Willamette Valley Chardonnay


The Willamette Valley in Oregon has a maritime climate and volcanic soils providing amazing conditions for growing Pinot Noir which is the wine the region is most known for. In fact, the founding winemakers in the Willamette Valley focused on Pinot Noir because the terroir in the Willamette Valley is similar to Burgundy and they wanted to emulate the wines made there but Burgundy makes not only Pinot Noir but elegant balanced Chardonnay wines as well.

Initially, in the 70’s winemakers in Oregon tried to make Chardonnay with clones from California but the cooler climate and volcanic soil of Oregon did not work well with those clone that thrive in warm weather and dry soil so the vines did not fully ripen. In 1966 David Lett brought cuttings of the Draper clone, originally from Burgundy, into Oregon from California. In the 1980’s Winemaker David Adelsheim had the idea to bring the Dijon clone from Burgundy to the Willamette Valley which he did in collaboration with Oregon State University in the 1990’s. This clone was much more suitable for the climate and soil of Oregon than some of the California clones that were being used previously. What this demonstrates is that both the clone and terrior can make a big difference in whether or not a varietal will thrive in a particular region. Planting clones in Willamette Valley from Burgundy where there is similar climate and soil results in Chardonnay wine with texture, structure, acidity and citrus apple and stone fruit flavors which require little oak or manipulation and are now starting to bring well deserved attention to Willamette Valley for its Chardonnay.

For the month of November Protocol wine studio focused on Willamette Valley Chardonnay. #Winestudio is a weekly online twitter-based educational program with the opportunity to discuss and learn about wine. Over the course of 4 weeks I was fortunate to have the chance to learn about and taste eight great wines from the Willamette Valley

Eyrie 2012 Original Vines Reserve Chardonnay Dundee Hills $45 Eyrie winery was started in the 1970’s by David Lett and since 2005 has been run by his son Jason Lett. The philosophy of Eyrie Vineyards is to interfere as little as possible with the processes of nature. No insecticides, herbicides or systemic fungicides are used and vines are grown on their own roots and are not irrigated. The Chardonnay comes from a vine cutting from Draper Ranch in California which was originally imported to California from Burgundy. The wine is aged for nine months or more on unstirred lees in neutral French and Oregon oak casks with little new oak and only one gentle filtration prior to bottling to maintain the varietal flavors and expression of terroir. The wine is crisp and bright with fruit flavors of apple and citrus balanced with minerality and toasted nut and spice notes. Only 400 cases are made

Cooper Mountain 2012 Old Vines Chardonnay $30 Cooper Mountain is committed to sustainability, organic and biodynamic farming and winemaking and dry farming. The wine is made from vines planted in 1978. It is made with native yeast and barrel fermented at room temperature with no cooling used. The wine is barrel aged for 7 months with 38% New French Oak. Lees stirring is performed one a week for the first 2 months then bimonthly and no fining agents are used. The wine has great aroma and green apple citrus vanilla and baking spice flavors with oak undertones but they are restrained allowing the elegance of the varietal to come thru. Only 200 cases of this wine are made

JK Carriere Wines 2012 Lucidite $32 In 1999 Jim Prosser established his own winery, sourced good grapes and started making wine as J.K. Carriere, the combined names of his grandfathers. A wasp features prominently on all J.K. Carriere labels, as it has twice nearly killed Jim due to a severe allergy. Jim has an vibrant personality and an interesting background which is reflected in his wine. This Chardonnay is 100% whole cluster pressed and barrel fermented in an old-world oxidative style. By using a long, slow, low-temperature, wild-yeast, barrel fermentation regimen the vineyard characters are preserved along with the fruit flavors. The wine is 100% barrel aged on its lees for 18 months in older French oak barrels to promote roundness of the mid-palate and it is racked and filtered prior to bottling. The wine has bright acidity strong citrus flavors and savory nutmeg spice notes along with minerality . It is well rounded with nice silkiness on the palate and no obvious oak. 220 cases are made

Goodfellow Family Cellars 2012 Whistling Ridge Vineyard $36 Winemaker Marcus Goodfellow’s stated philosophy in wine making is let it be. This the the inaugural wine for Goodfellow Family Cellars. Marcus’s intention is to build a perfectly balanced wine around the natural evolution of the wine, without manipulation; he uses little new oak and the oak he does use is for aging to add texture rather than flavor, allowing the fruit flavor to predominate. His wine making process results in wines that allow the terroir to shine through. This wine was aged for 20 months in 100% French oak, 50% of which was new. It has flavors of apple, lemon and spice which the oak judiciously enhances. Only 80 cases were produced

Matello Wines 2012 Durant Vineyard $29 Matello wines are made by Marcus Goodfellow from grapes purchased from several locations in the Willamette Valley that are family owned non-irrigated, and focus on low impact farming. At Matello the goal is to think outside the box of modern wine making by exploring the methods of tradition. The focus is on old vines, careful stewardship through the growing season, and detailed wine making rooted in traditional techniques. This wine is 100% whole cluster settled for 2 days and racked into barrel 30% of the wine was fermented with native yeast, the remainder with carefully chosen commercial yeast. Ferments are cool and slow running between 2-6 months. The wine is aged sur-lie until just prior to bottling. There is no stirring of the lees. This wine spent 15 months in French oak, 30% new and has flavors of stone fruit and citrus. It is well rounded with balanced acidity and minerality nice texture and a long finish. 145 cases are produced

Omero Cellars 2012 Willamette Valley $38 The focus of Omero Cellars is to understand and appreciate the subjectivity of a wine’s enjoyment, and to translate the language of the soil, the sky and the fruit; allowing it to tell a different story to everyone who experiences it when drinking the wine. The goal with every vintage has been and will be to understand the textures, flavors, scents and behaviors of the fruit that we farm and through minimal intervention, allow the wines to express their sense of place while maintaining elegance and balance. Their mission is simply cultivating elegance. This wine is aged 10 months in French Oak and has partial malolactic fermentation. It is juicy with great acidity and flavors of stone fruit and citrus. 275 cases are produces

Omero Cellars 2012 Extended Elevage $58 This wine is crisp and creamy at the same time with nice weight and mouth feel. It is reflective of the wineries use of whole cluster fermentation cultured yeasts and small ferments for weight with minimal new oak to create aromatic, acid-driven wines with elegance, balance and structure. It is bold yet elegant with flavors of apple pear and lemon. It was aged for 16 months in barrels. 75 cases of this wine were produced

Westrey 2012 Reserve $32 This wine comes from a property that the owners bought in 2000 which they thought had its vineyards removed. They has done research and were getting ready to plan new vines when spring came around and they noticed vines were coming up. The cultivated pruned and treslised the existing vines that were on old rootstock coaxing them back to life so they could again produce wine. This wine is a nice combination of fruit acidity and minerality that evolves in the glass it has flavors of . Only 32 cases produced

Next time you think of Oregon and the Willamette Valley don’t just focus on Pinot Noir but consider giving their Chardonnay a try. The cold climate Chardonnay has great acidity and fruit flavors and is very reflective of the place it is grown in.   Most Willamette Chardonnay is small production with minimal intervention to allow the natural textures and flavors of the grapes to shine thru resulting in some great wines definitely worth trying.

Thank you to Protocol Wine Studio and the 8 forementioned wineries for the chance to taste and learn about some amazing Willamette Valley Chardonnays!

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