Tony Soter made his name with Cabernet Sauvignon in California at Spottswoode, as well as with his own Etude label. But to show he was serious about Oregon Pinot Noir, he relocated to the Willamette Valley. In 1997, with the help of his wife, he bought a 240 acre ranch in Yamhill-Carlton, first planting 15 acres of Pinot Noir, then another 15, and finally, 2 acres of Chardonnay. The time and energy he's devoted to the vineyard is evident in his intensely fruity, layered Pinot Noirs that do not sacrifice balance or focus for power. Recently, Soter has directed significant attention towards sparkling wines, made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. There is also a Cabernet Franc bottling from the vineyards surrounding the Soter home in Napa Valley.
Although wine-growing in Oregon stretches from the California border to Washington, for most wine lovers Oregon means the Willamette Valley, a temperate, ocean-influenced growing area extending from Portland south to Eugene, or roughly a hundred miles. The majority of the state's best producers are grouped around the towns of McMinnville, Carlton, Dundee, and Newberg, as well as near the state capital, Salem.
Oregon's past and future reputation as a world-class growing region rests squarely on Pinot Noir. Hyped in the early 1980s as the New World's answer to red Burgundy, Oregon Pinot Noir has steadily improved since then as local growers have discovered the best sites and done a better job matching clones to microclimates.
Oregon's Pinots typically feature exuberant cherry-berry aromas and flavors; varying degrees of spicy oak; medium body; and reasonable tannin levels. They generally carry moderate alcohol in the 12.5% to 14% range, lower than those of today's typical Pinots from California, although very warm years can bring wines with higher alcohol and more roasted flavors. Rarely austere or tough on release, the best Oregon Pinots gain in complexity with three to five years of bottle aging, and top wines from the most successful vintages can improve in bottle for a decade or more. ""Tender"" might be an apt description of the best Oregon Pinot Noirs.
Oregon Pinot Gris is usually fermented to complete dryness, and few examples see much oak. The top producers make brisk, highly aromatic, light- to medium-bodied wines that emphasize orchard fruits, often with citrus elements as well. These wines are excellent choices with a range of warm-weather fare and go especially well with light, fresh seafood preparations.