Budding Interests: Yamhill Valley offers growing variety of Vitis vinifera
While Pinot Noir dwarfs all other varietals in overall production, the state is more than simply one variety. Oregon grows and produces an array of wines. In fact, while the first person to plant Pinot Noir, Richard Sommer — in the Umpqua Valley — is best known for that varietal, he also introduced Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay, Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel at HillCrest. The Yamhill Valley also followed, not necessarily with these specific varieties but with the spirit of experimentation. So what other varieties is this part of the Oregon wine scene championing? Of course, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay are definitely established, but others are becoming less of a surprise and more of a mainstay. For Scott Neal of Coeur de Terre Vineyard in the McMinnville AVA, points to Syrah. “Coeur de Terre, as well as Brittan Vineyards, has planted Syrah and, so far, I am very impressed with the wines coming from our AVA,” Neal notes. “Even though we will always be primarily known for Pinots, Syrah for our area has a vibrancy and life I have rarely seen. I am very excited to see how this varietal develops.” Neal also mentioned the AVA’s most unusual varietal with major potential: Grüner Veltliner. Neal’s goal for this Germanic grape is “vibrancy and acidity.” John Paul of Cameron Winery in the Dundee Hills AVA gives a nod to Nebbiolo and Friulano, which, to his knowledge, are the two most unusual varietals grown in Oregon’s famous Red Hills. “I grow both since I have a fascination with things on the edge,” Paul says. “The Friulano is a main constituent of my Giuliano blend and always gives wonderful things to that wine — grapefruit rind, floral components, mouthfeel. The Nebbiolo is a challenge since it is so different from any other red that I have ever dealt with. But, that being said, it is capable of producing complex wines reminiscent of Piedmonte wines from the same variety.” Tom Fitzpatrick, winemaker and general manager of Alloro Vineyard in the Chehalem Mountains AVA, says while Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are kings of their hill, it is their little-known Riesling that could join their nobility. “There are particular sites in the Willamette Valley with the proper mesoclimate that provides the conditions for Riesling to ripen very slowly, but allow for a late enough harvest to allow this variety to build beautiful and complex flavor and aroma.” In the Eola-Amity Hills, Janie Brooks Heuck of Brooks Wine also loves Germany’s famed white. “To make a great Riesling, you must have acid,” Brooks Heuck explains. “The Van Duzer Corridor provides strong winds in the afternoons and evenings that cool down the vineyards in the Eola-Amity Hills. This, combined with many higher elevation vineyard sites in the Eola-Amity Hills, allows for great acid retention in the grapes. A great environment to grow Riesling.” At the winery that crowned Pinot king, David Lett’s son, Jason, reflects on 50 years of his family’s quest of perfecting Pinot Noir, as well as Pinot Gris — Eyrie planted the first in the New World — but Jason also looks forward, continuing his father’s spirit of experimentation with a variety most have never heard: Trousseau Noir. Like father, like son. If Trousseau becomes as well-regarded as Pinot Noir, it will be another one for the record books.