In the beginning
The extended family gathering for the wine tasting journey began at an AirBnB in Washougal, a town of 14,000 across the Columbia River from Portland. We travelled by car from Kelowna, experiencing the joy of a 3-hour traffic crawl through Seattle/Tacoma/Olympia. Our son and his family simply took the hour flight from Calgary. To put us in the mood we stocked up on Oregon Pinots and Cooper River Salmon at the local Costco, we have learnt from experience this is far better valued than buying at the wineries! After BC, the Costco wine prices were jaw-dropping. The Salmon was great, BBQ with an onion, butter and Maple Syrup glaze, washed down with a Joe Dobbes Pinot Gris ($14). The aromas are pear, apple, lime and sweet herb. On the palate, it is dry, clean and quite refreshing. Oregon has developed a deserved reputation for creating flavourful, well-made Pinot Gris.
We started our trek to the Dundee hills after a healthy breakfast. Our first stop was at Argyle Winery in the heart of the thriving wine town of Dundee. Their new tasting room is a great improvement for side by side tastings. We went with the $15 Red Diamond Flight tasting.
Argyle 2014 Cowhouse Pinot Noir from Holstein Vineyard has the full expression of Pinot Noir from the high elevation land in the Dundee Hills. Beneath the elegant palate of soft silk and the sensuous, lingering finish are nuanced layers to discover. Warmer than the previous vintage, and without the distraction of late September rains, the 2014 vintage has brought elegantly ripe flavours. Black cherry, plum, anise, and black pepper are framed in its dense core, while the finely grained tannins persist through its long, creamy finish. After fermentation and gentle pressing, the wine was allowed to age elegantly on its lees for 16 months in French oak, of which 40% was new. ($50)
Argyle 2014 Nuthouse Pinot Noir. Blended across our two vineyard sites in the Eola-Amity Hills, 2014 Nuthouse Pinot Noir marries the low-elevation base notes of the Lone Star Vineyard with the bright acidity and energy of the higher-elevated Spirit Hill Vineyard. Warmer than the previous vintage, and without the distraction of late September rains, the 2014 vintage has brought elegantly ripe flavours. Black cherry, plum, anise, and black pepper are framed in its dense core, while the finely grained tannins persist through its long, creamy finish. After fermentation and gentle pressing, the wine was allowed to age elegantly on its lees for 16 months in French oak, of which 40% was new. ($50)
Argyle 2013 Spirithouse Pinot Noir was sourced entirely from Lone Star Vineyard in the Eola-Amity Hills. The site is typically known for a darker, more structured Pinot Noir, however, there are a two small blocks at the top of the vineyard that reliably produce more silky, red-fruited, yet dense Pinot Noir. Cherry blossom, tobacco, and allspice linger against a creamy, floral raspberry middle. The tannins are embracing, yet refined, which carry into its long, generous finish. This was the family favourite. ($75)
White Rose Estate
From Dundee, we proceeded further into the hills with our next stop at the picturesque White Rose Estate, vintners of neo-classic Pinot Noir. Planted in 1980 to own-rooted Pommard clone, the 10-acre White Rose Vineyard is one of the oldest and most storied vineyards in Oregon. Planted on east-southeast facing slopes of volcanic Jory soils in the heart of the Dundee Hills, the vines consistently produce the fruit of great character and complexity. The vineyard sits at the top of the hill at 870 feet elevation, overlooking much of the Willamette Valley. This hilltop location allows the winemaker to maximise “hang time”, the length of the time the clusters are maturing on the plant, which results in greater flavour development while maintaining balanced sugars and acid.
The objective of the neo-classical approach is to create the presentation of the varietal that has the greatest potential to generate an emotional connection to the wine. The Neo-Classical Objective has four key parts:
- Historical Orientation – 100% whole cluster fermentation
- Classic Varietal Character (Typicity) – vineyard location and ideal growing temperatures
- Enriched Technique – targeting the source of tannins for an improved condition of age ability
- Vineyard Potential – an expectation of age-worthiness
Now to the serious part, we were able to taste the following three wines.
2013 Vista Hills Vineyard “Dijon 115 Clonal Selection” ($60) This block is just north of White Rose Vineyard. 12.0% alc., $60. 100% whole cluster fermentation. Aged in French oak barrels, 16% new. Light cherry red colour in the glass. Aromas of red cherry pie glaze, spice, forest floor and rose petal. A savoury stemminess and floral and woody notes dominate the lightweight red fruits. Noticeable cut with modest tannins. Whole cluster traits dominate the wine at present but will improve with age.
2013 The Neo-Classical Objective Pinot Noir ($80) Medium reddish purple hue in the glass. The nose is shy initially, opening slowly to reveal scents of fresh dark berries, spice and cut flowers. Much more elegantly styled with a satisfying core of marionberries, plum and black cherry flavours expansive on the palate and generating a lengthy, spice-laden finish highlighted by sweet oak and suave tannins.
2012 Winemaker’s Cuvée Pinot Noir ($105) 13.6% alcohol, pH 3.62, 257 cases. A special cuvée from winemaker Jesus Guillen who chooses his favourite barrels in the cellar. A special blend of White Rose, Guillen, Vista Hills, Luciole and Red Hills vineyards. Moderate reddish purple hue in the glass. Fabulous nose perfumed with aromas of violets, black cherry, black raspberry, dark rose, exotic spices and peppery herbs. A terrific, well-structured wine in a masculine style with layers of flavours including Bing cherry, black raspberry jam, sassafras and cola. The fine-grain tannins are nicely integrated and the finish is generous and satisfying. One extremely fine pinot!
Unlike California’s Napa Valley, with its wall-to-wall vineyards and standstill traffic, the Dundee Hills offer relaxed country roads, green fields and roadside stands offering farm-fresh produce. A love affair with Burgundy dating back to their college years, coupled with a burning desire to produce the world’s best Pinot Noir, lured Ken and Grace Evenstad from Minnesota to the Dundee Hills in 1989, where they purchased land and founded Domaine Serene. With seed money from Evenstad’s hugely successful pharmaceutical company, they built a state-of-the-art facility in an elegant Tuscan-style Villa and began to produce world-class Pinot Noir. Accolades galore have been heaped on their wines, including besting Burgundy’s Domaine de la Romanee-Conti in blind tastings. Domaine Serene also won one of the top prizes at the Decanter World Wine Awards 2016.
If you enjoyed the discussion of Oregon Pinot wineries, I would recommend checking out my review of Rex Pickett’s latest book – Vertical- Passion & Pinot on the Oregon Wine Trail.
Depoe Bay for Whale Watching
After the wine tasting, it was off to Depoe Bay on the coast for some serious whale watching with the two grandsons. The weather was typical Oregon Coast, cloudy, cool and light rain, just the right type of weather to bring out the whales! Any whale watching wouldn’t be complete unless it was accompanied by a great Pinot Noir. The outright winner from our Costco purchases was Sineann Pinot Noir 2014 Wyeast Vineyard ($36), a fantastic balance of dark berries, plum, Asian spices and chocolate. From the opening scents, laden with complex and perfectly fused notes of marionberries, mineral, coriander and cacao, right on through the extended, captivating finish, this is a wine that is impossible to put down.
This was a great way to spend a family vacation, tasting Pinots in the Dundee Hills and whale watching along the Oregon Coast.