If I was to ask you to name a Pinot Noir producing region, what comes to mind first? For most Pinot Noir fans, the most likely answer is Burgundy. And why not, its wines are considered to be among the world’s best, which however also puts them as some of the world’s most expensive wine.
Finding an inexpensive but good quality Pinot Noir from Burgundy can be quite the challenge. However, luckily for fans of the heartbreak grape, there are a number of other regions producing good quality inexpensive Pinot Noirs.
One of those regions just happens to be the Willamette Valley in Oregon and like Burgundy, the valley is almost exclusively known for its Pinot Noir production. According to the 2015 Oregon Vineyard and Winey Census report, the valley accounts for 82% of the Pinot Noir production within Oregon, with 14,417 acres planted. The next closest grape in terms of planting was Pinot Gris at 2,463 acres.
However, there are noticeable differences between the two regions, most notably is the fact that Pinot Noirs from the Willamette valley tend to be somewhat more fruit forward than their Burgundy counterparts. This is most likely due to the different soil conditions between the two regions and the differences in climate.
Now when I mentioned other regions making inexpensive Pinot Noirs, I didn’t mean to indicate that wines coming out the Willamette Valley are necessarily cheap, because they are not. A good quality Oregon Pinot Noir is most likely going to run you $35 – $50, which may seem steep to a lot of folks. However, when compared to a Grand Cru Burgundy, which can start at $50 you can see where an Oregon Pinot Noir might be considered quite the value.
Given what I know about Oregon Pinot Noir, I tend to be skeptical when I see them for less than $25/bottle. So when I first tasted the 2014 Underwood Pinot Noir, I was quite impressed by the character shown in this wine, especially at a $20 price point.
Right off the bat, I picked some intense notes of cherry and raspberry on the nose, along with a slight floral note in the background. In comparison to other Pinot Noirs, I found the aromas for this wine to be quite a bit more pronounced and up front. In the glass, the wine showed a clear, pale, ruby color.
I found this to have a slightly more structured body than a lot of other Pinot Noirs, there seemed to be a slightly more tannic presence along with a finish that just seemed to linger longer than usual. There was also delightful acidity to the wine that helped to give it that slight boost in the body.
On the palate flavors of black cherry and cranberry coupled with vegetable notes. Interesting note on the flavor of the wine, while writing up my tasting notes, I happened to read the back of the wine label that highlighted “cola” as one of the predominate notes of this wine. As soon as I read cola, that was all I could taste and think of.
I was very pleasantly surprised by this wine, it showed much more complexity than I was expecting especially at its $20 price point. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised after reading up on the history of the winery. According to the wineries website, the winemaker Ryan Harms, set out to make a Pinot Noir that was accessible but not expensive.
A good indication of this desire is shown in the wineries newest offering, their Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Rose, and sparkling wine in a can. I’ve yet to try the Pinot Noir in a can but the word from friends and associates is that it’s pretty good and shows very similar to the Pinot in the bottle.
At the end of the day I can confidently say that if your hunting for a good quality value Pinot Noir, I don’t think you can go wrong with the Underwood Pinot Noir.
We spent the first day of our trip exploring Penticton, hanging out the beach, doing a little shopping, eating a little ice cream. It was a great way to unwind after a long drive, get settled, and prepare for our first day of wine touring.
In my previous post (Traversing the Okanagan Valley: The Beginning), I talked about the various sub-regions within the valley that you can go and visit. On our first day of wine touring we decided to head down towards Oliver, and visit what’s know as The Black Sage Bench.
This wine route runs along the east side of the valley and begins just south of Oliver. With its eastern location, grapes in this region benefit from the early morning sun and deep sandy soil tends to be common.
During the summer months, the valley experiences hot daytime temperatures but cool evenings allowing grapes to reach their optimal ripeness. Given these types of conditions, visitors can expect to see such common varietals such as Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Chardonnay, and Syrah.
For our first stop, we headed down towards the southern tip of the Bench to check out Burrowing Owl Estate Winery.
Burrowing Owl Estate Winery sits southeast of the town of Oliver near the northern edge of Osoyoos Lake. The winery sits on top of a southwest facing plateau and as such visitors are able to gaze down on the row upon rows of vines that stretch as far as the eye can see.
