Oregon pinot noir offers an ideal opportunity to explore the effects of terroir, as the state’s main wine region, the Willamette (rhymes with ‘dammit’) Valley features two main soil types, each with its own expression in the wine.
I explore these expressions in my column this week in The Washington Post, written after my enjoyable sojourn in McMinnville at the International Pinot Noir Celebration.
The Oregon wine industry leads the way in the United States in sustainable, organic and biodynamic viticulture. There is a state certification for sustainable viticulture and a regional group called “LIVE” - that's Low Input Viticulture and Enology – that stresses environmentally friendly practices in the vineyard and in the winery. Its members include familiar names such as Adelsheim, Bethel Heights, Chehalem, and Rex Hill, among many others. LIVE works with the “Salmon Safe” certification that monitors wineries for practices that protect fisheries, and the IOBC, the International Organization for Biological and Integrated Control of Noxious Animals and Plants. (Whew – that's a mouthful!)
This environmental consciousness is to be applauded, for it stands to reason that healthier land will produce healthier grapes and better wine. No one can prove that yet, and any honest winemaker will admit that bad wine can be made from great grapes, and no great wine can be made from bad grapes. So maybe land wins out over the winemaker’s hand, after all.
Price, of course, is always a factor. Oregon has positioned itself in the $35 - $55 range for fine wines, and is beginning to feel the pinch of the recession, as luxury wines from other regions such as Napa Valley experience steep price cuts. Oregon pinot noir has not yet responded to this pressure, though Ted Casteel of Bethel Heights said his winery will be increasing production of its regular cuvee and de-emphasizing its top wines with the 2009 harvest.
Even without the economic climate making its presence felt (yet) on the price of Oregon pinot noir, there are several that provide good value at $25 or less. Here are a few worth seeking out, in alphabetical order:
A to Z Pinot Noir 2007, Oregon, $20
Anne Amie Cuvee A Pinot Noir 2007, Willamette Valley, $25
Benton Lane Pinot Noir 2007, Willamette Valley, $25
Firesteed Pinot Noir 2007, Oregon, $18