Pinot Noir. Captivating, delicate and elegant. From a winemaker’s perspective, it is also complicated, finicky and expensive. While Oregon has the ideal climate and soil for this varietal, meticulous care and maintenance are equally essential to the grape’s success. Another requisite, however, is quite inscrutable: personality of the winemaker. I’ve mentioned in my post on Zinfandel how we often find the character of a wine reflective of it’s maker. While the philosophies and practices of producing Pinot Noir can truly bring out the grape’s best qualities, they are not easy to master. An example of a true craftsman, someone who understands the land and can capture an ideal expression of Pinot Noir, is Ken Wright. Along with some of the original winemakers in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, he has helped create a reputation for quality Pinot Noir that, as the International Pinot Noir Celebration website tells us, “put Oregon on the map internationally.”
While prime vineyard zones in the northern Willamette Valley were established in the 1970′s, Ken Wright was a pioneer in starting the boutique winery Panther Creek Cellars in 1986 by producing vineyard designated bottles. He was also extremely involved in the establishment of sub-AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) in northern Willamette Valley in the late 1990′s, writing the application for the Yamhill-Carlton District AVA. “His ideal is to define the area in such a way that a consumer can buy a wine made by an unfamiliar producer from a familiar AVA and have some sense of what to expect,” outlined in an article on Appelation America‘s website.
Ken Wright also revolutionized the Oregon wine industry by conceptualizing the use of acreage contracts in the region in 1988, which would greatly affect the production and quality of future grapes. In an interview with Wright, featured in the Oregon Wine Report in 2002, these gave owners the right to control and reduce crops, which Wright discovered was essential to influencing the ripening process of the fruit. Although this was far more expensive, it “delivered higher quality fruit and…It gave the grower consistency of income so they could start looking at longer term investments in their vineyard…”
Ken Wright Cellars, which Wright runs with his wife, Karen, was established in 1994 and its philosophy is simple and beautiful: “Minimal handling of wine is essential to preserve what it is, a gift of nature.” Wright and his wife are not only passionate about the land and the wine industry, they also play an active role in the local community.
While Oregon is an overall unique and excellent wine-growing region in itself, 2012 was also a wonderful year for growers. According to the 2012 Vintage Report by Wine Spectator: they had “Storybook weather,” [according to] Harry Peterson-Nedry of Chehalem. “The Pinots are not fruit bombs. They have a nice balance. It’s hard to imagine improvements.” We’ve chosen to bring in six different 2012 Pinot Noirs that will really knock your socks off! Please read below for the winery’s descriptions of these very special bottlings.
1. Bryce Vineyard- in the Ribbon Ridge AVA, where soil is Sedimentary – Willakenzie. The vineyard site is at 300 ft elevation at a south, southeast inclination. It is floral and spice focused, with brambly red fruit, distinctive minerality and warm spices of clove and anise.
2. Canary Hill Vineyard- in the Eola Amity AVA, where soil is Volcanic Rock – Jory/Nekia. The vineyard is at 450-550 elevation at an east inclination. It is fruit focused, with a modern structure, light tannins and bright acidity. Red and blue fruit- juicy red plum, pie cherry, and marionberry.
3. Freedom Hill Vineyard- in the Costal Range AVA, where soil is Sedimentary – Bellpine. The vineyard is at 450 elevation at a southeast inclination. It is floral and spice focused, with brighter acidity than most sedimentary sites. Red fruits, lush mouthfeel, juicy strawberry, watermelon, with hints of leather & fresh turned earth qualities.
4. Guadalupe Vineyard- in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA, where soil is Sedimentary – Willakenzie. The vineyard is at 350 ft elevation on a south inclination. It is floral and spice focused, very forward and attractive in its youth with a depth of flavor of raspberry, black cherry, mulberry and five spice.
5. Shea Vineyard- in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA, where soil is Sedimentary – Willakenzie. The vineyard is at 450-600 ft elevation on a south inclination. It is floral and spice foscused, with blue fruit, blueberry, black currant with delicate anise and cola notes.
6. Tanager Vineyard- in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA, where soil is Sedimentary – Willakenzie 350-400 ft elevation at a western inclination. It is floral and spice focused, youthful, fresh balanced blue fruits such as cassis and blueberry.
I, personally, can’t wait to try these wines! I’ll be adding my feedback once I do.