For Pinot Noir, the vineyard defines the potential of any wine made from its grapes. As Oregon has established itself, every winery with ambition seems to compete for access to the same well-known independent vineyards—among them Shea, Guadalupe, Hyland, Meredith Mitchell, Momtazi, Stoller, Temperance Hill and Freedom Hill. In my own tastings and on visits in Oregon recently, unfamiliar names are starting to show their moxie. Two vintners, in particular, make a point of it.
"Every famous vineyard you know is well-known because the right people got behind it," said Drew Voit, proprietor of Harper Voit. "I didn't want to be just another guy making Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir. I want to be on the side that finds something new. It's one of the defining characteristics of my brand."
His list includes Bieze, in Eola-Amity Hills. Just to the west and above Seven Springs, Evening Land's estate vineyard, it grows the Calera clone from California, a rare choice for Oregon. The savory 2012 shows distinctive root beer flavors, finishing long and expressive.
Antiquum lies at 750 feet in the Coast Range, closer to Eugene than McMinnville, farther south than most well-known vineyards. Its mint note and fine-grain tannins add up to appealing complexity as the finish lingers. The just-bottled 2013 is supple and expressive, with real elegance.
Huntington Hill, near Perrydale, gets cool winds through a gap in the Coast Range nearly every summer afternoon at one of Voit's four favorite sites that all get less wind on the lee side of wraparound hills. The 2012 shows the chewy texture wind often produces, but it's supple underneath, with pretty cherry fruit. The new 2013 Perrydale Hills bottling shows fresh and vibrant flavors on an open texture.
For her new winery, ex-Evening Land winemaker Isabelle Meunier divided her sources for 2014 among the six Willamette Valley sub-AVAs. She wants to explore the differences among vineyards "with maturity and yet with more potential." Among them are Tualatin Estate, originally planted in 1974, more recently with some Dijon clones. Others fermenting away for her first vintage were Seikonnen in Ribbon Ridge, on slopes that face Bergström's vineyard (2001 plantings), and Lazy River, one of the few sites in Yamhill-Carlton on Jory soils (2001 plantings).
She also buys from Nysa in Dundee Hills, but only grapes from the familiar vineyard's 2006 vines. "Someday those original vines will have to be replaced, and these will be the old vines," she smiled. She also has some Bieze and Elton in Eola-Amity Hills, planted in 1993 and 1994.
Many of these growers can expand their production or allot more to her winery. She also hopes to find somewhere to plant an estate vineyard and build a winery with her business partner, Greg Ralston, the former CEO of Evening Land. Meanwhile, she makes wine from a very personal selection of vineyards, "a little exploration of what Oregon has to say."