It’s been a hectic six weeks. However, before more time slips away, I want to wrap up my visits to Oregon wineries. (On my first day in the Willamette Valley I tasted at Argyle, Domaine Drouhin and Erath, on Day 2 I visited Bethel Heights, Evening Land and Ponzi.)
Saturday morning dawned a little cooler. It was a beautiful 15-minute drive from the Allison Inn and Spa to Bergström Wines, where I was greeted by general manager, winemaker and vineyard manager Josh Bergström.
His first vintage was 1999, when he purchased fruit from Archery Summit. He added fruit from both Shea and Temperance Hill vineyards over the years. Today, Bergström farms five estate vineyards totaling 100 acres. Including the fruit from Temperance Hill, the vineyards are in five of the Willamette Valley's six subappellations. The estate vineyards are farmed biodynamically and are either certified or in the process of being certified by Demeter.
Bergström is bullish on Chardonnay. “What I’m really focusing on now is the potential for Chardonnay,” he noted, adding that Oregon’s versions lie between white Burgundy and California Chardonnay in style.
Despite Chardonnay representing only 10 percent of Bergström’s production, all of the estate vineyards have some Dijon clones of Chardonnay, much of which will come on line over the next three years. “Gregory and Pre du Col Vineyards are younger sites just producing first crops in 2008, 2009 and 2010,” explained Bergström.
There are two Chardonnays in the cellar, Old Stones and Sigrid, named after Josh Bergström’s grandmother. He looks for minerality ("an Oregon minerality I call wet stones") and texture.
All the vineyards are picked separately. The grapes are pressed as whole clusters and fermented in a mix of stainless steel tanks, neutral oak and new oak barrels using both indigenous and isolated Burgundian yeast strains. The Sigrid is a 10-barrel selection.
The Chardonnay Willamette Valley Old Stones 2008 offered nice ripeness, with flavors of peach, quince and a touch of citrus. Lively and elegant, it showed more spice than mineral at this stage, finishing long.
The Chardonnay Willamette Valley Sigrid 2008 was very compact and tight, revealing lime, hazelnut and fine harmony, with the texture of a well-knit fabric. The finish evoked mineral.
“I think Oregon is still too young to have single-vineyard Chardonnays that are going to hit the mark every year,” said Bergström, referring to his multisite Willamette appellation approach.
For the reds, we started with the Pinot Noir Yamhill-Carlton District Shea Vineyard 2008, what Bergström called his “American-style Pinot Noir, big and luscious.” The Shea vineyard covers both the east and west sides of the mountain with an elevation of 300 feet from top to bottom, thus there is a lot of variation. Bergström’s source comes from five different clonal blocks grown on the east hill (Pommard, Wadenswil and three Dijon clones). The nose expressed violet, black currant and blackberry notes matched to a silky, fruit-forward palate with well-integrated tannins and hints of earth and spice on the finish.
The Pinot Noir Chehalem Mountains de Lancelotti 2008 offered fine depth with aromas of black cherry and black currant allied to a dense, raw silk texture. This had an inner strength ending in a long aftertaste of licorice and spice.
There’s a 15-acre Bergström Vineyard in the Dundee Hills AVA. The 2008 from there was reserved, its black cherry and spice flavors densely woven, though it was pure, balanced, vibrant and long.
In the cellar with Josh Bergström tasting the 2007 and 2008 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
The Pinot Noir grapes are mostly destemmed, though Bergström includes some whole clusters. After a 12-day cold soak, the fermentation takes place in tank. The new wine settles either in the tank or press and then goes into barrels.
Bergström prefers a pre-fermentation maceration to post. “I’m more of the [Henri] Jayer school, extracting in an aqueous solution rather than an alcoholic one,” he explained. “When you have a long pre-soak, the post-fermentation maceration in alcohol can extract bitter tannins quickly.”
Until the 2005 vintage, the single-vineyard Pinots matured in 100 percent new oak. Since the 2006 harvest, Bergström has pulled back to 30 percent new barrels.
Susceptibility to the spoilage yeast brettanomyces and pediococcus bacteria prompted the use of cultured lactic acid bacteria instead of spontaneous malolactic conversion, and there’s more attention to hygiene and detail today in the Bergström cellar.
The reds remain in barrel on the fine lees with more CO2 than in past years, with one racking before the blending and bottling. There is no fining and the last filtration was for the 2004 vintage.
Tony Soter, an Oregon native, moved back to his home state in 2006 from Napa Valley. He had purchased 240 acres in the Yamhill-Carlton District, planting Pinot Noir beginning in 2002. Thirty-two acres are planted to vines, mostly Pinot Noir and a little Chardonnay for sparkling wine.
The vines sit atop an east/west ridge, on well-drained marine sediment soils over sandstone. Soter was careful to plant the rows at the correct angle to mitigate sunburn and optimize the reception of light. “The key is to use the whole season to get the grapes ripe,” he said.
The Pinot Noir is a mix of Dijon clone 115 plus Pommard and Wadenswil heirloom selections. Yields are low, about 2 tons per acre. Soter has worked with organic techniques since 1985 and his Oregon site is LIVE certified, but not biodynamic.
Soter is also conscientious in the winery, moving to a lighter bottle and designing a carbon-neutral facility.
Soter made a dry, floral-, apple- and spice-flavored North Valley Hyland White 2008, a blend of 50/50 Riesling and Gewürztraminer that’s firm with a white pepper finish. There was also a Pinot Noir North Valley 2008, a mix of estate fruit and purchased grapes from six growers in Willamette Valley. It offers pretty red cherry, raspberry and floral notes matched to an elegant frame and a persistent finish. By blending from different sources, Soter seeks consistency over the different vintages (and vintages do matter in Oregon) while providing value.
Soter Vineyards' tasting lodge commands a spectacular view over the Yamhill-Carlton District in Oregon's Willamette Valley.
The Yamhill-Carlton District Pinot Noir Mineral Springs is from the “home” vineyard. We tasted four recent vintages. First up was the 2008, my favorite of the group. Purity was my first impression, revealing black cherry, violet and black currant aromas and flavors. Sweet fruit coated the palate and overall it combined elegance and intensity, dense and silky with a long finish. It will be released in October 2010.
The 2007 delivered an excellent effort in the difficult 2007 vintage. The aromas exuded leaf, mineral, gravel dust and cherry fruit. There was more red fruit expression than black, with tension between acidity and tannins connecting the fruit. It’s a bit more compact on the finish than the ’08, yet fresh.
In contrast, the 2006 was very ripe, smelling like macerated cherry with a touch of raisin. Fleshy and rich, in a more massive, chunky style, it showed concentration, ending in a long, saturated finish of black cherry and boysenberry.
The 2005, the first vintage of Mineral Springs, exhibited red cherry, raspberry and rose aromas, with spice accents beginning to develop. A light-weight version compared to the succeeding vintages, it bore a firm structure and long, smoky finish.
As a group, these were perhaps the most firmly structured wines I tasted on my Oregon visits, along with Evening Land and Argyle. When I asked Soter about this, he said that he likes long macerations, up to 30 days, with a typical regime consisting of three to four days natural pre-fermentation maceration, five to seven days fermentation with natural yeast, followed by 10 to 14 days of post-fermentation maceration on the skins and solids.
There’s one racking just before the assemblage and bottling after 14 to 15 months of maturation in barrel.
These are first-rate Pinots that should only improve as the vineyard ages.
Tom Miller — Vestavia Hills, AL — September 2, 2010 1:26pm ET
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