Oregon Wine: Pinot Noir is still the Queen, and She Ages Gracefully

By Kori ~ April 16th, 2012.

Pinot Noir is the variety that propelled Oregon onto the worldwide wine stage and is still what many people think of when it comes to Oregon wine. While Oregon wine is far from a one-trick pony, Pinot Noir is still the queen. Over 12,000 acres of vineyards in Oregon are planted to Pinot Noir and production of Pinot Noir is over three times the next leading variety, Pinot Gris.

Prior to my recent media tour to explore Oregon wine country, I had limited experience with aged Oregon Pinot Noir. While I knew that many wines from Burgundy age well, I wasn’t sure whether the same could be said for Pinot in Oregon. During the tour, we had the opportunity to taste several “older” Pinots from the 1985, 1998, and 1999 vintages, and they are aging quite gracefully.

“The 1985 vintage was when Oregon really came onto the national scene and was recognized.” –Luisa Ponzi, Ponzi Vineyards

“1985 is my all-time favorite vintage.” –Susan Sokol Blosser, Sokol Blosser Winery

We tasted the 1985 Amity Winemaker’s Reserve Pinot Noir. According to Myron Redford, president and former winemaker of Amity Vineyards, it was made from 14-year-old vines that were planted in 1971. This wine displays beautiful earth, strawberry, and raspberry notes, and is drinking quite well. We also tasted the 1998 Amity Winemaker’s Reserve Pinot Noir. It, too, is a beautiful wine and is surprisingly fresh for a 14-year-old wine.

Many veterans of the Oregon wine industry consider 1999 to be the next great vintage in Oregon after 1985. We tasted the 1999 Sokol Blosser Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, and I can see why they hold the 1999 vintage in such high regard. Winemaker Russ Rosner of Sokol Blosser calls this a 20-year wine.

Pinot Noir is a fragile grape and very difficult to grow. It requires an incredible amount of “hand work” in the vineyard. It goes all over the place as the vine grows. A thin-skinned grape, Pinot Noir growers have to battle mildew and botrytis. However, when grown successfully in cooler climates like Oregon, Pinot Noir can produce special wines that age very well.

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’ve historically been somewhat of a skeptic when it comes to Oregon wine, particularly of their beloved Pinot Noir. However, this tour allowed me to see Pinot Noir in a new light. I was thrilled to be able to experience some truly wonderful Pinot and to appreciate its age worthiness.

If you live in the Pacific Northwest and either already love Oregon wine or would like to learn more about it, I encourage you to consider attending Unwine’d, Celebrate Oregon Wine in Portland on Sunday, April 29th. The event will have about 100 Oregon wineries pouring their wines, a dozen restaurants serving small bites, and will serve as the kickoff for Oregon Wine Month in May. We hope to see you there.


Filed under: American Wine, Oregon Wine, Pinot Noir, Wine Travel

Reader's Comments

  1. Wayne Bailey | April 17th, 2012 at 11:50 am

    Here! Here!
    Yes, Oregon Pinots are continuing to age beautifully. A little younger than the ’85s, the 1999 vintage and 2002 vintage are two of my favorites and are continuing to age wonderfully in the bottle.
    We will also be pouring at Unwine’d in Portland on the 29th. See you there.

  2. Kori | April 17th, 2012 at 8:08 pm

    Agreed. We had some nice Pinots from 1999 and 2002 as well. Hope to see you at Unwine’d. Cheers!