Tag Archives: Yamhill-Carlton District

60 Second Wine Review — Ponzi Classico Pinot noir

A few quick thoughts on the 2015 Ponzi Classico Pinot noir from the Willamette Valley.

Ponzi Classico Pinot noir

The Geekery

The Ponzis are one of the pioneering families of the modern Oregon wine industry. After moving to the area in the late 1960s, Dick and Nancy Ponzi founded their eponymous vineyard in 1970. They released their first vintage in 1976, a mere 96 cases of 1974 Pinot noir.

Today, their daughters run the estate with Anna Maria Ponzi taking care of the business side of the things and Luisa in charge of the winemaking. Before joining her family’s winery, Luisa Ponzi studied enology in Burgundy with Domaine Roumier and in Piedmont with Vietti.

Since 2000, all of the family’s estate vineyards are sustainable as well as the fruit they get from partner growers.

Outside of wine, the Ponzis also founded Bridgeport Brewing Company in 1984, a key event in Oregon craft brewing. The family no longers owns the brewery, selling it in 1995 to The Gambrinus Company.

The Classico Pinot noir is a blend from Ponzi’s 130 acres and partner growers. The fruit for the 2015 vintage was sourced from the Chehalem Mountains, Yamhill-Carlton and Eola-Amity Hills AVAs with 7000 cases made.

The Wine

Photo By Selena N. B. H. from Fayetteville, USA - English Westminster Uploaded by JohnnyMrNinja, CC BY 2.0,

One of my favorite notes in Oregon Pinots.

Medium-plus intensity nose. Very red fruit dominant (cherries and raspberries) with floral undertones. A little air brings out more savory herbal notes and my catnip for Oregon Pinots–black tea.

On the palate, the red fruits carry through but taste richer and weightier with a medium-plus body. Moderate oak introduces some baking spices and a creamy vanilla mouthfeel. Medium-plus acidity keeps the fruit feeling fresh and balanced with ripe medium tannins. Long finish brings back the floral and tea notes.

The Verdict

At $36-43, this is a very delicious Oregon Pinot that’s rather underpriced. I can easily see this bottle fetching $50-60 labeled as a single AVA if it had qualified. However, being a blend saddles it with the more generic “Willamette Valley” appellation.

It certainly doesn’t taste like a generic wine and is well-worth snapping up.

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Celebrating Oregon Wine Month at Vino Volo

It seems only fitting as I sit at the airport getting ready to board a flight for my trip to the Pinot noir homeland of Burgundy that I indulge in a little Oregon Pinot action at one of my favorite travel haunts–Vino Volo.

While the small bites and wine are a bit overpriced (even by airport standards), there is no better selection of by the glass wines and tasting flight at the airport. Plus with comfy chairs and plenty of plugs to charge the phone, it’s a must stop for me on every trip.

Today I found the SeaTac location offering a “Northwest Noirs” flight of 3 Willamette Valley Pinot noirs for $19. On the menu, the 2015 J. Christopher Volcanique ($18 glass pour/ $30 Wine Searcher Average) was listed but when the flight was brought out, I discovered that instead I was given the 2014 Ken Wright Cellars Willamette Valley. While I enjoy Ken Wright’s wines, I must confessed that I was slightly disappointed not to have a chance to geek out comparing the volcanic soil grown J. Christopher with the marine sediment grown Andrew Rich. But c’est la vie.

The Wines

2015 Stoller Family Estate Reserve Pinot noir, Dundee Hills ($20 glass pour, $56 a bottle at Vino Volo/ $36 Wine Searcher Average)

The Geekery

Stoller was founded in 2001 by Bill Stoller on property that he purchased from his cousin in the Dundee Hills in 1993. Stoller, who was already co-owner in Chehalem Winery with Harry Peterson-Nedry, was born on the property and began converting his childhood home from a turkey farm to plantings of Pinot noir and Chardonnay.

The first vintage of Stoller was released in 2001 with the help of Peterson-Nedry and soon under the winemaking of Melissa Burr would earn critical acclaim–including being named Pacific Northwest Winery of the Year in 2014. Today with 190 acres planted, it is home to the largest contiguous vineyard in the Dundee Hills AVA.

The Vino Volo tasting flight. The notes are nice but I often find myself disagreeing with them.

In 2018, Stoller assumed complete control of Chehalem Winery but both estates will continue to be operated as separate entities.

Stoller practices sustainable viticulture on all its estate vineyards and was the world’s first LEED Gold Certified winery in 2006.

The Wine
Medium-plus intensity nose. Very inviting black cherry and fresh rose petals. With some air, a little baking spice of cinnamon and allspice come out but the fruit and floral notes dominant.

On the palate, those cherries notes come through but seem more red and juicy than the black cherry notes on the nose. The ample medium-plus acidity is exceptionally well balanced with the fruit and ripe medium tannins. Very savory and mouthwatering with the spices coming out more for the long finish.

The Verdict

This is very well made and scrumptious Pinot noir that is showing well now but will only continue to develop layers and depth with some bottle age. It’s well worth the $36 retail average but would still deliver plenty of pleasure to merit a $56 restaurant mark up price.

2014 Andrew Rich Marine Sedimentary Pinot noir Willamette Valley ($23 glass pour, $67 a bottle/ $42 Wine Searcher Average)

The Geekery

Andrew Rich was founded in 1994 when Andrew Rich, a protege of Randall Grahm at Bonny Doon, arrived in the Willamette Valley with the goal of producing cool-climate Rhone varieties. Finding limited supply, he drew on his experience studying viticulture in Burgundy to produce Pinot noir in his early vintages while sourcing Rhone fruit from Washington State.

Today he produces around 6000 cases a year (about 1/3 Pinot) at the Carlton Winemakers Studio.

