“Oregon is the most dynamic wine region in the United States right now,” pronounced senior editor Tim Fish as he introduced the seminar Oregon's Rising Stars. “When you're in Willamette Valley, the sense of discovery and opportunity is palpable, and you can taste it in the wines.”
Over the past decade, Willamette Valley has seen an influx of new investment and new vineyard-site exploration, with high-profile consultants and vintners joining the already solid ranks of local artisan growers and winemakers. Oregon has also been gifted with some tremendous recent vintages, earning classic ratings for 2008, 2012, 2014 and 2015. Four of Willamette’s most promising new stars—Big Table Farm, Chapter 24, Lingua Franca and Résonance—presented 2015 Pinot Noirs for an eye-opening horizontal tasting.
“If you had told me in 2010 that I would be standing here today, I wouldn’t have believed it,” said Clare Carver, who moved to Willamette Valley with her husband, winemaker Brian Marcy, in 2006 and founded Big Table Farm. Their Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Sunnyside Vineyard 2015 (93 points, $48) is 100 percent whole-cluster fermented—“We don’t actually even own a destemmer,” said Carver, an artist who also draws all of the winery’s labels. “Everything is naturally fermented, unfined and unfiltered. We believe low-intervention winemaking lets the vineyard shine.”
Hollywood producer–turned-vintner Mark Tarlov was the founding president of Evening Land, but left that brand in 2012 and launched a new Oregon Pinot Noir label, Chapter 24, named for the final chapter of Homer’s Odyssey. He brought on noted Burgundy vigneron Louis-Michel Liger-Belair as director of winemaking and acquired new vineyards with the help of terroir consultant Pedro Parra. According to Tarlov, “Pedro said, ‘There are grand cru quality vineyards in Oregon. We will find them. Eventually. What we need now are wineries who believe in them.’”
While sharing the Chapter 24 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Last Chapter 2015 (91, $91), a blend of four sites with varied soil types, Tarlov said, “Leonardo Da Vinci said that nature begins with a cause and ends with an experience, so we have to follow the experience, which is the wine, and search for the cause.” He continued, “The magic in wine is caused by the connection between vines and rock. … We believe it is the ‘where’ that creates our ‘what.’”
Fellow Evening Land alum Lawrence Stone is another big believer in the “where.” In his search for great terroir, he looked to Seven Springs vineyard in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA (source of five classic-rated Evening Land Pinots). “I looked across the road [from Seven Springs],” Stone said, “and I sold everything I had; I’m all in on this.” His Lingua Franca Pinot Noir Eola-Amity Hills Mimi's Mind 2015 (94, $90) comes from another nearby vineyard, owned by vintner Mimi Casteel. “Our wines are made naturally; they’re all wild ferments,” Stone said. “We want the terroir to speak … it’s always the vineyard that’s speaking.”
The final wine came from Oregon newcomers with a Burgundy pedigree. Maison Louis Jadot purchased Resonance Vineyard in the Yamhill-Carlton District AVA in 2013 and quickly set to work establishing an impressive estate. “We had the feeling of a sense of place,” said Résonance head of operations Thibault Gagey. “It was something, being from Burgundy, we are very sensitive to … so we bought the place!” He presented the Résonance Pinot Noir Yamhill-Carlton District Résonance Vineyard 2015 (91, $65), a young wine that he believes has a long life ahead of it. “We still have many things to learn, [but] we strongly believe that Oregon is an amazing place to make Pinot Noir,” said Gagey. “We want to make Oregon wines, not Burgundy wines in Oregon.”