Posted by: David Stewart | July 30, 2012

The Top Four Wineries in Oregon

There you are at a very special dinner, a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing, one where you are prepared for a big splurge. You unfold the wine list and are greeted by a confusing array of names, regions and vintages. Should you just stick to iced tea? That’s maybe the best option anyway, but let’s say you’re ready to go for it. Which to choose?

I’m here to help. Your welcome.

I would say that anything you find from the producers below should be wonderful. Will this still be the case five years from now? Read on.

It’s fair to say that Oregon’s Willamette Valley is not Burgundy. We don’t have a strict quality / price hierarchy between winemakers like they do in France. So a top winemakers’ list is never final. There is nothing stopping an upstart from developing in the future that totally blows away anybody on this list.

Sadly, none of these producers seem truly “home grown” to me. None of the original “old school” Oregon producers have managed to elevate their product to the level that these guys deliver. I suspect that a lot of it is due to the influence of outside money, capable of buying prime Oregon dirt and hiring the best winemakers.

Should you ignore everyone else producing wine in Oregon? Of course not. If you did, you would miss the fine bubbles of Argyle, the delightful Clarets of Cliff Creek or the many wonderfully ecentric winemakers in our region, too many to name. And you absolutely don’t need to pay this kind of money for great local wine. But these guys are the big guns of the Oregon wine world.

Archery Summit – Single vineyard Pinots range from $100 to $150. When these wines are young, they taste really ultra-dry and tightly wound to me and would usually benefit from a few years of cellaring. Archery’s “low end” include a Willamette Valley Cuvee, which can retail below $50. I kind of wonder whether their consistency is very good, since at a tasting last year, a friend and I had totally different impressions about their wine (I loved it, he hated it). It could be bottle variation.

Beaux Freres – The name means “brother-in-law” in French, and much is made of the fact that brother-in-law and business partner of the vineyard’s owner is none other than Robert Parker, the wine world’s most famous reviewer. They have $80 and $100 single vineyard wines and a $50 Willamette Valley wine. And how is it? Well, it takes a special winemaker to make good wine in a poor year. 2010 was very cool and rainy, but I found the Beaux Freres wines to be wonderful, some of the best 2010s I have tasted.

Domaine Drouhin Oregon – When a top winemaker from France decides to go big in Oregon, they don’t mess around. Their high-end “Laurene” Pinot Noir lists for around $65, and the Willamette Valley Pinot retails for $40. Not surprisingly, the style of this wine is quite French and austere, not hewing to the usual New World fruitiness. They also have an excellent Chardonnay called “Arthur” which is not at all like the usual California style full of oak. They also have a Rose, which I find to be just a little to austere for my taste.

Domaine Serene – Like Drouhin which is just across the road, Serene is a big and beautiful property and winery. And like Drouhin, they offer a lower-end “Yamhill Cuvee” and higher-end “Evenstad Reserve” which are both quite tasty. But from there, Serene branches out into an enormous collection of single vineyard wines which range in price from $70 to $100, and are not offered every year. Serene takes the prize for highest priced Oregon wine, their Monogram Pinot Noir at a cool $250.

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