I have been fortunate enough to visit the Willamette Valley a couple of times. The first was for the International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC) and more recently for my first Wine Bloggers Conference back in 2012 (#WBC12). Two different events, but both showcased the beautiful Willamette Valley and the wonderful wines being produced there.
Another common thread was the presence of Willamette Valley Vineyards and its founder Jim Bernau. Even though WVV has been around for over 30 years, Jim and his crew always seem to find the time to come out and promote not just their winery and wines, but the entire region and its growing stature in the world.
So when I was offered to sample a few of Willamette Valley Vineyards wines, I jumped at the chance….
2014 Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Gris: Retail $16. When a bottle says “Pinot Gris” instead of “Pinot Grigio” that usually means that the wine was made in the Alsatian style instead of the Italian interpretation. What is the difference? Pinot Grigio, in my opinion, is often listless and devoid of any real character (there are exceptions, of course). The Alsatian style is lusher, rounder, and can have some sweetness to it. It will also cause me to pay much closer attention as I am a big fan of the style. This wine is a solid effort, particularly at the price: grapefruit, peach, and pear, with nice acidity and a touch of sweetness to round it out just a bit. At this price? This is an every day type of wine that would be a nice option for slightly spicy Asian fare. Very Good. 88-90 Points.
2014 Willamette Valley Vineyards Whole Cluster Pinot Noir: Retail $22. I saw the words “Whole Cluster” and I got a bit excited. Generally speaking, a big difference between Old and New World Pinot Noirs is that Pinots from the New World tend to be de-stemmed while Old World versions are more than likely whole cluster. The difference? Again, generally speaking, whole cluster wines include the stems in the fermentation process, which adds some earthiness, some tannin, and potentially some vegetal aspects to the wine. The New World versions, without those stems, tend to be fruitier and a “purer” expression of the fruit.
There are benefits (and detriments) to both styles, but I was nonetheless excited to try this New World Whole Cluster. On first taste? Wow. Fruity. Maybe aI should have capitalized the entire word. Fruity, fruity, fruity.
And I was confused.
Then I read the label: “The Whole Cluster Pinot Noir was fermented from uncrushed Pinot Noir grape clusters. This technique retains the fresh fruit quality of the varietal and creates a wine which is delicious and accessible upon its release.”
This wine actually goes through a carbonic maceration (well, at least 60% of it does), which is a process where the fermentation begins in the whole berry, before the fruit is crushed. This helps to maintain the fruity characteristic on the wine. It is the process used for Beaujolais Nouveau, one of the fruitiest wines on the planet, a process that I have never seen done with Pinot.
As a result, this is one of the fruitier Pinots I have ever had and therefore a bit difficult to pigeon hole (which is a good thing). Fruity and jammy with big black cherry flavored and just a hint of tannin on the back end. This is unlike most Pinots you will ever have, but it is fun and refreshing. Very Good. 87-89 Points.
2013 Willamette Valley Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir: Retail $30. I came home from the gym and to my surprise, my wife had already made dinner. She had gone to the Whole Foods, picked up some fish and broccoli and made her famous teriyaki salmon. On top of that, she made me a piece of the salmon sauce free so that I could better taste the wine (yes, she’s a keeper). I had just received these wines from WVV and this was the perfect moment to crack one. Translucent, but by no means light in the glass, classic tart cherry and a bit of smoke. Lusciously juicy on the tongue with hordes of red berry fruit and just a hint of earth. While this stops just short of causing you to run to the bookshelf for one of Kant’s Critiques, this is an exceptionally fun wine. Very Good to Outstanding. 89-91 Points.
2012 Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Noir Bernau Block: Retail $55. Of the wines that the winery sent my way, this was clearly the top of the heap (and the last one that I cracked). Good fruit balanced with earth right off the bat followed by a little crushed rock (normally I cringe at that description, but I can’t help it here). On the palate, this is what a New World Pinot should be: sure there is fruit, but it is far from a bomb; sure it is earthy with some grip, but it is not “trying” to be a Burgundy. I do not have a ton of experience with this vineyard, but this Pinot certainly seems as though it is trying to give off hints as to where it is from; and it is a wine that is perfectly happy on its own, but could also pair wonderfully with a meal. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.