In Oregon, most of my time was spent around the McMinnville, Dundee and Salem areas. The landscape was quite varied, with some flatter sloped agricultural areas, but most of the areas with vineyards that I visited were quite hilly as you can see in the top picture of the Archery Summit Vineyard. Burgundy was not quite as hilly as these areas.
Another difference was the varietals between the two regions. In Burgundy, you primarily have Pinot Noir and chardonnay, while in Oregon, any grape could in theory be planted. Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc were quite plentiful in this area of Oregon.
Which wineries did I visit?
– Redhawk Vineyard and Winery
– Sokol Blosser
– Rex Hill
– Maysara Winery
– Cubanisimo Vineyards
– Cherry Hill Winery
– Archery Summit
This may not seem like too many wineries, but the roads are quite windy so it takes a while to get from one winery to another, plus I was staying on the Coast, which made it 1 to 1.5hrs to get to the wineries and the same amount of time to get back to my hotel at the end of the day. If you want to visit the wineries around McMinnville / Dundee / Salem, I recommend staying in the area to save on driving.
Each of these wineries had pinot noir, but also many other varietals, and stories to go along with them. Here is a bit of information about each winery.
Redhawk Vineyard and Winery is located in Salem. Redhawk produces primarily red wines. They do have a pinot gris, and a chardonnay, but the chardonnay is being phased out. A fun wine that they produce is the Grateful Red Pinot Noir 2007 ($14). Jerry Garcia fans rejoice. This wine came from a blend of pinot noir grapes from 8 vineyards. Cherry nose with light body and tannins. A bit more full-bodied was the Pinot Noir Vintner’s Reserve 2006 ($30). 2006 was a hot year in Oregon so all wineries, Redhawk included, produced very full-bodied, lush red wines. This wine was medium red in the glass. Cassis and raspberry on the nose. Very full-bodied with raspberry and black cherry flavours. Another interesting wine from Redhawk, was their Tempranillo Dessert Wine 2006 ($24). Tempranillo is a classic red grape from Spain, usually blended with grenache or carignan. This is Redhawk’s take on a classic port. Opaque purple in the glass, this wine had a porty, stewed fruit nose. Chocolate and blueberry flavours on the palate.
Sokol Blosser is located in the Dundee Hills. They were at the last Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Fair, where I did enjoy tasting their pinot noir and pinot gris. There are always wines that are only available for purchase at the winery, which brought me to their doorstep. One of the white wines I enjoyed was the Dundee Hills Cuvee Pinot Gris 2008 ($18). This wine was produced with 50% estate grapes. It had apple and grapefruit aromas. On the palate, it was very creamy with apricot and peach flavours and a bit of spice. One of the red wines that I enjoyed was the Dundee Hills Pinot Noir 2006 ($38). 85% of the grapes are from their estate. This wine was light garnet in colour. The aromas grew each time I swirled this wine. I smelled, strawberries, smoke, vanilla, cherry and spices. It was light-bodied, with cherry and strawberry flavours. Medium length with a cherry finish.
Argyle is another well-known producer of wines in Oregon, especially sparkling wines. Argyle’s winery is located in the town of Dundee. Their winery was once a hazelnut drying facility, which gave rise to their “Nuthouse” line of wines. I was also informed by a server that in Oregon where they produce their grapes, a change in 80ft of elevation extends a grape’s ripening time by 1 week. So their premium grapes are located in their highest elevation vineyards. Their Nuthouse Pinot Noir 2005 ($60), was garnet in colour. Blueberry and strawberry nose. Smooth, full fruit, cherries and nicely integrated oak on the palate. On the sparkling side, their Brut 2005 ($30), had a bready, citrus, oatmeal nose. Fine bubble. Citrus and pear flavours, off-dry.
Rex Hill is located in Newberg, which is north east of Dundee. They have a biodynamically farmed estate vineyard, but they do purchase grapes from other vineyards. Jim and Loie Maresh planted their 30 acre vineyard in 1970, becoming the fifth vineyard planted in Oregon. Their Rex Hill Oregon Chardonnay 2006 ($16) had aromas of pear and green apple. Although not oaked, it had a light oak flavour, along with floral, apple and citrus flavours. Their Rex Hill Maresh Vineyard Pinot Noir 2005 ($52), was light garnet in colour. Aromas of light violet, cherry and spice. Medium body, with black cherry, flowers, and bramble flavours.
I caught the winemaker from Maysara Winery as she was closing the tasting for the day, so had an impromptu tasting outside. The winemaker, Tahmiene Momtazi, was quite informative. She let me know that a block of the vines outside of the winery that I could see was non-grafted rootstock. So far no phylloxera louse has infested these vines. This winery is also biodynamic as much as possible. I, unfortunately, did not have a tasting sheet to make notes, as we were outside on a picnic table, but I can tell you that all their pinot noirs were very nice.
Cubanisimo Vineyards is based in Salem and has a big following in Florida, which has a large Cuban community. A rose I enjoyed from this winery was the Rosado de Pinot Noir 2007. This wine was light pink salmon in colour. Raspberry aroma. Raspberry and peach flavours, with good acid. Off-dry with a grapefruit finish. Their Pinot Noir 2007 was also notable. This one was medium cherry red. Tobacco and cherry nose. Currant, smoke, cherry aromas and light tannins on the palate.
The Cherry Hill Winery produces all their own pinot noir grapes. The owners have a dog called Miss Daisy. Her breed is called “Papillon”. The dog enjoys eating grapes, so the owners have named one of their wines after this breed of dog. The Papillon 2006 Estate Pinot Noir ($22) was medium garnet in colour. Cherry, oak, and violet aromas. Cherry and violet flavours, with a medium length. Their Poverty Road Pinot Grigio 2007 ($16) was aptly named after the long gravel road that the owners built up to their winery, which made them poor at the time. This wine was medium straw in colour. Nice peach and green fruit aromas. Medium acidity, peach flavour and medium body.
Last but not least was the Archery Summit winery, located just southwest of Dundee. This winery is serious about Pinot Noir. That is all they produce. All these wines are in the premium to super-premium range. I was able to try 4 of their wines today and they were all fantastic. My two favourite wines were the Renegade Ridge Estate 2006, and the Red Hills Estate 2006. The Renegade Ridge Estate 2006 ($85) was medium reddish-purple in the glass. It had a smokey, currant, cherry nose. On the palate, there were smokey, currant and cherry flavours, with silky tannins and a long finish. The wine is ready to drink now but could improve with cellaring over the next 3-8 years. The Red Hills Estate 2006 ($85) was more of a purple with some red colour in the glass. It had a strawberry, cherry, confectionary sweet nose. On the palate, it was very smooth, with cherry, black currant flavours and a vanilla finish. This wine could also cellar for 3-8 years.
So how did the Oregonian pinot noirs stack up against the wines of Burgundy? I’d like to say that each showed their own terroir. There were ranges of wines from a basic table wine to a premium reserve wine from both regions as well. The best thing to do is to try wines from both regions and see which you prefer or enjoy both on their own terms.