April 7, 2008

Willamette Valley Vineyards Whole Cluster Pinot

Pinot Noir / $19
Wilamette Valley / Oregon

A good friend just returned from Portland, and picked up some Oregon Pinot Noir for us to try. We tasted three wines, all in the $20 range. Only one stood out, and for the $20 price tag, Willamette Valley Whole Cluster Pinot is a fabulous value.

Oregon is a hotbed for American Pinots. There is very little difficulty in finding 20 or more at your favorite wine store. The difficulty is finding one you like at the $20 price point.

Jim Bernau purchased the estate in 1983. A former plum orchard, this land was well suited to the cool climate varietals he wanted. He cleared the the old orchard and planted his first Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris taking care to hand water the vines until established.

For Jim, passion of the grape is shared with passion for the environment. Stewardship is a catchword in much of his winery literature. He has implemented a variety of programs to limit the winery's carbon footprint. Recycled corks, free bio fuel for his employees, credit for each returned empty bottle or cardboard shipper are just a few of the innovative programs in place.

Willamette is one of the few vineyards certified sustainable. They plant, maintain and harvest their grapes using methods safe to the local watersheds and wildlife. This is expensive stuff that certainly effects the bottom line. You would not find this type of environmental consciousness at a corporate owned vineyard. Kudos to Jim and company for their work. The best way to let wineries know that this environmental consciousness is appreciated is to buy their wine. (Allow me to now step off my soapbox...)

Lets talk about the wine a bit. It pours a beautiful clear ruby color. Swirling the wine releases loads of strawberry, raspberry and candied fruit aromas. You can tell from the nose this is going to be a hedonistic wine. The strawberry leads the charge when tasted, with raspberry, cherry and a bit of spice following closely. It has a nice mid-palate with an interesting cherry coke nuance. The finish, although not long, is pleasant. All too often Pinot in this range has bitterness or off tastes on the finish. The wine is generally well balanced, dangerously easy to drink, and will be a crowd-pleaser wherever served.

This wine is delicious. I was genuinely surprised at the $19 price tag. I spoke with a representative of the vineyard who promised to follow up to provide some local retailers for this wine. The beauty of a smaller winery is the care they take to make their wines. The difficulty of the smaller winery is finding a reliable distribution channel for their product. It is times like these I wish I lived in Oregon.

In the DC area, these wonderful wines can be found at Schneiders of Capitol Hill, Paul's, Pearson's and Rodman's all on Wisconsin Avenue in DC. Call to be sure they have the 2007 in stock, and let me know if you find the 2006....I'd love to taste them side by side.

These guys have a great website. You can read all about their wines, company philosophy and more importantly, order these wine on-line.

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