Yes, it matters where it comes from: Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Noir #OregonWineMonth

Does it matter to you where a wine comes from?

According to a Swiss Institute study referenced by Willamette Valley Vineyard’s founder and winegrower Jim Bernau, it does: on average, our decision to purchase a particular wine is based 45% on where it comes from; price factors in at 25% and vintage is only 11%. And we want that information to be correct: 94% of consumers surveyed by the Wine Origins Alliance favor laws that protect us from misleading wine labels.

So what happens when Napa Valley winemaker Joseph Wagner decides to make Oregon pinot noir?

Well Wagner got into a bit of trouble because his brand, Elouan, has names for wines that sounds a lot like other wines, the labels misinform, and frankly, the wines in the bottle don’t taste like Pinot noir from the Willamette Valley or even Oregon. I should know; excited to get a bottle of Oregon Pinot noir for such a great price, I bought a bottle on sale and had to pour it down the drain when I just couldn’t bring myself to drink it. Not that it was terrible or bad, it just wasn’t good and it certainly didn’t taste like what I wanted and expected from the label which proclaimed Oregon Pinot Noir.

How was I so confused? How was I and other consumers misled?

As reported here, “The Willametter Journal’s label refers to “Oregon’s coastal range” and grapes sourced from the “Territory of Oregon.” Oregon doesn’t have wine grapes in its coastal range and hasn’t been a territory since 1859.” Further, the author reports that how Elouan’s Oregon wine is described  on the label as “truly exemplifying the prime coastal vineyards from where it is sourced.” The author also points out that

“There are no commercial vineyards in the coastal hills of Oregon” as described on the label.

So how about the real thing?

“Our mission in growing cool-climate varietals is to create elegant, classic Oregon wines from the Willamette Valley Appellation,” says Jim Bernau on the website. “As native Oregonians, we treasure our environment and use sustainable practices in growing and vinifying our wine grapes.”

The website also states that “The winery sources all of its barrel-aged Pinot Noir from its estate-grown vineyards and meticulously farms by hand nearly 500 acres in the valley. ”

Last September, I flew from Santa Barbara into Eugene and visited a number of Willamette Valley vineyards with the LA Wine Writers group. On our first day there, we stopped for lunch at Willamette Valley Vineyards where we tasted a few wines and had a tour.

During our lunch there, Jim Bernaus came out to speak with us, and we could not avoid talking about this important controversy and it’s impact on Willamette Valley wines and specifically Willamette Valley Vineyards.

The space is lovely, with lots of light, terraces, decks, and plenty of places to take in the view and enjoy sampling the wine and enjoying the cuisine prepared at the restaurant on site. We especially enjoyed hanging out in the Wine Club’s exclusive tasting room and while it was a warm sunny day, I could imagine visiting and enjoying the place all year.

May is Oregon Wine Month, and the Wine Pairing Weekend group of wine writers is focusing this month on Biodynamic Wines of the Willamette Valley. Scroll down to see who will be writing about what and check out our twitter chat on Saturday at 8am Pacific time by following the hashtag #WinePW.

While the Willamette Valley Vineyards wines ARE NOT biodynamic, like most wineries in Oregon, they have a strong commitment to sustainability, and I figured this story was an important place to start the conversation this month about Oregon wine which I will be featuring several times and drawing on my trip there with the LA Wine Writers which was sponsored by the region.

For example for #WinePW, we paired a roast duck with two Pinots from biodynamic Cooper Mountain. I’ll also be writing about three biodynamic wines from Brianne Day’s Day Wines, we’ve got a feature on biodynamic Montinore which I visited, and I have lots of notes from Rudy Marchesi about biodynamics from the Biodynamic Wine Symposium in May 2018, and so much more including an article about Left Coast which we visited, and we’ve got a Chardonnay Day extravaganza with dry farmed Chardonnay from Oregon to follow up on last year’s Chardonnay Day article.

But first, here are two Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley Vineyards which we paired with beef shanks, polenta, and a strawberry salad.

2016 – Willamette Valley Vineyards – Whole Cluster – Pinot Noir – 13.5% alcohol – SRP $30
purchased on sale at Vons

Color: Very translucent magenta with a very pale pastel pink rim

Nose: Rhubarb, strawberry, more fruity than floral and earth, sage rather than forest floor. Primairly it is fruit

Palate: Relatively simple, very clean, fruit forward. You first experience fruit, but the finish ends on minerals. This is not a complex wine, yet it is not harsh or awkward. It is a nice easy to enjoy Pinot Noir with an accessible price point.

Pairing: This will work as a cocktail wine, welcome wine, or wine by the glass. Pate and Pinot Noir is one of our favorite pairings, but this is not the pinot noir for pate. This Pinot is rich enough to take on the richness of the pate if you add a bit of brie. It seems to like goat cheeses, Morbier, Drunken goat, maybe even a cheviere.

With the strawberry salad this wine was perfect. Sue macerated the strawberries with a bit lemon honey vinegarette before throwing them on the salad.  With the beef shanks, Gwen felt that the gremolata placed over the top of the beef shanks really brought out nice anise flavors in the wine. The fresh ingredients in the salad and the gremolata really brought the wine to life.

We often talk about ordering wine by the glass as opposed to wine by the bottle. Often times wines do not shine until paired with food. People in America often get their wines before the meal has arrived or they have any food to pair it with. This wine would work.

2016 – Willamette Valley Vineyards – Vintage 43 – Pinot Noir – 13.9% alcohol – SRP $50
gift from Jim Bernau

This wine is a completely different ball game, and we could see right away why it is one of the favorite wines of  Jim Bernau! It uses the favorite blocks chosen by the winemaker, Bill Fuller.

