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Willamette Valley Vineyards Riesling 2002
A combination of determination and extraordinary people has brought Willamette Valley Vineyards from an idea to one of the region's leading wineries, earning the title "One of America's Great Pinot Noir Producers," from Wine Enthusiast Magazine.
Founder, Jim Bernau, purchased the Estate site in 1983 and cleared away the old pioneer plum orchard hidden in scotch broom and blackberry vines. He planted Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris. In the beginning, he hand watered the vines with seventeen lengths of 75' garden hose.
Numerous classes at UC Davis, and seminars from here to France, sharpened Jim’s viticultural skills and in 1989 he was ready to build his dream--a world class winery in the Willamette Valley--and make cool-climate varietals, especially Pinot Noir.
Jim's vision of organizing the support of wine enthusiasts to grow world-class wines through shared ownership has resulted in over 9,000 owners. The winery's Common (WVVI) and Preferred (WVVIP) are traded on the NASDAQ.
Willamette Valley Vineyards has collaboratively grown its estate vineyards through partnerships like the merger with Oregon wine industry pioneer, Bill Fuller of Tualatin Vineyards (established in 1973), the O'Briens for Elton Vineyard (established in 1983) and Loeza Vineyard (planted in 2016). The winery now sources all of its barrel-aged Pinot Noir from its estate vineyards, practices environmentally sustainable farming and were part of the founding of the Low Input Viticulture and Enology (LIVE) certification.
One of Pinot Noir’s most successful New World outposts, the Willamette Valley is the largest and most important AVA in Oregon. With a temperate 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 even 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. The silty loess found in the Chehalem Mountains, somewhere in between the other two in texture, is fertile and well-draining but erodes easily, creating challenges for growers but necessitating careful vineyard management.
The celebrated Pinot Noir of the Willamette Valley typically offers supple red fruit, especially cranberry, without the powerful punch often packed by its California counterparts. Elegance is paramount here, and fruit flavors are balanced by forest floor, wild mushroom, and dried herbs—much more in line with Burgundian examples of the variety. Chardonnay too takes its inspiration from the French motherland, focusing on tart, crisp fruit and minerality, rarely relying upon heavy new oak. Pinot Gris here is fleshy and bright, and Riesling is dry, aromatic, and citrus-focused.
A regal variety of incredible purity and precision, Riesling possesses a remarkable ability to reflect the character of wherever it is grown while still maintaining easily identifiable typicity. This versatile grape can be just as enjoyable dry or sweet, young or old, still or sparkling, and can age longer than nearly any other white variety. Riesling is best known in Germany and Alsace, and is also of great importance in Austria. The variety has also been particularly successful in Australia’s Clare and Eden Valleys, New Zealand, Oregon, Washington, cooler regions of California, and the Finger Lakes in New York.
In the Glass
Riesling is low in alcohol, with high acidity, steely minerality, and stone fruit, spice, citrus, and floral notes. At its ripest it leans towards juicy peach and nectarine, and pineapple, while in cooler climes it is more redolent of meyer lemon, lime, and green apple. With age, Riesling can become truly revelatory, developing unique, complex aromatics, often with a hint of gasoline.
Riesling is very versatile, enjoying the company of sweet-fleshed fish like sole, most Asian food, especially Thai and Vietnamese (bottlings with some residual sugar and low alcohol are the perfect companions for dishes with substantial spice), and freshly shucked oysters. Sweeter styles work well with fruit-based desserts.
It can be difficult to discern the level of sweetness in a Riesling, and German labeling laws do not make things any easier. Look for the world “trocken” to indicate a dry wine, or “halbtrocken” or “feinherb” for off-dry. Some producers will include a helpful sweetness scale on the back label—happily, a growing trend.