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Oregon’s 2012s Are Just the Controversy the State Needs

A riper vintage challenges stylistic considerations
Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: Nov 10, 2014 12:00pm ET

A controversy over the 2012 Oregon Pinot Noirs is the best thing that could happen to this exciting region. 

Oregon isn't my beat, and I don't get to try as many wines as my colleague Harvey Steiman. But I've tasted enough of the 2012 Pinot Noirs to believe this is a monumental, game-changing vintage, one that is likely to give many Pinot lovers pause to take a closer look at these exciting wines.

It's also shaping up to be a divisive vintage because the wines are so different than what is typically produced in Oregon. Imagine people suggesting this is a California-style vintage (the wines are riper, richer and darker), or that Oregonians are abandoning and redefining their concept of what constitutes true Oregonian, or cool-climate, Pinot Noir.

Oregon wines are tasted in our Napa office. Since tasting room No. 2 in Napa is right next to mine, at the end of the day we often compare notes, sharing special wines. Harvey's been excited about these wines all along, and the moment I tried the first 2012s I realized the level of depth and fruit complexity rose above the level that Oregon Pinots achieved in the past. The 2012s are a style that appeals more to me. They have more body, finesse, polish, range of flavors and immediate charm than the trimmer, more restrained style more typical of Oregon Pinots. I'm of the view that the riper vintages are always the best, even if his one doesn't reach the ripeness levels of Oregon's 2009, 2006 or 2003 vintages.

Is this a vintage that will redefine Oregon? Perhaps. But the years on both sides—2011 and 2013—are sufficiently different to consider what’s really happening, and that has all to do with the weather. Then again, according to Harvey, 2014 looks like another riper-style vintage.

I’m looking forward to comments from readers who have experience with Oregon Pinots and this vintage, and how it stacks up with other years. I expect it will be provocative, but that’s exactly what Oregon needs—a lively debate about the quality and style of its Pinots.

Adam Lee
Sonoma County, CA —  November 10, 2014 2:00pm ET

I've now made Oregon Pinot Noir for 20 vintages (ugh, I am getting old) with most of the vintages coming from vineyards at the northern end of the Chehalem Mountains -- one of the cooler parts of the Willamette Valley. I mention that only because the Willamette is a large area and different parts respond differently from vintage to vintage. So I look forward to Harvey's report on the region as a whole.

Having said that, 2012 is the finest quality fruit we have ever harvested in our Oregon vineyards. That was not because it was the highest brix vintage (2003 claims that), nor the darkest color (1999 which was also the most tannic), nor any other particular extreme. Instead 2012 had a truly ideal mix of concentration and acidity, of concentration and elegance. I could describe malic percentages or all sorts of other measurable components, but it is sufficient enough to say that the grapes were about as damn near perfect as any vintage we have ever had. Our greatest challenge was to make certain that the quality of our winemaking lived up to the quality of the grapes.

Adam Lee
Siduri Wines
Troy Peterson
Burbank, CA —  November 10, 2014 10:35pm ET
Okay, so James, you have time to taste these Oregon Pinots that aren't part of your "beat", but we have yet to receive your notes on the 2012 Schraders? Whaaaat? Please advise! Yer killin' me bro!
Jean Yates
Alpine, Oregon USA —  November 11, 2014 12:02pm ET
Here's what I heard around the Willamette in October of 2012: "perfectly clean fruit" "we didn't need to sort" "best fruit I've seen in 25 years" - Winemakers loved it - although one winemaker told me it was too easy - she likes a challenge, I guess.

More important than perfect fruit is the way winemakers, both established and second generation, are using it. The learning curve of the last 25 years and clean fruit from mature vineyards is resulting in lots of fascinating wines. And I have to make a shout out to Oregon's vineyard managers. If making wine is all about the fruit, they are heroes.

Jean Yates
Stefan Czarnecki
Newberg, Oregon —  November 11, 2014 9:10pm ET
We're loving the 2012 vintage so much up here because it's so instantly satisfying AND looks like it will age gracefully. 2007 and 2010 ended up being great years, but they just needed time - making them harder to sell when young. That's frustrating because of all the extra energy you have to spend in order to educate consumers/visitors. 2012? Drink it! Stash it! You'll love it!
Gene Brissette
Virginia, USA —  November 17, 2014 1:45pm ET
Have been "all in" on Oregon's Pinots since 2002 (and for the last several years, their whites) from all of their AVAs and thus far have enjoyed the silky 2012s very much. The 2008 vintage was the other darling but those are only now beginning to strut; ditto for 2005 which no one seems to even mention. It's the variability and structure that keeps me focused on the wines of Oregon so my advice is to take the crazy ratings upon release in stride.

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