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harvey steiman at large

Oregon Pinot Noir Vintage 2006

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Oct 2, 2007 12:44pm ET

After tasting through more than a dozen leading Oregon wineries' 2006 Pinot Noirs last week, including some of the best in the state, I predict consumers will love them. The producers are of two minds. They know the wines will please many wine drinkers, but they regret the high alcohols inherent in the vintage.

"I call it a California year," says Rollin Soles of Argyle, "because the guys driving the forklift got a sunburn."

"This was a California vintage in Oregon," echoes Mo Ayoub, whose wine from his four-acre vineyard in Dundee Hills has become something of a cult favorite. "But it's the kind of Pinot Noir consumers want to drink."

What made it so? When I was there in late September 2006, rain was falling. Not much, but it came just as the grapes were getting ripe. Those who waited out several days of rain, and that includes most of the top guns, enjoyed a long, extended Indian summer. High pressure settled in over the eastern part of the state, turning the prevailing winds around. Usually, they blow in from off the coast, bringing cool sea air. In October, they came from the hot, dry interior.

"It was like the blow dryer turned on," laughs Josh Bergström. "The grapes dried up, and there was no rot."

"In fact, the grapes started to shrivel a little," adds Ken Wright, who makes wine from a wide range of sub-regions. "They got ripe, but they also came in at 27 or 28 (degrees brix)." That converts to more than 15 percent alcohol. Both 2004 and 2005 averaged less than 14 for the better wines.

And that's why they're calling it a California vintage. But, surprisingly, the flavors are not overripe and do not taste of dried fruit, which is what you might expect. In cellar after cellar, tasting just-bottled wines and some that were still in barrel, I found uniformly fresh fruit flavors. Despite high alcohols, the wines tasted balanced and integrated, and the flavors tended toward the raspberry end of the spectrum, with less plum and blackberry than usual.

The reason may be the size of the crop, Oregon's largest ever.

"If the mantra is one cluster per shoot," adds Soles, "and you expected two tons per acre, in 2006 you easily could have got three or four times that." Most of the top producers go through and strip bunches off the vines at various points during the summer, hoping to bring the vines back into normal yield ranges that will ripen properly.

More than a few winemakers say that they added water to the fermenters in 2006. Technically illegal, it clearly made better wine by bringing the alcohols into balance.

"The high alcohol was because the grapes had dehydrated, not because they had developed too much sugar on their own," explains one highly respected vigneron. "All we did was add back what had evaporated."

The results are praiseworthy. While not showing quite the finesse and elegance of the best of 2004 and 2005, two relatively cool and slightly wet vintages, at this point 2006s from the best producers show smooth tannins, fresh fruit flavors and great presence for early drinking.

You can taste it in some of the early releases, already on the shelves. Among mostly regional Pinot Noir blends, relatively delicate-tasting crowd pleasers include A to Z, O'Reilly's, Belle Vallée and Erath, all under $20. The few high-end wines already out include Sineann's entire range, which demonstrate the pleasure of the vintage well.

Ray Juskiewicz
Dallas —  October 2, 2007 2:23pm ET
Harvey, do you think larger crop = lower prices? It's supposed to be supply vs. demand, right?
Chris Haag
October 2, 2007 6:01pm ET
very exciting news indeed. We spent a week in Oregon this summer and had the fortune of going to a number of great wineries. I am looking forward to the wines.
Alan Snitow
NJ/NYC —  November 30, 2007 3:01pm ET
Thanks harvey. Overall then, would you chracterize the wines as typical for oregon or would you say 2006 representents an exception to the style of traditional oregon pinots?
Harvey Steiman
San Francisco, CA —  November 30, 2007 7:52pm ET
What's a typical Oregon vintage? Like 1998 or 2001-2003, which were very sunny and warm? Or 2004 and 2005, where rain refreshed the grapes? For me, 2006 tastes like a riper version of the latter ones, not quite as refined but very good.
Dennis Sullivan
West Hartford, CT —  March 13, 2008 12:06pm ET
Harvey, any chance you got to taste any of the 2006 Archery Summit Pinots? I'd be interested in your assessment......Dennis
Aaron Smith
Blacksburg, VA —  June 2, 2008 4:56pm ET
I'd very much like to hear about the Archery Summits as well!!
Harvey Steiman
San Francisco, CA —  June 2, 2008 7:31pm ET
Archery Summit bottles its Pinot Noirs after the succeeding vintage, so the '06s went into the bottle only last fall. The only ones released so far are small-volume bottlings sold only to the allocation list. I'll be tasting the general releases late summer. (I checked my taste dates on the '05s, and it was in early October 2007.)

I did taste some of the '06s in September from barrel at the winery, and liked what I tasted, but barrel samples are not necessarily indicative of what's coming in the bottle so I don't review them specifically. I only get a feel for the vintage, which looked promising.
C K Guttas
July 20, 2008 10:17pm ET
Harvey, will the WS do a review of at least 50 of the oregon pinots? I have had a few of the 2006s and they are wonderful. The market is lacking information on many of the second tier winerys and this seems like a great year to inform your coustome base of the great bargains available now at very reasonable prices.
Harvey Steiman
San Francisco, CA —  July 20, 2008 10:52pm ET
So far 71 Oregon Pinot Noirs from 2006 are in the online database. I'll taste more before the annual Oregon tasting report, which is published in December.
C K Guttas
July 21, 2008 8:54am ET
Well when i type in 2006 oregon pinot into the site search i get about 14 wines. I must be in need of search lessons
Harvey Steiman
San Francisco, CA —  July 21, 2008 6:38pm ET
Use the Advanced Options and select Pinot Noir for the Wine Type, Oregon for the Wine Region and 2006 for the vintage. (If you use the simple search and type in "Oregon Pinot Noir" you'll only get those that have an Oregon appellation, and none of those with Willamette Valley, Dundee Hills, etc.
C K Guttas
July 22, 2008 8:15pm ET
Thank you very much

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