It’s Willamette, Dammit!

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….

wvv_pinot_gris32014 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.

wvv_wcpn52014 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.

wvv_estatepn32013 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.

wvv_bernaublockpn12012 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.



About the drunken cyclist

I have been an occasional cycling tour guide in Europe for the past 20 years, visiting most of the wine regions of France. Through this "job" I developed a love for wine and the stories that often accompany the pulling of a cork. I live in Houston with my lovely wife and two wonderful sons.
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25 Responses to It’s Willamette, Dammit!

  1. I got my start with wine several years ago, while living about 30 minutes from WVV. As you describe, their wines are excellent, and affordable. If you can, be sure to visit the winery. The views are breathtaking! Since moving to NorCal 12 years ago, I sure do miss the Willamette Valley! Thanks for sharing this post. Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. jimvanbergen says:

    So the title begs the question: have people been calling it “William-ette” or something else quite silly?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Beth says:

    I received these, too. I still have the Pinot Gris and the Bernau Block still to taste. I was confused about the whole cluster one myself.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Terry says:

    It is no secret theWinesketcher is a huge Oregon and specifically Willamette (emphasis on second syllable not the last, and it is an ‘a’ not a ‘u’) valley. Thanks for promoting

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Sean Munger says:

    I happen to live in the (southern) Willamette Valley, so it’s great to see some of our regional wines featured here. Great choices! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. barnraised says:

    Used to live in the Willamette Valley. Beautiful, I miss it! And, yes, excellent wines!!! Gorgeous vineyards.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. What do you mean by “crushed rocks”? It tastes like the smell of crushed rocks? Really interesting post. I learn so much about wines from reading your posts. I found the part about whole cluster vs. stems really interesting! I didn’t know that! Well, I don’t think I know much about wines except that I love the drink bottles of the stuff. LOL! Searching your blog for dessert wines/ports now…

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I had to laugh at that title! So many people who visit Oregon totally get that wrong. I am going to say just that next time I have an encounter. And thanks for featuring some Oregon wines!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Carbonic maceration?!? Oof. What’s the purpose then of leaving them in clusters? Marketing ploy or saving the expense of de-stemming? The others sound terrific, but this seems like an abomination to Pinot.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I do not think that I would use the word “abomination” but it is certainly a departure from the way that “Whole Cluster” is typically used. The wine was really fruity (if that was not clear) and “true” Pinot lovers might find it to be too much, but for the casual drinker? It might gain some traction….

      Liked by 1 person

      • But can’t we just throw some Zin and Syrah at those casual drinkers and keep the good grapes for us snobs? I’m only partly joking though… Seems like a marketing ploy rather than something really good on its own. I suppose I really should try it before I trash the idea.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I hear you–I don’t think I’ll find myself buying it since, as you know, I am a bit of a Pinot purist, but it is their largest production I believe, so someone is buying it….


  10. linnetmoss says:

    I have family out there so I get to enjoy those wines regularly. Very good value, many of them!

    Liked by 1 person

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