Posted by: David Stewart | May 6, 2011

Learning about new wines and wineries in Yamhill-Carlton

What a delightful way for us to spend a few hours on a Saturday!

We got a heads up from our friend Joe that there was a spring tasting event being put on by the Yamhill-Carlton AVA. An "American Viticultural Region" is a region in the US where grapes are grown. This is a way for consumers to identify the value of the soil and climate conditions in a particular place, and thus increase its value. Yamhill-Carlton is about an hour’s drive southeast of Portland in the fertile Willamette Valley.

Some of our favorite wines and wineries come from Yamhill-Carlton. So there were a number of wineries at the event which we are very familiar with, like Belle Pente, Penner-Ash, WillaKenzie, Lemelson, Twelve and Ken Wright.  But there were a number that we have heard of, but never had the time to visit. Also, unlike some events, we could buy wine. So in some respect, this was like visiting 30 wineries in a single afternoon and find some new gems. 

The event was held at Anne Amie Vineyards, which we fondly remember years ago under the name "Chateau Benoit". Their own wines at the event were more along the lines of fairly sweet whites like Rieslings.


Future Trend: Rising Prices

The 2008 vintage continues to play out as the vintage of the decade for the Willamette Valley. Most wineries released their "value" label Pinot over a year ago (where "value" means $18-$20 per bottle).  Any winery who now is launching 2008s typically are doing so with their higher-end Pinots, sourced from a particular block of vines to truly capture the flavors from that specific plot of ground. The are also taking a very careful approach to give the wine plenty of time in barrel and bottle before it is released. 

2008 got great press. Everyone from the New York Times to the wine magazines gushed over it. So as a consequence, these higher end Pinots are trending up in price, and in spite of the recession are typically running about $40 per bottle. And there was at least one Penner-Ash bottle at $80. It’s starting to become harder to find bargains in this group.

So if you are looking for a good 2008 Oregon Pinot Noirs and you are looking for a sub-$20 wine, your ship may have already sailed. But there are some fantastic 2008’s for $40 and above, and 2009’s are plentiful now at bargain prices.


New (to me) and Notable

So we tasted a lot of wine, and came up with a few winners. Again, I was looking for something new to me here. We bought a few of these wines, and I expect we will keep our eyes open for the future with them.

  • Shea Wine Cellars- these guys grow the grapes which go into a number of other good wines, like Raptor Ridge. But they said that they also keep good grapes for their own label. (I’m not sure if that implies that they save the "best for themselves." I suspect that this might be unpopular with their buyers). We bought their 2008 Estate Pinot Noir, and was a terrific combination of flavors.
  • Atticus Wine – We first encountered Atticus at their tasting room in Carlton years ago when we first started tasting Oregon wines again. At the time, we only bought two bottles, a Pinot Noir Rose and a regular Pinot. Then much later, I opened that bottle of Pinot Noir and was blown away by how wonderful it was. So I always wanted to check them out more and see if it was a fluke. Their 2008 estate Pinot tastes amazing now, and I’m sure it will age beautifully. Their website claims that 2008 is the first year of production from this vineyard, which I find really hard to believe. This will be an outstanding vineyard if they keep it up.
  • EIEIO – So here is something cool – guys who have a sense of humor and make terrific wine. Their 2008 "Cuvee Y" Pinot Noir was in my opinion the best wine that I tasted at the show. Jay McDonald started his operation in the 90s, and the winery name comes from, yes, "Old McDonald". So the EIEIO refers to the folk song of the same name, and the website, "" continues the trope. The Cuvee Y had an amazing aroma and was wonderfully drinkable. But on the website, Jay reveals a little of the secret of why this wine showed so well:

The experimental bottling resulted from timing concerns with a pre-scheduled event featuring 2008 Cuvee Y.  If conventionally bottled, the wine would have be "ungiving" and shut down at the event, so we decided to hand-bottle 39 cases. This gentle, no pump process eliminates the introduction of inert gas, exposing the wine to oxygen; heightening aromatics and softening tannins.  It also prematurely ages the wine, allowing it to show well initially and making it best for earlier consumption.  If you tend to drink wines young, the hand-bottled Cuvee Y is ideal; if not, opt for the line-bottled.

Aha, it was a trick to get them noticed! And sure enough, it worked on me. Just goes to show how much of a rube I am.


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