September 29th, 2012 Tour: Amalie Robert, Bethel Heights, Witness Tree, and St. Innocent
1. Amalie Robert Estate
13531 Bursell Road, Dallas, OR 97338 (503) 882-8833
Tasting Room: Appointment Only
2009 “Her Silhouette” Chardonnay
2010 “Our Muse” Viognier
2010 Pinot Muenier
2008 “Vintage Debut” Pinot Noir
2006 “Dijon Clones” Pinot Noir (purchased 1 bottle)
2009 “Satisfaction” Syrah
15 miles Southwest of Salem and just outside of the Eola-Amity AVA. Driving along Bursell Road billowing plumbs of dust from thirsty gravel roads just South of the Van Duzer wind corridor, I begin to think that my GPS is about to start rerouting. Just as I begin estimating from the amount of dust coming off the road….something you learn growing up on a farm in Lecompton, Kansas….I would say it has been almost 3 months since the last rain, I begin to pass familiar Oregon Pinot Noir vineyard designate names (Freedom Hill, Firesteed, and Croft). Here we are, at Amalie Robert, about to have a private tasting with co-founders/owners Dena Drews and Ernie Pink.
What an exceptional experience as we taste under the sun overlooking the vineyard block as Dena explains the narrative and winemaking of each wine and elaborating on the characteristics she has noticed from the BellPine Soil that covers the former Montmorency cherry orchard. A few minutes later, Ernie arrives with 5 different sets of Syrah, Viognier, and Pinot Noir clusters from his morning walk through the vineyards to exemplify clonal and vineyard block variation, he also apparently grows his own rootstock. After tasting the entire lineup and exhausting every curiosity I can formulate, we decide 2 hours could turn into all day, as I take advantage of the chance to geek out with Dena and Ernie before buying a bottle of 2006 “Dijon Clones” Pinot Noir and contemplating a case purchase of the Syrah (another reason to revisit Dena and Ernie).
$1000 Question: I would supply my own Jeroboam bottles if they would bottle a few cases of the 2011 Pinot Noir for me.
2. Bethel Heights Vineyard
6060 Bethel Heights Road Northwest, Salem, OR 97304
Tasting Room Open: Tuesday-Sunday 11 .m. – 5 p.m. (January Hours: Saturday/Sunday 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.)
2010 Chardonnay Estate Unoaked
2010 “Carter Vineyard” Pinot Noir
2010 “Casteel Reserve” Pinot Noir
2010 “Southeast Block” Pinot Noir
2010 “West Block” Pinot Noir
This was my first trip to visit Bethel Heights, and deciding to visit on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in late September was not the ideal scenario for our group. As expected, tour group after tour group, buses and limos arrived and departed like clockwork, stopping to toss back a succession of beautifully crafted single vineyard estate Pinot Noir that represent distinct differences from their estate vineyards; from the “West Block” planted in 1977 with own rooted Wädenswil, the “Southeast Block” planted in 1979 with own-rooted Pommard, the “Justice Vineyard” planted 1999-2001 with Pommard and Dijon 667, to sourcing fruit from the revered Carter Vineyard in the Eola Hills. I plan to return on a Tuesday later this fall to try all 8 Pinot Noir wines that they produce, in a comparative tasting. More info: Pinot Noir clones, History on Pinot Noir Clones in the modern Oregon Wine Industry. and a great seminar here.
Even though the staff was extremely busy, they managed the crowds with the hospitable authenticity that has become a hallmark of the tasting room.
$1000 Question: A few cases of the 2010 “Casteel Reserve”, It was easily my favorite and this wine is made to age, with the blend of Wädenswil, Dijon 114, and Dijon 667, you get what you would expect, beautiful aromatics, deeper structure, and balanced acidity, all coming from a very cool wet vintage, resulting in a meager 12.8% alcohol. With only 11 months in oak (60% new), I would love to see a parallel version aged for 18-24 months in 25% new oak.
7111 Spring Valley Road Northwest, Salem, OR 97304
Tasting Room Open: (May-October) Tuesday-Sunday 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.
2009 Witness Tree “Estate” Pinot Blanc
2009 Witness Tree “Estate” Viognier (Purchased 1 bottle)
2010 Witness Tree “Willamette Valley” Chardonnay
2010 Witness Tree “Chainsaw” Pinot Noir
2009 Witness Tree “Estate” Pinot Noir
2009 Witness Tree “Vintage Select” Pinot Noir
2009 Witness Tree “Claim No. 51” Pinot Noir
2009 Witness Tree “Benchmark” Pinot Noir
2009 Witness Tree “Sweet Signe”
We stopped at Witness Tree on our way to St. Innocent, an obvious decision by anyone who has ever tried their wines. Elegance and structure define their Pinot Noir, and this is evident as you run the gamut of five Estate Pinots. We ran into some employees from Shea Cellars and Archery Summit, seeming to enjoy the 2009 Benchmark Pinot Noir, my personal favorite. This wine reiterates my affinity of old vine Pommard grown in the Eola-Amity AVA, such structure, spice, and finessed aromatics are becoming “my benchmark” for these wines.
$1000 Question: 1 Case of 2009 Benchmark Pinot Noir, and 1 case of 2009 Hanson Pinot Noir (though I have only heard how amazing it is). Also, the Viognier is on sale for $100/case and is a steal for a estate Viognier of this quality, especially coming from only 2.5 acres.
4. St. Innocent Winery
5657 Zena Road Northwest, Salem, OR 97304 (503) 378-1526
Tasting Room Open: 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. Daily
2011 Pinot Gris “Vitae Springs Vineyard”
2010 Pinot Blanc “Freedom Hill Vineyard”
2010 Chardonnay “Freedom Hill Vineyard”
2010 Pinot noir, Temperance Hill Vineyard
2010 Pinot noir, Zenith Vineyard (purchased 1 Bottle)
2010 Pinot noir, Shea Vineyard
2010 Pinot noir, Justice Vineyard
2010 Pinot noir, Freedom Hill Vineyard
2009 Pinot noir, Momtazi Vineyard
St. Innocent was the very first Winery I visited when I moved to Oregon. I attended Equinox in the Eola-Amity Hills in March of 2011, an annual event where the Eola-Amity wineries get together to showcase their wines on the Spring Equinox. This event made me realize how little I knew about Oregon wines and how easily I succumbed to palate fatigue, basic a neophyte to the wine world. Since that time, I have spent countless hours studying, tasting, traveling, reading, and working with/around wine. To taste through these wines understanding the history and propensity of each vineyard, the viticulture and winemaking techniques employed, the clonal compositions in relation to site and vintage, along with the ability to deductively taste and formulate an opinion about each wine with valid perspective feels pretty amazing.
Like anything someone might become passionate about, I anticipate looking back on this stage of perception and wine knowledge in the future with the same reverence of naivety as I continue to learn and experience more each day.
As expected, wine-maker/vineyard manager/president Mark Vlossak, coaxes extraordinary compositions from each vineyard in regards to vintage parameters and site propensity. His ability and knowledge of vineyard sites, vintage forecasting, viticulture adaptation, wine-making finesse translates into small production Pinot Noir that is respected worldwide.