2008 Shea Wine Cellars, Shea Vineyard, Estate Pinot Noir
If there’s one thing that many of Oregon’s top Pinot Noir producers have in common, it’s that they share a very coveted source for their wines: Shea Vineyard. Whether for single-vineyard bottlings, or as part of a blend, wineries such as Beaux Freres, Ken Wright, St. Innocent, Penner Ash, Rex Hill, Antica Terra, and even California’s Sine Qua Non have all sourced fruit from Shea Vineyard for many years. As we noted when we featured the 2009 Penner Ash Shea Pinot in the August club, Shea is considered by many to be Oregon’s grand cru vineyard (a designation reserved for the highest quality sites in Burgundy). It was planted by Dick Shea in the late 1980s and the estate now comprises 140 acres of vines, 135 of which are planted to Pinot Noir (the other five are Chardonnay). For years, Dick sold all of his fruit to other wineries, but in 1996 he began his own label, Shea Wine Cellars. Today he sells about 75% of his production and saves the rest for his own wines. Grown on the sedimentary soils of the Yamhill-Carlton AVA, Shea Vineyard Pinots tend to be supple and elegant, and very texturally driven. Ken Wright has noted, “Shea [Vineyard] rides the fence between red and black fruit profiles. You get everything from strawberry to cassis and lots of texture without being heavy. No other vineyard can do this.” That’s exactly what we thought when we tasted this wine: it is elegantly soft and smooth and feels light on the palate, yet it has solid structure and is layered with rich fruit flavors. An amazing balancing act. It is gorgeous now, but it should evolve for another five to eight years, if you feel the need to wait. It is $42.
2009 White Rose Estate, Dundee Hills Pinot Noir
If White Rose Estate is unfamiliar to you, it was to us, too, until Gavin Joll, from the winery, dropped in the other day with some samples of his wines for us to try. And what a pleasant surprise. The ten-acre White Rose Vineyard, one of the oldest in Oregon, was planted back in 1980 with Pommard clone Pinot Noir. Over the years, White Rose fruit was purchased by such wineries as St. Innocent, Panther Creek, and Torii Mor, although they didn’t make a wine of their own—much like the early years of Shea Vineyard above. Then in 2001, Burgundian devotee Greg Sanders discovered and purchased the property, knowing it was the perfect place to make the artisnal Pinot Noirs he had always dreamed of. The vineyard lies in the heart of the Dundee Hills, overlooking the Willamette Valley, along with such notable neighbors as Domaine Drouhin, Domaine Serene, and Archery Summit. The prime hilltop location allows the grapes maximum hang time, and they consistently produce very balanced wines of great character and complexity. Of the three Pinot Noirs we tasted, this was our favorite. The fruit is all from the Dundee Hills AVA, sourced primarily from White Rose Vineyard (88%), with fruit from Durant Vineyard as well. Both vineyards are planted on volcanic-based Jory soil and this Pinot shows the classic characteristics of such wines: red fruit, spice, expressive aromatics, and great structure and depth. And it was the most elegant of the three we tasted. It is $42 and will continue to develop over the next 3 to 7 years, though it is lovely now. Try it with rich pasta dishes, or with a classed-up meatloaf.