In early June we were thrilled to welcome Belle Pente winemaker Brian O’Donnell to the shop to teach a class on Oregon wines. He enlightened us on the geology and geography of the Northern Willamette Valley, focusing in particular on the terroir of the Yamhill-Carlton District. Brian described the major soil types in the area and we were able to compare Pinots grown in volcanic soils, with those grown in sedimentary soils. It was deliciously enlightening and led us to an idea: Why don’t we put two of the wines we tasted that night in our Oregon club? Why not, indeed. This month we present two of Brian O’Donnell’s brilliantly- and knowledgeably-crafted Pinot Noirs, one from the sedimentary soils of Yamhill-Carlton (his estate wine), and one from the Dundee Hills, where volcanic soil prevails.
2007 Belle Pente Vineyard Pinot Noir
This is the flagship Pinot from Belle Pente’s estate vineyard, which he began planting in 1994 on a stunning hillside (belle pente is French for “beautiful slope”) in the Yamhill-Carlton District. For this wine, Brian blends grapes from different sections of the vineyard to capture the unique, site-specific nuances, but the overall characteristics come from the sedimentary soils found there. As we learned in our class, Pinots grown in sedimentary soils typically have firm tannins and good minerality. They tend to exhibit black fruit flavors, with herbal and floral overtones, and be very texturally driven. Brian’s 2007 estate Pinot captures these qualities beautifully. It is a very expressive wine, focused and long, with medium body and amazing structure. It seems to only gain more depth and warmth, as it opens up in your glass (if you can wait!). And, while it is very enjoyable now (lamb dishes come to mind), it will continue to evolve over the next few years. Brian made 567 cases, and it is $35 a bottle.
2008 Murto Vineyard, Pinot Noir
In addition to his estate vineyard, Brian also sources fruit from other select sites in Yamhill County, including Murto Vineyard, which was planted in 1978. Six acres of this vineyard are dedicated to Belle Pente and are managed to Brian’s exacting specifications. Murto is a dry-farmed, volcanic site in the Dundee Hills. As Brian explained, Pinots sourced from volcanic soils are characteristically more fruit-driven (featuring red fruit flavors over black), with overtones of spice and earth. And they tend to be higher in acidity and lower in tannins than their sedimentary-grown counterparts. The relatively old Pommard clone vines in Murto Vineyard produce a classic Dundee Hills Pinot, with the complex spicy, earthy aromas one would expect, followed by very focused, medium-ripe, red fruit flavors, and soft, silky tannins. Like the 2007 Estate Pinot above, the Murto is lovely now, but will be even more interesting with a few years in the cellar. Consider enjoying it with braised salmon or wild mushroom dishes. It is $42.50.