The winery took its name after Jim and Midge Wyse, the proprietors learned about the efforts of the Government to re-establish the Burrowing Owl after it was declared extinct in British Columbia.
We did a full tasting at the winery starting with the 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, which exhibited great aromas of fresh cut grass and peach. From there we moved into tasting the reds, starting with the 2013 Pinot Noir. Excellent aroma of raspberry on the nose coupled with fragrant strawberry, however, I feel like the wine could use a couple of years of aging to help strengthen the body.
We also got to taste the 2013 Merlot, the 2013 Cabernet Franc, and as somewhat of a treat the 2012 Meritage. Each of these wines showed great, excellent structure, taste profiles and aromas. Out of those three, I thought the Cabernet Franc really stood out, with a distance freshness and a crisp clean palate.
Next up in our tasting journey was Black Hills Estate Winery. In May, I had the opportunity to attend a winemaker’s tasting of Black Hills Estate wines at Vine Styles, a local wine store. I was so impressed with the wines we tasted that day that I marked this winery as a definite stop on our tour.
On this day we were partaking in their Portfolio tasting, a relaxed in-depth sampling of 3 whites and 3 red. For the whites, we were treated to their Viognier, Chardonnay, and Alias, while the red tasting was Syrah, 2014 Cellar Hand, and their flagship wine, the 2014 Nota Benne. Of the whites, the Viognier and the Alias were clear standouts. Both wines show great acidity, are crisp and clean without being overly sweet. The Alias was a real treat to taste as it’s normally only available to its club members.
In terms of the Reds, their Syrah is very well done, with excellent black pepper and herbal notes such as Thyme and Basil. However, the star of the show is the Nota Benne, Black Hills Estate flagship wine. It’s a diverse blend of 4 different Cabernet Sauvignon clones, 2 different Cabernet Franc clones, and 4 different Merlot clones. It’s produced by processing and aging each clone separately. After they are barrel aged, the clones are then blended together to give the wine a diverse taste and structure.
The Nota Benne is incredibly complex but very well structured. The body has a medium weight to it but the tannin levels are very smooth making it an easy drinking wine. Ripe fruit qualities such as blackberry and plum, with notes of black pepper and green bell pepper. It’s definitely a wine best served with food.
After our tasting’s it was time for something to eat. While at Burrowing Owl, it was recommended to us to check out Platinum Bench winery’s fresh baked artisan bread.
As soon as you walk in the front door two things happen. One is you are instantly greeted by Wally, the winery greeter. Wally is a one of a kind greeter, with four legs, a wet nose and excitedly wagging tail.
The second thing that happens is you become aware of the delicious aroma of fresh baked bread. In addition to their award-winning wines, Platinum Bench has recently expanded to included artisan bread baked right on site by winery co-owner Fiona Duncan.
We grabbed a couple loaves of bread, an Asiago Cheese, a Gorgonzola & Fig, and some salami and took a seat out the deck outside. Both loaves were amazing, served warm, the crust was had a slightly chewy and crispy texture, while the inside was so soft and light. The view from the deck was breathtaking and I could have stayed there all day.
Stoneboat was recommended to me because of its focus on the Pinot grapes. Being the big fan of Pinot Noir that I am, this was a winery that I simply had to check out.
The winery is named after a “stone boat”, a flat sled that was originally used to carry stones. The name Stone Boat was chosen as a tribute to the individuals who originally worked to clear the vineyard of rocks in order to plant the vines.
The soil on all three of the vineyards that make up Stoneboat all tend to be quite rocky and calcareous, similar to the soil found in Burgundy, France, another well know Pinot region. The rocks found in the vineyard are put to good use, piled underneath of the vines they absorb the heat of the sun during the day and radiate that heat towards the vines during the cooler evenings.
We started our tasting with the Rose Brut, which was stunning. Bright, crisp, not overly sweet with a beautiful cherry aroma. We tasted a couple of the whites available, but what I really was excited for was the Pinot Noir. They were pouring their 2013 Pinot Noir, and I couldn’t wait to try it.
