Valuing Oregon Pinot Noir


I am valuing Willamette Valley Pinot Noir looking back on four whirlwind weeks criss-crossing Georgia, Oregon, California, Alaska, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Ohio. They were particularly glorious summer-ending weeks filled with business achievement and pleasurable discoveries, bulging from new experiences, successes, friends, fishing, dining, craft beers, and wines.  Astoundingly though, gazing through my rear view mirror into that condensed and viscerally kaleidoscopic period, Oregon and its Pinot Noirs are rightfully occupying center stage.

Astoundingly because regular readers here know about my forlorn conviction, with occasional exceptions, that a vacuum of value and graceful style chokes regular personal interest in domestic west coast wines. Unfavorable producer economics combine with weighty and ripe fruit laden product to command excessive prices for underwhelming expressions of personality and terroir. It sounds harsh, but beyond the few dozen producers creating styles of wine that grab my interest, I default to the old world. Beginning this spring Oregon Pinot Noirs, which I had reflexively and unconsciously demoted in full domestic retreat, kept poking at my assumptions and better senses.

Willakenzie Estate Vineyards

Pinot Flowed: Dinner at Willakenzie Estate

It started back in May with a bottle of the luxurious 2008 Domaine Serene Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir that knocked my socks off with with its herb tinged silkiness from a monumental vintage for Oregon Pinot Noir (check out some of New York Times’ Eric Asimov recommendations for 2008 Willamette Pinot Noir).

A big Oregon Pinot encore played out at the recent Wine Bloggers Conference in Portland where I consumed more 2008-2010 Willamette Pinot over two days than I normally would in two whole years.  A high percentage of these wines were floral, pretty, restrained with good acidity and structure, yet distinctive in their own personalities.  Stinky-earthy wines juxtaposed against berry or herbal or floral wines offering diversity, but almost always inside a common arena of fresh, restrained, pure fruit. These Pinots started moving into the categorical spaces of my mind reserved for beloved Cru Beaujolais, Loire Valley Cabernet Franc, or Southern Italian Nero D’avola; a place at the crossroads of authenticity, uniqueness, freshness, and deliciousness.

The 2010’s are coming to market now and there is no mistaking that the vintage conditions shifted annually from the great 2008, to a more troublesome heat then rain infused 2009 vintage, to the low yield and extended hang times that seem to define a bunch of the 2010 releases. I experienced graceful and pretty wines with great character from all three vintages during and after the Willamette Wine Blogger soiree. The 2008’s, though, definitely lean to the heavier side of the other two vintages.  Here are a few highlights of the recently flowing Pinots that I have tasted and can recommend for searching out:

*** $24 2010 Patricia Green Cellars Reserve (what a value and stinky too!)

Patricia Green Cellars 2010 Pinot Noir Reserve

*** $40 2010 Bergstrom Cumberland Reserve (such beautiful red berry and pomegranate..and silky elegant too)

2010 Bergstrom Cumberland Reserve Pinot Noir***1/2 $40 2008 Willakenzie Dijon Clone 777  (magnificent rich texture, sweet stewed fruit, never ending finish)

2008 WillaKenzie Estate Dijon Clone 777

Note the prices. These are world class wines for $25-$40.  I recently received my Williams Selyem allocation order form; a mailing list I have been on since the late 1980’s.  The Pinots don’t even start close to $40 and move up to $100.  But, here I go again with the California “value vacuum”, so let’s stop there.  I am more ready than ever before to think red, white, and blue by refocusing on the affordable world class beauties that Oregon has to offer.

  • Jason Phelps

    Glad you enjoyed some of what you found. I did as well. The values were more than available and you could easily go up from there!


  • Tom Lee

    Williams Selyem is definitely not the poster winery for value but I think there are some OR wineries that push the envelope on pricing as well.

  • awjapko

    Tom, fair point…I just used it because it was the most recent Cali Pinot offering sitting in front of me. But I have to tell you, many of the Williams Selyem pinots I tasted over the past few years did not excite me as much as the Oregon pinots I reference here.

  • awjapko

    Jason, no doubt the prices move skyward, but the styles of these wines at the $25 level and even up to $75 or $100 work better for me than most of the Cali luxury pinots.

  • Robert Dwyer

    It’s fascinating to me how, when the Wine Advocates, Wine Spectators and James Sucklings of the world refer to a wine “being” 90 points or whatever it’s an opinion stated as fact. We’ve all got different preferences in what a domestic Pinot Noir should taste like. And your preferences and mine are mirror opposites.

    For me, California Pinot Noir crushes Oregon in terms of how much I enjoy it and therefore in terms of value as well. My gripe with many of the Oregon Pinot Noirs in the $25-$40 range I’ve tasted is that it’s stemmy, overly green, thin, and lacking fruit. I’ve enjoyed Oregon Pinot in the $40-$60 price range quite a bit more so for me I find I’ve got to spend a bit more in Oregon to find a bottle I adore than in California. Different strokes for different folks!

    Enjoyed this post Adam. Looking forward to seeing you soon.