Pinot Noir is a red grape renowned for it’s picky nature. Difficult to grow even under the most ideal conditions, it nevertheless is one of those varieties most winemakers yearn to produce a wine from at some point in their careers.
Its homeland is in Burgundy, but in the New World, it has been successfully grown and produced in several places including Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Located just south of Portland on the west coast of the US, the Willamette Valley is famous for it Jory loam soils and its Pinot Noir.
This finicky grape demands a perfect climate and growing conditions. It has lower pigments and tannins than other red grapes and origins that date back over 2000 years. The Willamette offers a continental climate with maritime influence from the Pacific Ocean. The diurnal shift here is significant and allows the grapes to retain high acidity as a result of cool evenings and cool maritime breezes during the warm days. There is plenty of rain but at the right times of the year and the summers are long and very warm.
Especially prone to spontaneous mutations in the vineyard, Pinot Noir has many different clones for growers to chose from. Most vines grown in the Willamette these days are Dijon clones.
Pinot Noir buds early and as such is susceptible to spring frost and coulure. Its skins are quite thin making it prone to mildew and rot and it’s also prone to viruses such as fanleaf and leafroll. I know – you’re thinking, ‘Wow – what a catch! Why bother?’
Well, truth be told, when grown in the right conditions, with the right yields and vinified appropriately, it is capable of producing some of the most interesting and elegant wines of the world.
There are only about 7,600 ha growing in Oregon (compared to 26,300 in France and 24,000 in California), but those hectares are attracting some serious interest amongst buyers. The area was initially established by growers including David Lett from Eyrie and Dick Erath (Erath Winery) and eventually others moved in. The Drouhins from Burgundy were the first from the Old World to agree regarding the area’s potential. Large companies have moved in recently from California and things are likely to change significantly in the Willamette as a result of this interest.
Alexana is located in the Red Hills and the grapes are grown at about 200m. This wine is clear and bright, medium ruby with legs. On the nose it’s clean and developing, medium plus intensity, aromas of cherry, cedar frond, raspberry, tobacco leaf and leather as it opened.
The palate is dry with medium plus acidity, medium body, medium ripe, velvety tannins, medium plus intensity, flavours of red cherry, crunchy pomegranate, raspberry, cedar, clove, earth and minerality and leather. The finish is medium plus.
This wine made by Lynn Penner-Ash is WSET ‘Very Good’. Fruit forward, crunchy and fresh, as it opened up it showed increasing leather and complexity. Drinking now and with the tannins and strong acidity is suitable for ageing.
Credit Mike Woods Photography