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Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Gris 2014
A combination of determination and extraordinary people has brought Willamette Valley Vineyards from a bold idea to one of the region's leading wineries, earning the title "One of America's Great Pinot Noir Producers," from Wine Enthusiast Magazine.
The “budwood” of Willamette Valley Vineyards began long before its founding in 1983 by vintner Jim Bernau. His Dad was hired by a California winemaker to secure the first winery license in Oregon since Prohibition. Jim’s Dad allowed him small tastes of Richard Sommer’s wine, lighting a path that led Jim from home winemaking to studies at UC Davis and eventually Beaune, France.
In 1983, Jim cleared away an old pioneer plum orchard in the Salem Hills and hand-watered his first plantings using 17 lengths of 75’ garden hose.
Jim's vision of organizing the support of wine enthusiasts to build a winery that would produce world-class wines through shared ownership has resulted in more than 16,000 owners. The winery's Common (WVVI) and Preferred (WVVIP) are traded on the NASDAQ.
The winery sources all of its barrel-aged Pinot Noir from its estate vineyards and practices environmentally sustainable farming. All of the vineyards have been certified sustainable through LIVE (Low Impact Viticulture and Enology) and Salmon-Safe programs since 1997.
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.
Showing a unique rosy, purplish hue upon full ripeness, this “white” variety is actually born out of a mutation of Pinot noir. The grape boasts two versions on its name as well as two generally distinct styles. Pinot Gris in France is rich, round and aromas of honey, while Pinot grigio in Italy is typically crisp, fruity and refreshing. In Italy, Pinot grigio achieves most success in the mountainous regions of Trentino and Alto Adige as well as in the neighboring Friuli, all in Italy’s northeast. France's Alsace and Oregon's Willamette Valley produce someof the world's most well-regarded Pinot gris. California produces both styles.
In the Glass
Pinot Gris is naturally low in acidity, so full ripeness is necessary to achieve and showcase its signature flavors and aromas of stone fruit, citrus, honeysuckle, pear, and almond skin. Alsatian styles are aromatic, richly textured and often relatively high in alcohol. As Pinot Grigio in Italy, the style is much more subdued, light, simple, and easy to drink.
Alsace is renowned for its potent food–pork, foie gras, and charcuterie. With its viscous nature, Pinot Gris fits in harmoniously with these heavy hitters. Pinot Grigio, on the other hand, with its lean, crisp, citrusy freshness, works better with simple salads, a wide range of seafood, and subtle chicken dishes.
Outside of France and Italy, the decision by the producer whether to label as “Gris” or “Grigio” serves as a strong indicator as to the style of wine in the bottle—the former will typically be a richer, more serious rendition while the latter will be bright, fresh, and fun.