Ribbon Ridge…Oregon Pinot Noir report, part 3

Ayres winery.jpgWhat better way to follow a top shelf wine tasting than by driving out to the wineries that could not get into the PIWF (Portland Indie Wine Fest) just because they produce more than 3000 cases. The 45 minute ride into the northern end of Willamette Valley is dreamy even in the rain. We made a right turn up the hill from Dundee on our way to our first stop, Lange Winery. Our expectations were pretty high given we had busted open the 1993 Lange Willamette Valley in magnum this past August and were blown away by how well the wine showed 15 years later.
Lange Winery is near the apex of the Dundee Hills. The view to the Northeast is majestic. The tasting room and winery are not as humble as the Ayres facility (pictured above and reviewed below) nevertheless Lange is still a pretty basic operation. Generally speaking, the Oregon wineries do not suffer California vanities. The same cannot be said for wine pricing beginning with the $10 per person tasting fee. We split two.
lange3hills06.jpg2007 Lange Three Hills Cuveé $40: Perfumed nose, cherry flavors. Ripe for the vintage even though the alcohol is in check. Fruit forward and ripe seems to be the contemporary style for Lange. 13.3%
langeestate06.jpg2006 Lange Estate Pinot Noir $60: Racy, acidic, more fruity, smoke on the palate, herbaceous nose. 13.9%
langefreedom06.jpg2006 Lange Freedom Hill Pinot Noir $60: Perfumed nose, creamy flavors, lighter acid. Plenty of stuffing, rich and robust. 13.9%
We left with everything we arrived with. Prices unjustified by the juice and our value-insistent sensibilities.
We took the shortcut road over the hill to the main drag leading downhill to highway 240 and Ribbon Ridge. We could wait no longer to hit the mother lode.
Bergstrom barn.jpgFirst stop…Bergstr√∂m Wines. The doctor patriarch started this winery which is a family business employing 6 family members and kin. Josh is the Burgundy-educated son, winemaker and vineyard manager. Josh is turning out some very nice wines. But they will cost you dearly.
bergstrom07_drberg_riesling.png2007 Dr. Bergstr√∂m Riesling $28: The reference to the Bernkastel Doctor vineyard, for some folks the greatest vineyard in Germany’s Mosel, was not lost on tBoW, a mosel-a-phile. There is Deutsche character in this wine with its whiff of petrol and racy acidity. Kabinett ripeness with Sp√§tlese richness. It is nice but it is not Mosel. And I think I prefer the Couere de Terre “Alsatian”. 12.5%
2006 Bergström Willamette Valley Pinot Noir $30: The entry level bottle is not estate. Sourced from young vines the wine is rich with some veggie quality in the mouth. 14.5%
bergstrom07_cumber_r_pn.png2007 Bergström Cumberland Reserve Pinot Noir $45: A blend of estate and sourced juice. Lots of ash, tannic, dark. Middleweight body with heavyweight flavors. Really delicious. 13.9%

2007 Bergström de Lancellotti Estate Pinot Noir
$75: All estate juice. Gingerbread, baking spices on the nose and in the mouth. Fruity. More ripe than Cumberland. 13.9%
We left the humble tasting room with one bottle. It was not a tough call but it was one we would have liked to not make. The winery has everything going for it except for one thing. We decided against the $30 Willamette Valley (400 cases!) because we liked the et Fille Kalita better (at $34) and the Dewey Kelley Ribbon Ridge just as well (at $22). We loved the Cumberland (5500 cases, $65) and the de Lancellotti (455 cases, $75) but we felt we had to cut our losses given the $20 tasting fee. This is a winery we would love to love. Respect for the vineyards is everywhere, the site is lovely, the wines are spectacular. Emily poured. She was smart and informative about the region. In the end even though we really liked what the winemaker is doing we could not get past the hubris in the pricing policy [ed. or the Doctor reference].
tBoW & Carol Ayres.jpgUp the road, around the corner near the hilltop is Ayres Vineyards (see photo at top). The winery is beneath the main house on the property where Don and Carol McClure get to enjoy Oregon wine country sunsets. [ed. Carol pictured with fawning visitor]. Daughter Kathleen and hubby winemaker Brad McLeroy live in the older home on the property. A long drive through vineyards brings us to the split level home and winery where Mama Carol greeted us.
Ayres is another family winery whose winemaker, in this case the son-in-law, boasts Burgundian training. Brad learned from Matt McKinley and Veronique Drouhin of Domaine Drouhin in Oregon. History moment…Maison Joseph Drouhin effectively put this region on the wine map when the leading Burgundy wine negociant selected Dundee Hills to build its new world winery. First vintage for Domaine Drouhin was 1988 (first for Maison Joseph Drouhin was 1880). When tBoW visited in 1993 Ms. Drouhin told us tradition would have stood in the way of her becoming principal winemaker in Burgundy. Not so in Oregon. By choosing to build in Dundee Drouhin upped the stakes and the price by anointing Oregon Pinot Noir as Burgundian. Here is what one of the local Domain Drouhin spinoffs is doing on his own.