This was a very well structured wine, not your typical light styled body, it had actually had some weight to it. It has a slight acidity to it which I wasn’t expecting but found quite refreshing. A definite earthy aroma along with fresh flowers and cherry and intense flavours of strawberry and raspberry.
It was interesting to note that I was reading reviews online of Stoneboat’s Pinot Noir and a number of reviewers noted a mushroom or truffle flavour in the wine. I didn’t note that in the flavour of the wine but definitely found earthy notes in the aroma. I can’t wait to try this wine again in several years to see how the flavour profile has evolved.
Our last stop of the day was at Le Vieux Pin, sort of a newcomer to the region. The wineries name, translated as the “The Old Pine”, is derived from a single pine tree that sits out amongst the vines. It’s really quite a site to see, this single solitary pine tree seemingly rising up out of the vines.
Le Vieux Pin itself is a sister winery to La Stella, which is located further south in the valley down towards Osoyoos. At Le Vieux Pin, their focus is using traditional French winemaking traditions to produce wines that are in their words…”elegant and focused, with great intensity of fruit”.
For our tasting, we started off with the 2015 ‘Ava’, a blend of Viognier, Marsanne, & Roussane. A real nice acidic wine, with big fruit flavors such as peaches, nectarines, and melon rind. However, there was a lingering note of honey that provided just twinge of sweetness that seemed out of place. Up next was the 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, with notes of pineapple, kiwi, and tropical flowers. Very well structured, a balanced body with very little sweetness but great acidity gave this a real crispness and tartness to the wine.
From there we moved on to the Syrah. Unfortunately, my notetaking took a bit of a hit at this point and the only notes I had for this part of the tasting was for the 2009 Syrah. Which after tasting the wine I wasn’t all the upset about.
This was deeply elegant, a smooth almost silky body, with just a slight tannic bite to it. One the nose ripe red fruit aromas coupled with savoury herbs, and bell pepper. On the tongue, there was a real bite of black pepper, but also black cherry, blueberry, and just a slight hint of minerality to it. This was a wine you could drink now but would only get better if you were to cellar for other 5-6 years.
End of the Day!
By this point we just about ready to call it a day. We had been to 4 wineries and tasted quite a bit of wine in that time. I had a cooler full of purchases I was eager to get home and put away, so we packed it in and headed back to Penticton.
In terms of exploring the Black Sage Bench and Oliver, we only scratched the surface. Given the number of wineries in the area, you could easily spend 3-4 days just visiting winery after winery.
The one common thing I took away from our tasting is that this area likes it big bold reds and high-intensity whites. When you read about the area and it talks about the Bourdeaux blends you really see what’s referring to.
Don’t get me wrong I’m not complaining, we tasted some absolutely fantastic wine, met some great people and took home some lasting memories.
Remember what it was like as a kid when you got to go to the toy store. That pure sense of excitement and joy. Well for me as an adult a trip to the book store has that same feeling. You never know what new treasures you are going to uncover.
It’s the the real story of a plot to poison the vines of LA ROMANÈE-CONTI, one of the world’s most famous vineyards in Burgundy France.
The author Maximillian Potter, began this as story for Vanity Fair magazine but based on what he found he eventually turned it into this book. In his own words: “I went to Burgundy to report on yet another crime, but what I discovered was the poetry of grace, unwavering tenderness, and humanity”.
In telling this story Potter goes into great detail about the individuals involved, the actual act of sabotaging the vines, and the ensuing police sting operation that caught the perpetrator. He writes about the history of the individuals involved in a way that you start to feel connected to them. You begin to understand the characters and why they do the things they do.
In addition Potter goes into great detail regarding the history of the vineyard itself so as to help the reader understand the significance of what happened. You are taken back to the earliest days of the vineyard going as far as back as 1757 during the reign of King Louis XV. He also details the politics, business dealings, and emotions that go into running such an esteemed vineyard.
I really liked how the book was laid out in terms of the story. Potter did a good job of integrating the stories of the vineyard history with the story of the actual plot against it. It almost like you were in the midst of a flashback before coming back to present day.
If your more interested in the historical nature and true crime nature of this book you won’t be disappointed. There’s enough of that matter to hold your interest without overwhelming you with wine making and terminology. If your looking for a good story about winemaking and a world famous vineyard then this book is right up your alley.