Oregon's potential for Pinot Noir has long attracted winemakers from elsewhere. The earliest guys, including David Lett, Dick Erath and Dick Ponzi, came from California in the 1970s. Robert Drouhin from Burgundy made his first vintage at Domaine Drouhin Oregon in 1988. Earlier this year, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates of Washington bought Erath's winery and brand.
The latest big name snooping around in Oregon is Ernst Loosen. He's best known for making aromatic Rieslings at his Dr. Loosen estate in the Mosel and for Eroica, his joint venture with Ste. Michelle in Washington. But he has been making Pinot Noir in the Pfalz for 10 years. German Pinot Noir may not be on many Americans' radar, but Oregon Pinot Noir is, and that's why Loosen is vinifying a few barrels this fall in Oregon, with the idea that he may ramp up to several thousand cases and a vineyard of his own there.
There's a story in how it came about. The connection is Jay Somers, the winemaker at Holloran Vineyards in West Linn, on the Willamette River, south of Portland. He worked the 2004 harvest at Loosen's winery in the Mosel to learn about Riesling. When Loosen got interested in Oregon Pinot Noir, he followed up with Somers, who also makes small quantities of Pinot Noir under his own label, J. Christopher. Neither Holloran nor J. Christopher wines are widely available outside Oregon.
Together, Loosen and Somers agreed on a plan for their as-yet-unnamed winery. Loosen will supply the equipment, his palate and winemaking expertise. Somers will source the grapes and run the day-to-day operation. They agreed to start slow and make a few barrels this year. They might select a few barrels from J. Christopher's inventory to blend into a debut 2005 vintage. Somers will set aside a few barrels from 2006, which Loosen will evaluate in December, when he comes to Washington to blend Eroica.
If all goes well, they eventually want to push production to as much as 2,000 cases, and acquire a few acres of prime Pinot vines in Oregon where Loosen could have complete control over the vineyard. In the meantime, Somers' job is to develop long-term relationships with a few growers.
And maybe a name for the wine.
Taylor Mccammon — Beaverton, OR — August 31, 2006 1:54pm ET
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