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New Wines, New Faces: Lemelson Boldly Makes Oregon Pinot Noirs

Eric Lemelson brings his environmentalist's sensibility and the spirit of his inventor father to his Willamette Valley winery.

Harvey Steiman
Posted: August 8, 2003

"The crew calls it Starship Enterprise. Shall we take it for a spin?" asked Eric Lemelson, standing on a platform that does vaguely resemble a movie spaceship's control deck. It hovers over the space between two rows of stainless-steel fermentation tanks. Lemelson pulls a lever, and the deck swivels slowly, positioning an onboard destemmer directly over a tank.

"It rolls up and down the row so we never have to put the grapes through a pump," said Lemelson, 43, son of late inventor Jerome Lemelson, who held more than 500 patents, including one for the now-ubiquitous bar-code reader.

Eric himself designed the "Enterprise" to fit into his state-of-the-art Lemelson winery, which specializes in Oregon Pinot Noir. The innovative building -- made of sustainable materials wherever possible -- cascades down a hill, so all the wine is gently moved by gravity. "The idea is to do handmade wines at 10,000 to 12,000 cases," said Lemelson, a former environmental attorney.

Lemelson's first vintage was 1999, and he's up to 5,000 cases with the 2002 vintage. Since the beginning, the wines have been made by Canadian Thomas Bachelder, but he left this spring to manage Le Clos Jordan, a new Pinot Noir winery in Ontario.

The current releases, from 2000, show jazzy qualities; pure fruit character with intensity, but not weight; and tannins that are present, but don't bite. The Stermer Vineyard 2000 (92 points, $38), for example, bursts with raspberry, cherry and white pepper flavors. The supple Thea's Selection 2000 (91, $29) has a core of appealing plum and blueberry fruit. Also from 2000 are the Reed & Reynolds Vineyard (90, $38) and Jerome Reserve (90, $44) Pinots, along with Wascher Vineyard Chardonnay (87, $26) and Tikka's Run Pinot Gris (not rated). Future vintages will include more single-vineyard wines from Lemelson's six sustainably farmed sites.

Before becoming a lawyer, Lemelson, who has lived in Oregon since 1979, worked for U.S. Rep. Ron Wyden, now a senator, focusing on environmental issues. He also worked on Gary Hart's presidential campaign in 1984.

A taste of Beaux Frères Pinot Noir 1993 in a restaurant "turned a light on in my head," he recalled. "If I could make a wonderful beverage like this, that would be a great way to spend the rest of my life." In 1995, he planted his first vineyard on a farm he had bought several years earlier, on Chestnut Hill, in Willamette Valley.

Working with the vines persuaded Lemelson to plunge headlong into the wine world. Some of the seed money came from his father, even though he was a teetotaler. "He would never understand why someone would pay a lot of money for a bottle of wine, but he was supportive," Eric said. Perhaps Jerome recognized an inventor's spirit in his son for tackling the notoriously challenging Pinot Noir.

"We know we can't make Burgundy in Oregon," said Lemelson, "but there are certainly lessons to be learned from the Old World. It's a sensibility about what the wine should be."

Photo by John Rizzo

Lemelson Vineyards
Carlton, Oregon
Telephone: (503) 852-6619
E-mail: info@lemelsonvineyards.com

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To read other profiles of the wine industry's rising stars, go to our New Wines, New Faces Index Page.

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