We can’t talk about the Pinot Noir style spectrum without a trip to Oregon, where some of the most refined, Burgundian Pinot Noirs are created — most notably from the Willamette Valley. Coincidentally, this part of our country shares the same latitude as some of France’s most prestigious winemaking regions. And so it is that Left Coast Cellars has named their most notable Pinot Noir vineyard Lattitude 45°.
While attending this year’s Wine Blogger’s Conference in Santa Rosa, California, I was alerted to the passing of Patricia Green, co-founder and winemaker of Patricia Green Cellars. Though I never had the pleasure of meeting Patty in person — in fact, I’ve yet to visit the winery either — she absolutely impacted my wine life. In fact, I dare say, she is the woman who gifted me my love of wine. So I dedicate this post to Patricia Green — her life, her legacy, and the influence she had on me as both a wine lover and wine writer.
There’s something special about Pinot Noir from Oregon’s Willamette Valley. I can never put my finger on exactly what it is, though. The region spans from coastal-setting to mountain-scape, and you wouldn’t think it would be that different from our Northern Californian Wine Country. But perhaps it’s because most wineries are small, often family-run boutiques; maybe it’s because Oregon, on the whole, is quite a young wine-producing region, unblemished by age, wear, and tear; or it could be because the Willamette, like Burgundy is located at 45 degrees latitude and that’s just the Pinot Noir sweet spot.
Whatever it is, I find that some of the most refined (most Burgundian, if you will) American Pinot Noirs come from this little pocket of the New World.
Vermentino — a grape predominantly celebrated in Italy, is a rare find in the New World of wine. Although a few West Coast producers (Bailiwick, Tablas Creek, and Uvaggio to name a few) are beginning to see the benefits of working with this sturdy grape variety. A vigorous grower, Vermentino does well in warmer climates: it’s resistant to drought, thrives on less fertile soils, and usually ripens at the peak of the harvest cycle. Vermentino vines are often planted along slopes facing a major body of water so they’re exposed to additional light and warmth due to the reflected light. In fact, if you look at those three major producers previously mentioned, you’ll notice that they source their grapes from similarly situated terroir, despite the fact that one sources from Lake County, while the others source from Sonoma Coast.
Troon Vineyard, located in the Applegate Valley of Southern Oregon also benefits from ideal Vermentino conditions. Situated amongst the Siskiyou Mountains, the lowest of Troon Vineyard’s vines sits at 1400 feet. Here, where the soil is predominantly granitic in nature, the vines will receive even more warmth, as granite is heat-absorbent. All this elevation and warmth is balanced by Troon’s proximity to the Pacific Ocean in relation to their position near the Rogue River Valley: the cool marine air funnels through the valley, decreasing the temperature of the vineyard up to 40 degrees Fahrenheit during the nights. Thus, the grapes are allowed to ripen while still maintaining a naturally high level of acidity.
I’m not going to lie, besides the chance to taste my first single varietal Tannat, one of the things that drew me to Troon Vineyard was the opportunity to taste my first “orange wine.” This, of course, refers to the wine’s color, achieved by keeping the grape-skins on during fermentation — much like the process used for making red wine. This can be done with any white grape, most commonly Pinot Gris, but Troon Vineyard takes an interesting approach with their whole grape fermented Riesling.