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 4 of the Willamette Valley’s last vintages – 2016, 2017, 2018 & 2019. 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 aptly referred to as the “picture perfect” vintage was astounding in the perfect fruit chemistry’s and overall beautiful quality of the crop. An early budbreak kicked the season off with a warm spring, and transitioning into a warmer than usual summer. After 3 warm vintages in a row our vines were stressed for water which created small clusters and concentrated flavors in the fruit.
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.
2017 felt like a return to a more classic Oregon year, despite some warm events throughout the summer. Summer conditions in the Willamette Valley were warm and consistent, but without the heat spikes of the few previous years. The harvest was long as cooler weather and hazy air quality slowed down the ripening of the grapes. Overall a wonderful vintage with ripe, developed flavor profiles in addition to being well-balanced.
Our 2017 vintage reminds us of a more balanced 2015 vintage – these wines are juicy and fruit forward initially with gorgeous aromatics and earthy notes underlying the fruit. 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 -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 in this list this vintage makes for fantastic food pairing with a more bold or rich meal.
After a great start to the spring and summer, September of 2019 caught everyone off-guard and will long be remembered as an arduous and tense end to the growing season. Storm after storm rolled into the valley with barely days in between for the fruit to recover let alone continue ripening. At a time Susan thought we may have to throw the vintage as opposed to harvesting under ripe fruit. Finally after many storms we received a bout of warm dry weather and were able to coax the grapes to ripeness. The resulting vintage is delicate and austere. A vintage reminiscent of the early vintages of Willamette Valley Pinot noir. Full of promise for bottle age, this is a vintage that should be allowed time to develop fully.
So, which vintage of Pinot Noir are you starting with?! The subtle 2016’s, the juicy 2017’s, the bombshell 2018’s or the austere 2019’s? Or maybe one of each! If you can’t pick, come on out to the Estate or Bend Tasting Room!