By Rose Murray Brown MW     Published in The Scotsman 22 October 2016

Burgundy enthusiasts might be surprised to hear that there is more Pinot Noir planted in Oregon, than in Burgundy itself.  Yet despite this – and that Oregon is America’s fourth largest wine state – Oregon wines barely register with UK wine lovers as so few are available here and those that are, are pricey (as is good Burgundy, of course).

Oregon’s first Pinot Noir was planted just over 50 years ago, in the early 1960’s when three California-trained winemakers headed to the Oregon Trail prospecting for cooler microclimates to grow this tricky grape.  First to plant was Richard Sommer at Hillcrest winery in warmer Umpqua valley in southern Oregon – closely followed in 1965 by Charles Coury near Forest Grove and David Letts of Eyrie Vineyards in cooler Willamette Valley just south of Portland – now the home to Oregon’s best wines.

Oregon wine stars reviewed by Rose Murray Brown MWIn a short time, Oregon became a major player with 20,500 acres (12,400 acres planted Pinot Noir) attracting investment even from Burgundians themselves, drawn to the red volcanic ‘Jory’ soils and cool microclimate of the Willamette.  What is interesting is that Oregon is now a bit like Burgundy itself, with all of its 420+ wineries ‘boutique’ in size (the largest King Estate is similar to a medium-sized Californian winery).  All are run by passionate Pinot enthusiasts driven by the search of the Pinot Noir Holy Grail making hand-crafted small batch wines from low yields.

So what can you expect from Oregon?  More fruit ripeness and primary and more cherried fruits compared to Burgundy’s lighter raspberry and strawberry flavours.  Many are distinctly ‘New World’ in their weight and ripeness, but some have a distinctive earthiness and savouriness like a succulent rich Beaune from a ripe vintage.

Oregon has other grapes, but they are hard to find and do not have the same cachet as the reds.  Pinot Gris is the most planted white – made in a richly textured Alsatian-style, but sometimes lacking subtlety.  Oregon Chardonnays have only recently improved now that better Dijon clones are being planted, in favour of the old US Davis clones.


(£22 Luvians, Cupar & St Andrews www.luvians.com; www.greatwesternwine.co.uk; www.highburyvintners.com)
Carlton-based winery Omero Cellars is a recent entrant to the Oregon scene.  Set up by chef David Moore and his father in 2008, they have a slightly different approach – as so many Oregon wineries just focus on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir it is refreshing to find other varietals.  Very Alsatian, rather than Italian, in style; fermented in old French oak, four months lees age gives a rich honeyed mouthfeel, quite spicy finish – needs food: 12%


The Wine Society Oregon Chardonnay reviewed by Rose Murray Brown MWBERGSTROM OLD STONES CHARDONNAY 2013
(£22 The Wine Society www.thewinesociety.com; Roberson Wine www.robersonwine.com)
Josh and Caroline Bergstrom returned to Oregon from France in 1999 to run their family winery set up by his Swedish parents John and Karen.  Their diverse range of Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs from 84 acres of iron rich red clay soils are some of the best Oregon wines on our shelves.  Tasted alongside Californian Chardonnay, this has great elegance, fruit concentration and minerality: 13.5%


(£16 The Wine Society www.thewinesociety.com)
Californian winemaker Tony Soter moved to Willamette Valley in Oregon in 1997 looking for a challenge – this is their biggest volume Pinot with 7 months French oak.  Floral hints, rich redcurrant fruits, soft rounded with a spicy edge.  Popular with our tasters: 13%

(£16.95 www.winedirect.co.uk; www.slurp.co.uk)       
Firesteed owner Howard Rossbach bought up the old Flynn winery in Willamette Valley, where he buys in grapes from other Oregon subzones like Umpqua, Rogue and Walla Walla blending accessible light-style Pinot Noir like this one.  Our tasters thought this offered great value in comparison to a Burgundy equivalent: 12%

Stafford Hill Pinot Noir reviewed by Rose Murray Brown MWHOLLORAN VINEYARDS STAFFORD HILL PINOT NOIR 2012
(£22 Swig online www.swig.co.uk)
Software designer Bill Holloran first began making Pinot Noir in a converted horsebarn in 1999; one of the early Oregon ‘garagistes’.  Today his tiny winery, the focus on low yields from across five vineyard sites.  Stafford is their second label from young 10-25 year old vines, offering an affordable approachable style with rich dark cherry aromas, hint of farmyard, spicy, supple showing good maturity – popular with our tasters: 14%

(£29.50 Oddbins www.oddbins.com; www.oxfordwine.co.uk; www.winetrust100.co.uk)
Burgundian Robert Drouhin of Joseph Drouhin was drawn to Oregon when his own red burgundies were beaten (twice) at a blind tasting competition by Oregon wines in the 1980’s.  His immediate reaction was to buy land in Dayton in Willamette Valley, where his daughter Veronique now runs their 73 hectare Oregon outpost.  Made in a classic Burgundian style, more restrained than others – but with fine elegant structure and lovely finish:

Lemelson Pinot Noir The Wine SocietyLEMELSON THEA’S SELECTION PINOT NOIR 2013
(£19.50 The Wine Society www.thewinesociety.com)
Ex-lawyer Eric Lemelson has a serious penchant for Pinot Noir; whilst still at law school he bought land in Willamette Valley and watched the fame of Oregon Pinot start to grow.  He planted his own first vines in 1995 and now has 120 acres.  His Pinots are particularly fine – Thea’s selection has a beautiful red fruit aroma, fine soft silky tannins, very refined.  An interesting alternative for anyone who normally buys Kiwi Pinots: 13%

Join Rose’s Oregon & California wine tasting at Abode Hotel, Bath Street, Glasgow on Friday 28 October £42 www.rosemurraybrown.com

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