Henry Estate Barrel Select Pinot Noir 1998
Three substantial mountain ranges intersect to create a region of great diversity, not only in soil and topography but also climate and as a result, grape varieties.
Where the Klamath Mountains, Coast Range and Cascades converge, is the rather small AVA, the Umpqua Valley, which boasts over 150 soils in a total growing area of merely 1,500 acres. The soils range from sedimentary, metamorphic or volcanic where valley floors are deep alluvium and heavy clay and hillsides are typically silt or clay.
In the Umpqua Valley AVA, vineyards in the north are cooler and wetter; cool climate grapes such as Pinot noir, Pinot gris and Riesling do well. In the warmer and dryer south mainly Syrah and Tempranillo thrive. But growers here are not afraid to investigate new grape varieties; the region is home to over forty types.
There are two sub-AVAs within the boundaries of the Umpqua Valley: Red Hill-Douglas Country, established in 2004 and Elkton, established in 2013.
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, not Pinot noir. 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 Village or Cru level wines. So "red Burgundy" still necessarily refers to Pinot noir.