The Willamette Valley -
Home to World Class Pinot Noir
As we move into the final month of Summer, I gravitate back away from crisp white wines to fresh, lighter reds, and there is one wine which perfectly captures the diversity of this transitional season: Pinot Noir. Summer cherries. Intense herbs. The first evening camp fires. These aromas swirl together in harmony.
I have featured the home of Pinot Noir several times, and we even visited Burgundy last month with the Bouzereau Meursault “Les Tessons” Chardonnay, but there is a young contender for world title of Pinot champion: Oregon’s Willamette Valley.
This month, for Just A Taste’s Jefferson Club, I am excited to feature Nicolas-Jay Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2015.
Wine Snapshot: Nicolas-Jay Pinot Noir 2015
Winemakers: Jean-Nicolas Méo and Tracy Kendall
Region: USA, Oregon, Willamette Valley (Yamhill-Carlton, Dundee Hills, McMinnville, and Eola- AVAs)
Grape Varietal: 100% Pinot Noir
Viticulture: a mixture of organic and biodynamic vineyards across several AVAs in the Willamette Valley
Method: 10-14 month elevage in French Oak, 33% New.
Serving Suggestions: decant and serve at 60-65 F, serve with smoked or grilled lean red meat
Age: drink 2019-2030
Nose: flint, smoke, almond, lime, quince
Palate: medium body with rounded and razor focused acidity and minerality
Finish: a rich mid-palate kept light with long-lasting acidity
About the Willamette Valley winegrowing region
Unlike the storied history of Burgundy, winemaking in the Willamette Valley has only recently begun. Oregon’s rise to fame started with one man, David Lett, who planted his Eyrie Vineyards to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the late 1960s. In the beginning, the successful winemakers of California scoffed at the idea of making world-class wines in the cool Oregon climate, but David, along with like-minded enthusiasts, envisioned lean, Burgundian-style wines, a concept unattainable in sunny Cali. Today, more than 30,000 acres of vines are tended by over 700 wineries in Oregon, most of which can be found in the Willamette Valley with a focus towards one varietal: Pinot Noir.
The Willamette Valley’s climate closely resembles that of Burgundy, which is one of many factors that attracted Robert Drouhin from Domaine Drouhin to purchase acreage in 1987. Like Drouhin’s home in the Cote d’Or, Oregon has moderately cool summers, yet its growing season is slightly longer than that of Burgundy. When comparing wines from the two locations, Oregon shows more of the fresh, lean, mineral-driven character that makes Burgundy so appealing but does so with a more prominent fruit focus.
Jean-Nicolas Méo, a French winemaker from the famous Domaine Méo-Camuzet in Vosne-Romanée, took notice of Drouhin’s interest in Oregon, for a year later, he decided to study abroad in the US. It was during his time here when he met Jay Boberg, a music entrepreneur, and the two became good friends through a shared interest in music, philosophy, and wine. This friendship continued for over two decades before the two decided to begin a joint venture: Nicolas-Jay.
In 2014, Jean-Nicolas and Jay acquired a small vineyard, “Bishop Creek,” in Willamette Valley’s Yamhill-Carlton AVA. This vineyard was first planted in the 1980s and offers three important traits. First, the vines are own-rooted (most vines are now grafted onto Phylloxera-resistant vinestock which has some critics debating its effect on grape quality), the vineyard is mature with average vine age over 30 years, and finally, the vineyard is 100% organically farmed. In addition to this small vineyard, Jean-Nicolas and Jay source fruit from exceptional sites in McMinnville, Dundee Hills, and Eola-Amity Hills, all prestigious sub-AVAs of Willamette Valley. Each of the growers they work with farm their vineyards either organically, biodynamically, or LIVE certified (Low Input Viticulture and Enology).