The Spectator's Perfect Pinot
In late August 2008, we called Harry Peterson-Nedry, the legendary Oregon Pinot Noir-maker at Chehalem to get an update on the upcoming harvest. "We're way behind," Harry told us. "More so than I can ever recall. And from the look of the weather patterns, I'm not sure when things will turn around."
While the winters are notoriously damp and cold, the Willamette Valley is known for its sun-filled, dry summers. But in the summer of 2008, Nature simply wasn't cooperating. June and July had been chilly and gray. The vines, already off to a slow start, seemed stuck in Oregonian mud. Meticulous growers were obliged to drop fruit early on, hoping to jumpstart maturity, reducing potential yields by as much as 50%. When we spoke with Harry in late summer, even the coolest customer in the Willamette Valley couldn't help but wonder where things were headed. "You have to be philosophical about it. No one forced me to plant Pinot Noir on Ribbon Ridge. I always knew it was risky. Maybe this will be the year that I'll finally pay the piper."
But as September rolled in, the sun arrived on cue. The thermometer climbed into the low 90s, even as nighttime temperatures plummeted into the 40s. When we called Harry on September 10 for an update, he'd become cautiously optimistic. "If the rains come early, we're done." He advised. "But if the heat sticks around, we could have something really special on our hands."
In what would turn out to be the highest-rated Pinot Noir vintage in Wine Spectator history, Willamette Valley winegrowers were treated to a magical late October harvest. Yields were tiny on Ribbon Ridge, less than 2 tons per acre. The berries were tiny, Harry told us, "No larger than mountain blueberries." Sugar and acid were in perfect harmony.
In November 2010, the article hit the Wine Spectator homepage that would send Oregon wine country into orbit. Reporter Tom Fish alerted the world to editor Harvey Steiman's upcoming report, writing that Spectator would drop its first 100-point rating on a coastal Pinot Noir vintage.
The doom and gloom of August 2008 had given birth to a bevy of single-vineyard Pinot Noirs that combined plush New World opulence with riveting acid backbone -- none more so than Peterson-Nedry's top wine, the 2008 Ridgecrest Vineyard Pinot Noir.
Like each of the top estates in Oregon, Chehalem would sell its tiny production of 2008 Pinot Noir on release -- except for the few-dozen cases that were held back for the tasting room library. Last week, while in Oregon tasting the stunning 2012s, we dropped in on Harry. Then we did what we're paid to do, convincing him to pry open the Chehalem library doors.