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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 difficult yet rewarding grapes to grow, Pinot Noir is commonly referred to by winemakers as the “heartbreak grape.” However, the greatest red wines of Burgundy prove that it is unquestionably worth the effort. More reflective than most varieties of the land on which it is grown, Pinot Noir prefers a cool climate, requires low yields to achieve high quality, and demands care in the vineyard and lots of attention in the winery. It is an important component of Champagne and the only variety permitted in red Burgundy. Pinot Noir enjoys immense popularity internationally, most notably in Oregon, California, and New Zealand.
In the Glass
Pinot Noir Is all about red fruit—strawberry, raspberry, and cherry. It is relatively pale in color with soft tannins and lively acidity. It ranges in body from very light to the heavier side of medium, typically landing somewhere in the middle—giving it extensive possibilities for food pairing. With age (of which the best examples can handle an astounding amount), it can develop hauntingly beautiful characteristics of fresh earth, autumn leaves, and truffles.
Pinot’s healthy acidity cuts through the oiliness of pink-fleshed fish like salmon, ocean trout, and tuna. Its mild mannered tannins don’t fight with spicy food, and give it enough structure to pair with all sorts of poultry—chicken, quail, and especially duck. As the namesake wine of Boeuf Bourguignon, it can even match with heavier fare. Pinot Noir is also very vegetarian-friendly—most notably with any dish that features mushrooms.
Pinot Noir is dangerously drinkable, highly addictive, and has a bad habit of emptying the wallet. Look for affordable but still delicious examples from Germany (as Spätburgunder), Italy (as Pinot Nero), Chile, New Zealand, and France’s Loire Valley and Alsace regions.