Color: Burnt red, rusty red.

Nose: Fruit is underlying in this wine, rhubarb, strawberry, woodsy, forest floor and cigar box; such a complexity to the nose on this wine! We also found candied ginger and violets. There is a rich headiness to the nose that makes you wine to engage with this wine.

Palate: Rich, balanced, round, it is hard to identify the fruit on the palate, cherry, but not cherry like a cabernet, it is a bright cherry. A silky texture, balanced tannins, and minerals on the finish.

Pairing: This wine works well with the pate, but is elevated to over the top if you add a bit of brie to the mix. We were hesitant to try the wine with blue cheese, and surprisingly it stood up to the blue. It was also quite nice with the 12 year aged gouda leaving the palate with fruit and a viscous mineral finish. We also had a small piece of blueberry stilton that went well. The strawberry salad with blue cheese and this wine sent Sue over the top in flavor happiness. For us it was not just the salad on its own or the Osso Bucco it was all of the elements of the meal and the way they went together.

The hands down winner recipe and pairing for the evening:

Fresh lettuce strawberry salad topped with blue cheese and great basin nuts

for vinegarette

  • Juice of one whole lemon
  • 1 T lemon juice
  • mix together til honey is emulsified
  • Add 1/4 cup olive oil and 1 tsp yellow mustard and whisk together

for the salad

  • slice 1 cup strawberries in a bowl and add 2 T of vinegarette to strawberries and toss to coat
  • place mixed fresh greens in a bowl and toss with half the strawberry mixture
  • put the rest of the strawberry mixture on the top of the salad, top with blue cheese crumbles and chopped spiced, herbed, candied pecans from Great Basin bakery in Bishop

Happy Oregon Wine Month! There’s so many wonderful wines to choose… except maybe Eluoan which in another case of bad business, cancelled all of their contracts in the Rogue River Valley in southern Oregon claiming smoke taint… and in yet another example of Oregon Solidarity, Willamette Valley Vineyards along with biodynamic King Estate WinerySilvan Ridge Winery and The Eyrie Vineyards produced three Oregon Solidarity wines; net sale proceeds will be donated to the Rogue Valley Vintners “to help the uninsured growers banded together to purchase the grapes at full price” and bottled it in a wine they are calling …”Solidarity.”

So is the resulting wine tainted by smoke? “Independent third-party analysis showed the grapes were well below the threshold for smoke impact.” Taste it for yourself: nearly 7,500 cases of wine began being released in March:

  • Oregon Solidarity Rosé of Pinot Noir: March 1, 2019
  • Oregon Solidarity Chardonnay: May 1, 2019
  • Oregon Solidarity Pinot Noir: August 1, 2019

For more wines from the Willamette Valley and Oregon too, stay tuned!

For biodynamic wines from Oregon, check out these posts which will be published don Friday and Saturday morning before 8am with our twitter chat at 8am Saturday using the hashtag #WinePW.

Here is a sneak peak of the dishes and wine pairings that are in store. These recipes will go live this Saturday May 11th during our Twitter chat scheduled 8-9 am PT. Follow #winepw as we discuss the behind the scenes of our recipe pairings and share thoughts on these amazing wines.

    • David of Cooking Chat has prepared “Salmon, Farro and Mushrooms with Winderlea Pinot Noir”
    • Camilla of Culinary Adventures with Camila is celebrating with “Simple Pleasures, A Birthday Cheeseboard, & Keeler Estate Vineyards’ 2017 Terracotta Amphorae Riesling”
    • Jill of L’Occasion writes about “Peace, Bread, Land and Wine’: A Meal With Brooks Winery”
    • Jennifer of Vino Travels will share “Biodynamic Wines of the Willamette Valley with King Estate”
    • Lori of Dracaena Wines will present “Continuing the Biodynamic Legacy #WinePW
    • Jane from Always Ravenous pairs “Wild Alaskan Salmon with Herbed Ricotta and Oregon Pinot Noir”
    • Pinny of Chinese Food and Wine Pairings combines “Biodynamic Grüner Veltliner and Pinot Noir from Johan Vineyards Plus Surf ‘n’ Turf Dinner”
    • Linda of My Full Wine Glass shares “Ode to Oregon: Johan’s Biodynamic Expression of Place (#WinePW)”
    • Gwendolyn Alley from Wine Predator will present “Our land is our life and our life is our wine” — Cooper Mountain Pinot Paired with Duck #WinePW
    • Deana from Asian Test Kitchen has whipped up “Oregon Orange Wine Sparkles with Indian Curry”
    • Wendy Klik A Day in the Life on the Farm discovers “Dammit!! These are some great wines from Willamette.
    • Lauren Walsh of The Swirling Dervish will tempt us with “Pork Loin, Mushrooms, and Fiddlehead Ferns Meet Biodynamic Pinot Noir from Bergström Wines (#WinePW)”
    • Martin of Enofylz Wine Blog brings us “A Taste of Cooper Mountain Vineyards at the Table #WinePW
    • Jeff of Food Wine Click is pairing “Biodynamic Willamette Valley with Brick House and Harissa Chicken”
    • Jade of Tasting Pour will share “Thai Green Curry Rockfish and Montinore Estate Gewurztraminer #WinePW”



2 thoughts on “Yes, it matters where it comes from: Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Noir #OregonWineMonth

  1. I am such a huge fan of Rudy Marchesi and Montinore. I look forward to reading your piece! Thank you for spot lighting truth in labeling! Oregon is in the forefront in the US for raising the bar on this issue.


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