Don't Let The Price Tag Fool You
The Willamette Valley needed a break. After a 2008 harvest that the Wine Spectator called 'near perfect,' Oregon's winegrowers rode the seesaw for three years. 2009 was warm, but acids were short. 2010 offered some beautiful, delicate Pinot Noirs and Pinot Gris, but lacked the New World concentration that so many consumers now crave. As to 2011, only the top estates -- like Penner-Ash, Beaux Freres, Solena Estate, Bergstrom and Domaine Drouhin -- managed to navigate that wet, chilly summer.
When we first read reports out of Oregon that described the valley's winegrowers as 'giddy' about their 2012s, we took it with a grain of salt. PR press releases rarely suggest anything less. But as we'd learn last week while cellar hopping in Yamhill-Carlton, the Eola Hills and Ribbon Ridge, this time the giddiness was warranted. You heard it here first, but the 2012 vintage in Oregon will be one of the hottest stories of the next twelve months.
The spring of 2012 was quite cold. Laurent Montalieu called us, openly concerned about a repeat of 2011. The April and early May chill resulted in an uneven set, he said, what the French call "les poules et les poulets" -- or the hens and the chickens. "Some of the berries were seedless and super sweet," the brilliant French enologist said. "Others were small and thick-skinned. We needed perfect weather from then on. If so, we'd have a great vintage. If not? We'd have more headaches."
On the undulating hillsides of Yamhill-Carlton, Montalieu's Solena Estate vineyard was carrying a small crop into July. "If all went well, we'd bring in three tons per acre of Pinot Gris, just over two of Pinot Noir." The first of July was a gorgeous, sunny day. Not a cloud in the sky, the hot sun bathing Solena. Every Oregon vintage features many days just like that one. Low humidity. Highs flirting with 90. "We're all used to those summer days. But we're not used to 110 days in a row EXACTLY like the first!"
For a miraculous 110 days, not a drop of rain fell. Temperatures were warm, but never blistering hot. A gentle wind blew through the valley, keeping the vines clean and fresh. The vines were intermittently irrigated, providing just enough water to keep them from going into hydric stress. Sugars climbed incrementally without sacrificing a gram of electrifying, small-berry acidity. Montalieu would harvest his Pinot Gris -- long one of Oregon's greatest examples of the luscious variety -- in the second week of October. The winemaker who we first met twenty-five years ago when he was ruling the roost at Willakenzie, told us that 2012 was one of the top two or three vintages of his Oregonian tenure. Our tasting at Solena -- both of Pinot Noir and this succulent Pinot Gris -- suggest nothing less.
The 2012 Solena Estate Pinot Gris is pale green-gold in color. Explosive on the nose, featuring ripe melon, white peach and orchard fruits, complicated by white flowers. Wonderfully juicy on the attack, with vibrant golden apple, exotic fruit concentration, gently kissed with just enough sweetness to keep the bracing, mineral finish in perfect balance.
Don't let the price tag fool you. This is rich, zesty, marvelously complex, mineral white -- from a miracle Willamette Valley vintage -- masquerading behind a far too affordable price tag.