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New Customers Save $30* with code SEPTNEW
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Elizabeth Chambers Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011
In 2005, the Chambers family acquired Panther Creek Cellars in McMinnville, the heart of the northern Willamette Valley, and Liz started to forge a relationship with winemaker Michael Stevenson to develop exceptional Pinot Noir. In 2013 the Chambers family sold the Panther Creek brand. Liz Chambers retained ownership of the former winery and tasting room in the town’s old power station, paving the way for the first releases from Elizabeth Chambers Cellar. The blue butterfly on every label is a tribute to her mother, who collected them, and who inspired Liz’s deep ties to Oregon wine country.
Michael Stevenson, the winemaker for Elizabeth Chambers Cellar, has worked with the top growers in the Willamette Valley for over 20 years. Widely recognized as one of America’s foremost regions, the Willamette climate is ideal for a Pinot Noir specialist like Elizabeth Chambers. Set in a corridor between the Cascade Mountains and the coast, warm days encourage extended ripening and flavor while cool nights retain acidity and balance. The balance is what Michael and Liz strive for with their Pinot Noir, an approach that favors a more delicate style over big oak and alcohol. And to find what they need they rely on close relationships with growers, people they count on as friends who grow Pinot Noir to exacting standards and deliver quality grapes even when Oregon’s temperamental climate takes hold.
Elizabeth Chambers Cellar produces 3,500 cases of wine, primarily focused on top quality Pinot Noir. Like the Burgundy micro-négociant model, the winery continually evaluates and sources grapes from the leading Willamette growers such as Freedom Hill, Shea Vineyard, Falcon Glen Vineyard, Lazy River Vineyard and Temperance Hill. Building on relationships throughout the Willamette Valley, Michael also mentors emerging growers and evaluates new sites for the winery’s signature blend and single vineyard program on an ongoing basis.
Michael and Liz believe in working with what nature gives them. The best Willamette vineyards are planted on sloping hillsides above the valley floor where Oregon’s famed volcanic soils with depths of minerality are protected from frost and vigorous growth. This is cool-climate winemaking, which supports an elegant style of Pinot Noir. And while he trusts the expertise of his growers, Michael makes the final decision as to how much to crop back every year and when to harvest, keys to getting the ripeness and balance required for world-class Pinot Noir.
Michael believes that “90% of what is in the bottle is determined by what we pick in the vineyard.” Elizabeth Chambers Cellar strives for a natural integration of flavors, derived through restraint in winemaking that respects the distinct character of each vintage without excessive manipulation. The goal is not to add flavors beyond what comes from the vineyard. As such, the use of new wood is strictly limited, and Michael favors some whole cluster fermentation to yield wines that are ultimately more subtle, revealing layers that deepen in complexity with age but are soft and balanced upon release. It’s a style which he characterizes as “feminine,” true to the legacy Liz Chambers inherited from her mother.
Yamhill-Carlton, characterized by pastoral, rolling hills composed of shallow, quick-draining, ancient marine soil, is ideal for Pinot noir and other cool-climate-loving varieties. It is in the rain shadow of the Coastal Range to its west, whose highest point climbs to an altitude of 3,500 feet. Yamhill-Carlton is actually surrounded by mountains on three sides: Chehalem Mountains to the north, the Dundee Hills to the east and the western Coastal Range to its west, which, when it lets Pacific air through, serves to cool the region.
Vineyards grow on the ridges surrounding the two small communities of Yamhill and Carlton and cover about 1,200 acres of this 60,000 acre region, which roughly makes a horse-shoe shape on a map.
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.