2007 Ayres Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
$24: The entry level blend is perfect for getting to know the winery. Forest floor and mushrooms in a rounded blend. What we are looking for in fairly priced Oregon Pinot Noir.
2007 Ayres Piper Pinot Noir
$34: Knocked us out. Take the Willamette Valley blend and pump it up 300%. Same forest floor funk, mushrooms and spice. In the mouth it is exotic, medium weight, balanced perfectly, friendly and so easy to swallow. This is Pinot Noir the way we love it. 13.5%
2007 Ayres Pioneer Pinot Noir
$35: Another stunning wine that contrast beautifully with the Piper. The wine is lovely enough to purchase for enjoyment on its own. It is more high-toned, elegant, bold, structured from the nose to the palate. These wines are all the evidence one needs about what can be done with Oregon’s “troubled” 2007 vintage. 13.5%
Last stop was Carlton, the western most village in the Newberg-Dundee-Lafayette-Carlton quadrangle. The rain started as we pulled into the no-stop-light town center. sptasting room.jpgScott Paul, our target, was right there in a converted stone and wood creamery. We could have been in Beaune.
Scott Paul proprietor Scott Wright poured the wines on this rainy afternoon so we pretty much had him to ourselves. “I have been a Burgundy geek all my life. My father collected Burgundies and other wines so there was always good wine on the table”. He explained he had left a marketing career in Hollywood to manage the Domain Drouhin business. When he left that gig he started his own winery and import business. He imports approximately 18 Burgundy winemakers. For his own brand he exclusively uses screw caps and he may have influenced some of his Burgundy vignerons. BRAVO!! We might have tasted his wines at the Portland Indie Wine Festial except his production is 3500 cases which exceeds the 3000 case limit. The import/producer business strategy ensures multiple revenue streams with one caveat. He has to pour his wines next to some of the best Burgundies going. He poured a sample of Burgundies first.
2007 Benjamin Leroux Bourgogne Blanc $24: Chardonnay from a Burgundy village blend under his label. Wine is lean and tart. Never confuse this for New World juice. You do have to like Chardonnay. 13%
Leroux_SLB.jpeg2007 Benjamin Leroux Savigny les Beaune $35: Wines from Savigny les Beaune are commonly referred to as “good value Burgundy”. Lean, earthy, tart. You have to like Chardonnay. 13%
2007 Benjamin Leroux Volnay $65: This is French Pinot Noir. More spicy and intense. High tone. It turns out Leroux trained winemaker David Croix at Camille Giroud. 13%
hspiscedebeaueSP2007.jpg2007 Hospices de Beaune Cuvee Maison Drouhin for Scott Paul $50: This is THE wine. Big wow factor. The best value on the table. Scott Paul bought the barrel at the Hospices de Beaune tasting. As the buyer Scott Wright gets to choose who will make the wine and bottle it. The wine is restrained and powerful, beefy with cherry flavors. This is Burgundy. And at this price it is a bargain. There is always one wine you wish you had picked up. Here it was.
sppaulee07.jpg2006 Scott Paul Le Paulee Pinot Noir $30: The price is right but the wine is handicapped coming after the Burgs. The fruit is forward per the 2006 vintage. tBoW tastes mint, sasparilla. Scott thinks I am nuts. 13.9%
spaudrey07.jpg2007 Scott Paul Audrey $65: From the fifth oldest (1970) Pinot Noir plantings in the region; the Marsh vineyard atop Ribbon Ridge. This is soft and seductive wine. It is concentrated with cola flavors. It is very very nice. At this price point the obvious question is Bergström Cumberland or Scott Paul Audrey? And the answer is Hospices de Beaune!! 13.1%
It rained the entire drive back to Portland and the Hotel deLuxe [ed. highest recommendation for price/quality ratio]. The two missus snoozed in the back. Dotoré cat napped while tBoW tasted Pinot Noir the entire ride. Now that is a l-o-n-g finish. Dined that evening at Le Pigeon in Portland, another strong Murray the K tout. Staff performed exceptionally well. Strongly recommended. We ordered another Patty Green.
2007 Patricia Green Estate Old Vine Pinot Noir
$34: Tight, lean, more of that funky but elegant (romantic? sublime?) forest floor. Good acid. But tight. We did the right thing and decanted.
To summarize…tBoW will keep his eye on Ribbon Ridge. This relatively new AVA (2005) is home to important vineyards and wineries emerging as leaders in high quality Pinot Noir. Most plantings are fairly young, i.e., less than 10 years. However, the region is proven with notable older plantings that have produced premium juice for decades. There still exists enough naivete and joy in winemaking to place the experience of touring and tasting a long way from the Napa-Sonoma limo/winetrain trip. Tasting rooms with the over-the-top pricing are unfortunate and ill-advised. At least apply the tasting fee to purchases over $100. Of course, the best experience is still discovering something new in the basement/winery at no cost.
The first half of the 2009 has been lush with Pinot Noir and Burgundy from the Camille-Giroud tasting at Palate Food + Wine in February to the Oregon wine tour in May. Faith in Pinot Noir has been firmly re-established. While there are no U20 wines to be had there are truly special wines that are very good value for the Pinot-phile.
Portland is a nice place to visit with the river and the Pearl District in the old town. Compact, quaint, served by an ultra-convenient light rail. Next year’s NBA champs work here. But if you like to drink great Pinot Noir, dine at inventive and casual restaurants, shop for new and out of print books at Powell’s and sample chocolatiers like Sahagun Chocolate Shop or Alma Chocolate then this is a GREAT place to get lost in.

Got something to add?