24.95)
You’ll notice a recurring theme in many Oregon wines, especially the Pinot Gris: minerality. There’s a nice dose of mineral in this one with nice apple and pear notes.
La Crema Pinot Noir 2012, Willamette Valley ($34.95)
Here we have that mix of La Crema know-how from California and that Oregon soil and minerality: red fruit meets spice and acidity in the glass.
Domaine Drouhin Dundee Hills Pinot Noir 2011 ($46.95)
Yet another foreigner comes to Oregon to play with Pinot, this time from Burgundy, and here they have managed to make a sweet cherry fruit explosion with anise and spice; incredible juiciness.
Bachelder Johnson Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012 ($55)
It starts off with a nose that screams of juicy cherry and raspberry but in creeps a hint of salty-minerality; this follows onto the palate in all its red berry glory and smoothness and a whack of minerality on the tongue.
Adelsheim Chardonnay 2013 ($25.95)
A Chardonnay that blends the loveliness of fruits, such as apple and melon, with tropical nuances plus a touch of smoke and mineral for good measure.
A to Z Wineworks Pinot Noir 2012 ($24.95)
Oregon Pinot is known for being at the higher end of the price scale, but A to Z seems to have found a way to make Oregon wine accessible as well as tasty. The earthy, sour cherry and cranberry version might seem like a basic Pinot Noir, but it’s another great wine to start your education of the wines from this state.