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Averaen Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2016
Critical AcclaimAll Vintages
The seed for Averae was planted when we (Baron, Noah & Steve from Banshee Wines in Sonoma) attended IPNC in the Willamette Valley three years ago. There they were, sitting around a campfire, in what is now a vineyard that we're sourcing 10 tons of Pinot Noir from this harvest, talking about the similarities between our cold and foggy Sonoma Coast and the various sub-appellations of the Willamette Valley. From the cold wind that funnels from the Pacific Ocean through low-lying gaps in the coastal mountain ranges (the Van Duzer Corridor in Oregon and the Petaluma Wind Gap in Sonoma), to the mix of marine sedimentary and volcanic influenced soils that play off of one another to create the micro-terroirs of each appellation. The similarities were shocking. What got them really excited was that we saw the potential to make wine at the very highest level, using what were considered at the time to be the very top vineyard sites, all at a cost that was considerably less that what we were experiencing in the Sonoma Coast. Oregon reminded them of where the Sonoma Coast was 10-15 years ago. Still finding its way in terms of consistency, but when done right, way over-delivering. The quality was there in a big way, but the prices were still so reasonable.
As fate would have it, they reconnected with their friend and winemaker Adam Smith, who made the very first vintage of Banshee Wines in California for them. Adam moved to Oregon in 2010 and has made wine at Shea Cellars, Domaine Serene, and has made all three vintages of the highly sought-after new project from Meo-Camuzet. Adam is a superstar winemaker who knows every grower here in the Valley. His connections and reputation are the only reason they are able to source this quality of fruit this early in our project’s life.
One of Pinot Noir’s most successful New World outposts, the Willamette Valley is the largest and most important AVA in Oregon. With a Mediterranean climate moderated by a Pacific Ocean influence, it is perfect for cool-climate viticulture—warm and dry summers allow for steady, even ripening, and frost is rarely a risk during spring and winter.
Mountain ranges bordering three sides of the valley, particularly the Chehalem Mountains, provide the option for higher-elevation, cooler vineyard sites. The three prominent soil types here create significant differences in wine styles between vineyards and sub-AVAs. The iron-rich, basalt-based Jory volcanic soils found commonly in the Dundee Hills are rich in clay and hold water well; the chalky, sedimentary soils of Ribbon Ridge, Yamhill-Carlton and McMinnville encourage complex root systems as vines struggle to search for water and minerals. Silty, loess soils are found in the Chehalem Mountains.
One of the most finicky yet rewarding grapes to grow, Pinot Noir is a labor of love for many. However, the greatest red wines of Burgundy prove that it is unquestionably worth the effort. In fact, it is the only red variety permitted in Burgundy. Highly reflective of its terroir, Pinot Noir prefers calcareous soils and a cool climate, requires low yields to achieve high quality and demands a lot of attention in the vineyard and winery. It retains even more glory as an important component of Champagne as well as on its own in France’s Loire Valley and Alsace regions. This sensational grape enjoys immense international success, most notably growing in Oregon, California and New Zealand with smaller amounts in Chile, Germany (as Spätburgunder) and Italy (as Pinot Nero).
In the Glass
Pinot Noir is all about red fruit—strawberry, raspberry and cherry with some heftier styles delving into the red or purple plum and in the other direction, red or orange citrus. It is relatively pale in color with soft tannins and a lively acidity. With age (of which the best examples can handle an astounding amount) it can develop hauntingly alluring characteristics of fresh earth, savory spice, dried fruit and truffles.
Pinot’s healthy acidity cuts through the oiliness of pink-fleshed fish like salmon and tuna but its mild mannered tannins give it enough structure to pair with all sorts of poultry: chicken, quail and especially duck. As the namesake wine of Boeuf Bourguignon, Pinot noir has proven it isn’t afraid of beef. California examples work splendidly well with barbecue and Pinot Noir is also vegetarian-friendly—most notably with any dish that features mushrooms.
For administrative purposes, the region of Beaujolais is often included in Burgundy. But it is extremely different in terms of topography, soil and climate, and the important red grape here is ultimately Gamay. Truth be told, there is a tiny amount of Gamay sprinkled around the outlying parts of Burgundy (mainly in Maconnais) but it isn’t allowed with any great significance and certainly not in any Villages or Cru level wines.