Four decades ago, Oregon was not even a speck on the fine wine horizon. Yet, a few calendar flips later, it has become a high-profile player on the American wine scene. How? By attracting the kind of pioneer who would not take no for an answer.
It all started in the 1960s when David Lett arrived in Oregon looking for a cool climate in which to plant the state’s first Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, Burgundy’s regal cool-climate grapes. Chardonnay is grown throughout the wine world with varying degrees of success. But few regions can produce fine Pinot Noir, a delicate, temperamental, fascinating grape that prefers marginal climates to benign ones.
Lett found the climate he was seeking in Willamette Valley, where he purchased some land, named his new property The Eyrie Vineyards and planted his first four acres of vines. At the same time, he planted another cool-climate grape, Pinot Gris, as an experiment. In 1971, Lett produced this country’s first successful Pinot Gris wine. By 1985 there were three Oregon Pinot Gris producers. Today, with more than 75 Oregon wineries making Pinot Gris, it is the state’s major white wine.
Currently available Eyrie Vineyards wines include:
Pinot Gris 2002 — a gutsy, fullbodied wine with a spicy, flirty attitude, great character and great taste ($15)
Chardonnay 2000 — not one of those weighty, oaky Chardonnays, this one is rich yet understated, sings to the taster in perfect harmony and exquisite balance ($22)
Pinot Noir 2001 — a pretty wine, all berries and warmth, softness and delicacy, just emerging into young adulthood ($27)
Pinot Noir Reserve 2000 — a beautiful, seductive wine, fine satin in texture, elegant, rich and sublime in taste ($45)
Pinot Noir Reserve 1999 — almost voluptuous, a rarity for this grape, which is classically rather light in color and body; gorgeous, enticing ($47)
Today, there are more than 200 wineries in Oregon, including such fine producers as Adelsheim, Ponzi, Sokol Blosser and Domaine Drouhin Oregon, owned by the Burgundian shipper Robert Drouhin. And it all started with David Lett’s first four acres.
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