By Brenda Audino
I was recently on a trip to Oregon wine country in the Northern Willamette Valley and had the opportunity to visit with several well renowned wine makers. While they often disagree on whether it’s best to use a single vineyard for purity of the vineyard’s expression or which specific Pinot Noir clone makes the best wine, they all seem to agree that to make great Oregon Pinot Noir they must first start with great grapes.
Great grapes start in the vineyard. The soil should be well drained and ideally the vines are planted on slopes to aid in the drainage and allow for better exposure to the sun. Oregon is well known for their rain fall and usually receives about 40 inches of rain a year primarily during the spring and winter months. Therefore, it is important to take full advantage of the sunny growing season prior to the late fall rains. Fortunately the Northern Willamette Valley is located at the 45th parallel (equivalent to Nova Scotia, Canada) so there is approximately an hour of extra daylight during the growing season compared to California.
Since the weather behaves for only a short period of time, the vineyard managers and winemakers have found it necessary to utilize some extremely manual processes to assist the vine and grapes in reaching their full potential. These vineyard practices include sucker removal (focuses the growth to the main part of the vine and fruit), leaf removal (make every leaf count and eliminate shade on the fruit and other leaves), shoot positioning (maximize sun exposure to all leaves), and cutting off green grapes (decrease competition and encourage ripeness to the remaining grapes). They will often cut off or drop about half of their potential crop to enable the remaining grape clusters to obtain optimal ripeness.
Another important aspect of the vineyard is the soil itself, or rather the microbes that live in the soil. Whether the soil is sedimentary or volcanic, healthy soil needs to have plenty of active microbes. These microbes are critical in the breakdown of nutrients from the soil and bedrock while enabling the delivery of these nutrients to the grape vine.
Oregon winemakers and vineyard owners have become stewards of the land trying to make the earth better than when they found it using sustainable practices. Growing grapes in a sustainable manner is both a priority as well as lifestyle for most Oregon winemakers. A variety of certifications pertain to this natural practice including Salmon Safe, LIVE (Low Input Viticulture & Enology), Oregon Tilth Certified Organic, Oregon Certified Sustainable Wine and Demeter USA.
Pinot Noir is a finicky grape that does not like to be handled excessively. Many Oregon wineries implement gravity flow through the winemaking process. Several wineries in Oregon are perched on hillsides enabling the building to be comprised of multiple stories. The grapes arrive at the upper ground floor story and are sorted and perhaps de-stemmed. The grapes are then transported up a conveyer belt and gently deposited into fermentation tanks where they will undergo the fermentation process becoming wine. After the fermentation process is complete, the wine flows into oak barrels, large oak vats or stainless steel vats for aging. The finished wine is blended using a single vineyard, variety of vineyards and/or Pinot Noir clones depending on the winemaker’s preference. This gravity flow process of winemaking eliminates the need to use pumps which can damage the delicate nuances of Pinot Noir.
Oregon Pinot Noir is something very unique from the cool region of the Willamette Valley. Next time you are looking for a great wine to enjoy with your favorite foods and good friends, pickup a bottle of Oregon Pinot Noir and reflect on what it takes to bring the wine to your glass.
Recommended Oregon Pinot Noirs
· A to Z Pinot Noir $17.99
· Willakenzie Pinot Noir $23.99
· Rex Hill Pinot Noir $23.99
· Domaine Drouhin Oregon Pinot Noir $42.99
· Archery Summit Pinot Noir Cuvee $44.99
· Ken Wright Wine Cellars $66.99
o Savoya, McCrone, Carter and other single vineyards