Pinot Noir, 2015

  Eyrie Vineyards

Pinot Noir

They Eyrie Pinot Noir Willamette Valley is probably the estates most recognisable wine. It represents everything the Letts stand for; patient gimmick free winemaking producing an elegant wine with wonderfully nuanced fruit. In 2015, a warm, early stress-free vintage, the estate bottling of Eyrie Pinot Noir was primarily destemmed and fermented using native wild yeasts in small open top fermenters. Around 3.8% of the final blend was whole bunch fermented. The resulting wine has an appealing transparency of flavours that veer from spice to wild plum then violets, then a bittersweet, salty hedgerow note and stony, ferrous minerality towards the finish. Texture and delicacy are the hallmarks here, with surprising depth of fruit for a wine that demands so little. Lovely indeed, and a wine that will still have things to say when the end of the bottle is reached.

Contains Sulphites.

About Eyrie Vineyards

Eyrie Vineyards were the first people to plant vines in Oregon. It was back in February 1965 that David Lett planted the very first Pinot Noir in the Willamette valley and since that time the Eyrie Vineyards name has become synonymous with modest yet visionary people, producing some of the region’s most elegant and long-lived wines.

Today little has changed, bar perhaps better understanding of what makes these wines so unique. There remains a deep connection between the work in the vines and the wines in the cellar. Jason, David’s son, has been at the helm since 2005 and has made minor tweaks that contribute to greater precision in the wines, but little else. A gentle touch approach in the vineyards (none of the Eyrie vineyards have ever been fertilized; cover crops provide nutrient balance) is carried through into the winery. Fermentations are spontaneous, extractions are still exceptionally gentle, the whites see skin contact and extended lees ageing, and new oak usage in the cellar remains tiny. In an average year just 5 or 6 new barrels are introduced to the 300 in the cellar. Some of the casks are ancient indeed.

All of this adds up to a precise and detailed approach that is only ever delicately applied. The resulting style of the wines, across whites and reds, is one governed by this patient, hands-off winemaking and articulated in a series of gentle and elegant, yet generous and famously age-worthy wines. Power is eschewed in favour of refinement, force makes way for nuance. The Estate Pinot Noir is joined by a number of highly individual single vineyard Pinot Noir selections. Alongside this sit two less obvious red varieties, Trousseau, inspired by a trip to the Jura, and Pinot Meunier – the finest example of this we’ve tasted as a still red wine. In whites the Eyrie production is also famously long lived, perhaps even more so! The Pinot Gris include an estate bottling and one from the Original Vines block. They offer glorious textures and full bodies but also a calm caressing complexity.

Appellation: Willamette Valley

Compared to Napa, Oregon’s Willamette Valley feels like true farming country. Driving through the valley is to drive through agricultural fields, with sporadic timber framed buildings and rusting farm machinery behind white picket fenced yards. It was and still is Mennonite land and was only officially recognised as an AVA in 1983.

The hills, unsurprisingly are where the vineyards are planted, and these are still to an extent being discovered, mapped and truly understood. There are hundreds of wineries, most of them pretty small in scale, and myriad vineyards ranging in elevation from 300-1000ft with every aspect imaginable. Soil types range from Basalt, uplifted marine sedimentary soils to windblown loess. Many of the very finest spots are only now being discovered.

Pinot Noir is what the region is famous for, but as Walter Scott are demonstrating, Chardonnay is increasingly proving itself capable of greatness. Pinot Gris here, as in the hands of the Eyrie Vineyards, can also be fascinating. In weather terms the there’s far more winter rain than in California, while summers tend to be warm and dry. The valley is bounded by the Cascade Mountains to the east, protecting the valley from the worst of the desert heat, and the Coastal Range to the west, moderating rainfall and holding the worst of the cold pacific weather fronts at bay. Also notable is a low point in the coastal range known as the Van Duzer corridor which funnels cool air into the valley, drawn in by the warmer inland temperatures. This air-conditioning effect generates cooling afternoon breezes and regular evening fog, a real boon for maintaining good acidities in great Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

There are 6 recognised AVAs within the larger Willamette Valley AVA, each with its own set of characteristics, detailed below. Approval for all of them happened as recently as between 2004 and 2006. Travelling roughly clockwise from the North East of the Valley, closest to Portland, they run from Chehalem Mountains, Dundee Hills, Eola-Amity Hills, McMinnville, Yamhill Carlton, and Ribbon Ridge.

Grape Type: Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir is the classic grape of red burgundy, whose greatest wines are concentrated in the east and south-east-facing clay/limestone hills of Burgundy's Côte d'Or. A notoriously temperamental variety, Pinot Noir has proved difficult to grow in certain climates and soils and will not tolerate over-cropping. The best examples have wonderfully expressive aromas and thrillingly pure bitter sweet red forest fruit and cherry flavours, developing truffle and game overtones with age. At their greatest they offer a lightness with intensity and are transparent enough to magnify the characteristics of the terroir in which they are grown. Outside of Burgundy, Pinot Noir has had great success in New Zealand, coastal California, Oregon, Hemel en Aarde in South Africa and the more marginal, cooler districts in Australia. Along with Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir is also one of the major components of Champagne.