Have you ever heard someone say they are “not much of a Pinot person”? While this statement may have some clutching their pearls (this is the Willamette Valley, after all!), I think almost everyone can find a Pinot Noir they connect with – but it’s a matter of selecting the right vintage! Pinot Noir is well known for its chameleon-like qualities – Pinot can express itself a million different ways. Using cues such as vintage (the year the fruit was grown) or terroir (the environment that produces a wine: climate, soil, vineyard, etc), you can find a Pinot that you love to drink.
We’re going to take a quick look at 3 of the Willamette Valley’s last vintages – 2016, 2017, and 2018. All three of these vintages produced wines that are delicious to drink now, or cellar – cool climate Pinot Noir’s will age wonderfully, particularly our Barrel Selects or Limited Reserve Pinot Noirs! But the dramatically different climate and growing seasons have produced very different characters in each vintage. Let’s take a look!
The 2016 growing season was nothing short of astounding, as an early bud break resulted in one of the earliest harvests the Willamette Valley has ever seen. Overall an early and warm spring, the summer nights were quite cool. Our harvest was picture perfect, despite lower than average yields. This would be considered a cooler growing season, as it was absent of any significant heat spikes and cooler evenings.
The result is a refined, delicious, easygoing sort of Pinot Noir. These wines are characterized by balanced acidity, displaying a beautiful combination of red fruit, spice, and earth, with a refreshing mouthfeel. We frequently hear that people get notes of cherry cola from our 2016 Pinot’s! More medium bodied, these wines are so pleasing and would be perfect on their own, or ideal for a Pinot Noir traditionalist. Start with our 2016 Pinot Noir Cuvee – a blend of multiple vineyard sites, it’s the perfect easy drinker to enjoy over a cheese board with friends.
After a few years of early harvests, 2017 was much warmer, and marked a return to what could be considered Oregon’s traditional weather, and growing season. Our spring was rainy and cold, while summer was hot and dry, resulting in a mid-September harvest date.
Our 2017 vintage reminds us of our 2015 vintage – these wines are juicy and fruit forward, with ripe red fruit notes of raspberry and cherry. Spices like cracked black pepper characterize the finish of these wines. Slightly more robust than some other Pinot’s (but still a comfortably medium bodied wine), this would be an ideal vintage to pair with a roasted pork loin or juicy Bleu Cheese burger (not that we discourage having a glass or two on its own!). If you’re looking for a perfect representation of our 2017 vintage, try our 2017 Barrel Select Pinot Noir!
Oh, boy – where to start! 2018 was warm – by far the warmest of the three years we’re looking at today. And, it was a drought year, resulting in more stressed vines. Although mid-September rain helped to mitigate some of the intensity of the year, the spring and summer were both hot, and dry – and that intensity translated into the wine itself.
Due to the hotter growing conditions, these wines are bold, darker, and more powerful than previous vintages. They’re displaying a remarkable amount of maturity, despite their young age. Redolent with dark fruits like blackberry, currant, and more unusual spices like licorice, these are my go-to recommendations for people who enjoy Pinot’s with a “presence”, and are looking for more tannin and energy from their Pinot Noir. If you like a bold, dark fruit forward Pinot Noir – 2018 is your vintage.
If you’re looking for a 2018 to start with, we’d recommend our 2018 Barrel Select Pinot Noir. The boldest vintage of the three we’ve talked about and the most tannic, enjoy a glass on its own if you prefer bolder reds, or pair it with a delicious tomato based pasta.
So, which vintage of Pinot Noir are you starting with?! The subtle 2016’s, the juicy 2017’s, or the bombshell 2018’s? Or maybe one of each! If you can’t pick, come on out to the tasting room. We feature all three vintages on our tasting flights regularly and have multiple bottles available exclusively by Coravin pour.