The SOMM Journal
planet grape by Master Sommelier Catherine Fallis
AN INAUGURAL BARREL AUCTION MARKS A 50-YEAR MILESTONE FOR WILLAMETTE VALLEY WINES
While wine grapes were cultivated in Southern Oregon in the mid and late 1800’s, it wasn’t until 1965 that marked the first plantings the Willamette Valley, when David and Diana Lett planted their Eyrie Vineyard. Last year marked the 50th anniversary of grape growing in this quiet, bucolic area, though bustling Portland is only 30 minutes away, and to celebrate this milestone, an inaugural Pinot Noir Barrel Auction was held.
Nestled between Oregon’s Cascade Mountains and the Coast Range, the Willamette Valley AVA is 100 miles long and 60 miles at its widest point with 3,438,000 acres, of which 19,295 are planted vineyards. 694 vineyards provide fruit to 507 wineries. There are six sub-AVA’s for a total of seven appellations. It is a marginal area in which Pinot Noir thrives.
Willamette Valley’s early success was leveraged by California winemakers who wanted the laid back lifestyle of the area, according to Gran Moraine General Manager and Winemaker Eugenia Keegan. She said, “These individuals were hugely successful. There was a lot of conversation about terroir, nature, humans. This passionate group created the vibe we still have here today. In 1998 with Domaine Drouhin we got French recognition, which really helped. I love the people here.” These Pinot producers are passionate about the notion of terroir. Jesse Lange of Lange Estate Winery is one of the presenters of Soil Into Wine, a tasting workshop and soil pit demo conducted at the annual Oregon Pinot Camp for up and coming members of the trade. Jesse has barrels of Pinot Noir at his family’s winery made from every soil type in the valley.
Jesse and other second generation winemakers are forging new ground. Mike Etzel Jr, who has rejoined his father at Beaux Freres, made the stunning 2014 Chapter 24 Pinot Noir, while Mike Sr. recently launched Sequitur. Jared Etzel is winemaker with partner Marc Roy at Domaine Roy et Fils. Jared and Marc’s fathers founded Beaux Freres. Investments by Jackson Family Wines, Zena Crown and Siduri, and Nicolas-Jay, founded by winemaker Jean-Nicolas Meo of Meo-Camuzet in Burgundy and music entrepreneur Jay Boberg are more hot brands to watch and are creating new buzz for the area.
The first annual Pinot Noir Barrel took place On April 2, 2016 at the Alison Inn and Spa. Exclusively for elite members of the trade who may have attended Pinot Camp earlier in their careers, and were now major retail, casino and restaurant buyers, 400 guests were invited to join the festivities and bid on sixty-six custom barrels. After a walk-around tasting and lunch, Fritz Hatton took the helm and with his wit, charm and experience, put the pressure on immediately. The first lot, from auction chairman Josh Bergstrom, went for $10,000. Shorty thereafter I tweeted, “82k and we are only at lot 14 out of 66! #WVAUCTION2016 @WVauction.” In less than 90 minutes, the auction raised $476,000 to support the marketing and branding efforts of the Willamette Valley Wineries Association.
“We are thrilled at the success of this event. It was an amazing opportunity for retailers, restaurateurs and distributors from all over the world to not only obtain rare bottlings from our best cellars but to further delve into the complex and world class story of Oregon’s Wine community, said Josh Bergström. “It was time for an event of this caliber in the Willamette Valley. The Oregon wine community sits in a unique moment of time where pioneers and young visionaries are standing together at the same table raising the quality of Pinot noir for the world.”