The perennial question, can I find a good Oregon Pinot Noir for under $20?
The easy answer here is: Yes, you can! 
Many grocery stores and Costco will carry decent Oregon Pinot’s for a very nice price. For example, Wine Spectator’s 2014 list of top 100 wines of the year included a 2012 Acrobat Pinot Noir, which I found for $12.99 at Costco that same week.
Nearly all sub-$20 Willamette Valley Pinots are sourced from a huge variety of vineyards and then the wine is made with a strong fruit extraction and influence of new oak. The resulting wine is drinkable and enjoyable upon release and makes for a very acceptable table wine.
As good as these wines often are though, they are usually not very subtle, or distinguishable from the oak and fruit bombs typical of California Pinots. Nor are they an expression of a singular winemaker’s handcrafting skills or unique vineyard site or vintage year. Come, come, you ask too much!
Fortunately for those of us with budget constraints, the news is still good. But you will need to do a little more digging.
Ideally what you want is what I call the “value artisan.” Someone who makes really tasty Pinot, but isn’t trying to charge you as much as the market will pay them.
Unfortunately, there are some young winemakers who think their inaugural single vineyard Pinot would be worth over $100, so they set the price at $50 and consider it a bargain. They could be right. I don’t want to criticize anyone in how they price their product. I’m just not likely to buy at that price.
I’d rather find an artisan who is trying to keep their pricing reasonable and keep their product great. Here are some tips for finding these gems:
Get some lists together. There are lists of wineries available from folks like the Willamette Valley Wineries Association and Avalon Wines which I find extremely helpful. I also think the Oregon Wine app (available for Android and iPhone) is an outstanding resource. I have friends who keep a Willamette Valley wine map in their car and check off the places they have visited.
Ask your friends. See if they know some hidden value gems. Particularly listen to folks within a similar budget situation. (I’m very indebted to Joe Morris, who has helped me immensely in finding tasty values.)
Do a little research on the web. Most wineries have a web site these days (although there are some which don’t). See if their list price wines are within a comfortable budget before you spend a lot of time tasting.
Use open house weekends. A lot of wineries of all sizes will open their doors once or twice a year so that you can taste wine without an appointment. The big weekends in Oregon are Thanksgiving and Memorial Day, though there is an emerging movement towards opening up on Valentines Day or the weekend before Thanksgiving.
Keep some notes. I like to use the Evernote app (available for Android and Apple) to keep track of what wines cost and my notes and observations, particularly when it comes to pricing.
Be a patron of the artist. When you find a value artisan, make sure you buy their stuff to the extent that you can. Get to know the winemaker and try to visit them periodically. Show appreciation for their work and their pricing.
Tell your friends. Value pricing means that these folks are dependent on word-of-mouth instead of spending on advertising.
Here are a few of the value artisans that I try to steer friends towards:
- Ayres – Brad and family have terrific wines and their Willamette Valley wine is usually a spectacular value. I’m also a fan of their Pinot Blanc, which is an outstanding white wine value.
- Twelve – Linda and John are not only great value artisans, they really take care of people who get to know them. Their tasting room in Carlton should be high on your list to start your value quest.
- Atticus – Ximena and Guy make amazingly tasty Pinot, both from their vineyard as well as purchased fruit.
 I realize this is a violation of Bettridge’s law of headlines. But it’s fun to break the rules sometimes.