Gorgeous Red Berry Pinot Crafted With NASA Know-How
This is one of the most unforgettable Willamette Valley Pinot Noirs we tasted this year—and not just because it’s an under-$25 bottle that won 94 points and “Highly Recommended” status from Wine Spectator.
No, it’s remained on our minds primarily because the man who hand-delivered the bottles to our headquarters was Vidon’s founder and owner himself, Don Hagge. We can tell you that doesn’t happen very often. Don is among Oregon’s most fascinating winemakers: a charismatic, white-haired octogenarian with the energy of a man half his age, a former NASA astrophysicist, and a brilliant viticulturist whose way with soil goes back to his roots as a North Dakota farm boy. This masterful blend of three Pinot clones delivers everything we love about Chehalem Valley’s famed Jory soils and the state’s sensational 2014 vintage. Open-knit and silky, infused with briary strawberry and dried herb notes, finishing with long leathery spice, it’s a slam-dunk buy at $24.99. Shipping included on 4.
After a highly successful career as a trained particle physicist who worked on the Apollo Space program at NASA, Don Hagge retired in Oregon with wine on his mind. He had fallen in love with Burgundy while doing postdoctoral research work in France. He befriended Lynn Penner-Ash—one of Robert Parker’s top Pinot producers—who was then at Rex Hill, and who encouraged him to grow fruit. One day in 1999 while driving with his wife through the Chehalem Mountain hills, he saw a 20-acre vineyard for sale. It wasn’t much to look at, covered in scrub, poison oak, and empty 55-gallon barrels. But thanks to his friendship with Penner-Ash, he knew the spot was in direct proximity to Jacob Hill Vineyard, where Rex Hill sourced some of their best wines. Moreover, after exploring the property and lab-testing the soil, he confirmed it was Jory—famed in Oregon for its volcanic character, lending layered spice to the nose and palate.
Within days, Hagge bought the property and undertook an extensive overhaul of the site, carving out space for a small 5.2-acre Pinot Noir vineyard and winery. Combining his farming know-how from his North Dakota youth with the systematic approach honed through a career in advanced science, he was soon producing wines for local shops and restaurants and a rapidly growing wine club, whose demand he could hardly keep up with. His 3-Clone blend became hard to beat for rich texture and complexity, benefiting from the dark fruit of the Brigita Clone 777, the rich raspberry undertones of Mirabelle Clone 115, and the big-shouldered structure of Hans Clone Pommard.
In 2014, having doubled the property’s acreage, the winery switched to all estate fruit and witnessed one of the greatest Oregon vintages in recent memory, with a 96 point rating from Wine Spectator. This tremendous bottle captures all the balance and elegance of that vintage—at a tremendous value. “Highly recommended” by Spectator, and by us.