Unfortunately his website doesn’t include tech notes for the 2014 Marine Sedimentary but looking at notes from previous vintages of his Pinot noirs, he sources from several vineyards with this soil type including Beacon Hill in the Yamhill Carlton AVA and Greyhorse in McMinnville AVA.

The Wine

Medium-minus intensity nose. Faint red cherry and raspberry with a rosemary herbal element. Some air brings out a little more of the floral herbal element (akin to Provençal garrigue) but overall this is a rather shy nose.

There is a tad more life on the palate with the red fruit notes making their presence felt with medium-bodied weight and enough medium-plus acidity to be fresh without straying to tart. The Vino Volo tasting notes suggest blackberries and blackcurrants but there is no trace of dark fruit in this glass. Medium tannins are softer than the Stoller but overall contribute to the thin and light profile of this Pinot noir. Moderate finish lingers on the red fruits with the subtle floral herbs sadly fading.

The Verdict

The only thing “Rich” about this wine was the name.

I fret that this Pinot noir needed a better food pairing than the meat and cheese plate I was having it with. The acidity and herbal notes in particular have me wandering how well it would have done with a mushroom risotto. Though the lightness of the wine may have been overwhelmed by that hearty dish.

That said, it’s hard to find this wine being a compelling value apart from its inclusion in a smashing food pairing. Especially compared to the Stoller and Ken Wright which regularly retail for less.

2014 Ken Wright Pinot noir Willamette Valley (No glass pour list, $47 a bottle at Vino Volo/ $28 Wine Searcher Average

The Geekery

Ken Wright is a native of Bourbon County, Kentucky who went to California to study winemaking and spent years working in Monterey County at wineries like Ventana, Chalone and Talbott Vineyards before moving to Oregon in 1986.

He founded Panther Creek winery that year before eventually selling the winery to Ron and Linda Kaplan in 1994 to open up his eponymous winery in Carlton, Oregon.

Ken Wright Cellars specializes in

vineyard-designated wines with the winery working with over 13 different vineyards. In 2006, Wright’s work with highlighting the different terroirs of the Willamette Valley was influential in the establishment of several sub-AVAs including the Yamhill-Carlton District AVA.

The Willamette Valley Pinot is the “baby brother” of the family and is sourced from several of the vineyards that Ken Wright uses for their vineyard designated line-up which includes such notable names as the Abbott Claim Vineyard and Shea Vineyard in Yamhill-Carlton, Bryce Vineyard in the Ribbon Ridge AVA, Canary Hill Vineyard in the Eola-Amity Hills as well as the Freedom Hill and Guadalupe Vineyard in the greater Willamette Valley.

The Wine

Medium intensity nose. The Vino Volo notes did hit it right with strawberries. This wine does smell like a basket of strawberries with some cola spice.

On the palate those strawberry notes carry through but are joined by some rich tasting Rainier cherries. The cola spice is still present but has a black tea element that is highlighted by the wine’s phenolic texture and slight bitterness. It’s not off-putting in the slightest but has me wondering what percentage of stems and whole clusters were used in the fermentation. Medium acidity and medium-plus tannins give this wine a lot of weight on the palate, making it feel much heavier than the other two. Moderate finish lingers on the red fruits and black tea notes.

The Verdict

Considering that most of Ken Wright’s vineyard-designated wines run in the $55-65 range, it’s hard not to be impressed with the value of this wine at under $30 retail. While not as much of a complete package as the Stoller, it is still very well-made with lots of layers that would be worth savoring over a few glasses.

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60 Second Wine Review–WillaKenzie Pinot blanc

Continuing our Oregon Wine Month celebration, here are a few quick thoughts about the 2013 WillaKenzie Pinot blanc from the Yamhill-Carlton District.

The Geekery

WillaKenzie was founded in 1991 by Bernard and Ronni Lacroute with the winery named after the mustard color series of sedimentary soils prominent in the Yamhill-Carlton District, McMinville and Ribbon Ridge AVAs.

With a slogan “Dirt Matters”, author Kenneth Friedenreich notes in Oregon Wine Stories that along with the Campbells of Elk Cove, Kramer Vineyards and the Bergs of Roots Wine Co., WillaKenzie helped raised the profile of the Yamhill-Carlton District as a destination in Oregon wine country.

In 2016, the Lacroutes sold the winery to Jackson Family Estates where it joined a portfolio of brands that now includes Copain, Carmel Road, Cardinale, Freemark Abbey, La Jota, Brewer-Clifton, Byron, Cambria, Kendall-Jackson, La Crema, Matanzas Creek, Gran Moraine, Zena Crown, Penner-Ash among many others.

With the changing ownership came a change in winemakers with Erik Kramer (previously of Domaine Serene) taking over from Thibaud Mandet who was mentored by WillaKenzie’s longtime winemaker Laurent Montalieu before he left the winery in 2003 to focus on his Solena, Domaine Loubejac and Kudos labels.

The 2013 Pinot blanc is sourced from the winery’s estate vines that were planted in 1992-93 and are sustainably farmed.

The Wine

Medium-minus intensity nose with green apples and faint Meyer lemons.

Photo by  Genet. Released on Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0

Rich citrus notes like Meyer lemons characterize this wine.


On the palate the lemon notes become more pronounce and have a slight custardy texture with the medium-plus body weight. Medium acidity gives some balance but could probably use more. There are no overt vanilla oak notes but some subtle baking spice (clove, allspice) notes appear on the moderate finish that suggest maybe a touch was involved.

The Verdict

At around $23-28, this is not a great value but it is a decent white wine for fans who crave something with body but different than a Chardonnay.

At 4+ years of age, it is holding up fairly well but is clearly on its last legs so I would recommend drinking it soon.

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60 Second Wine Review — ROCO Pinot noir

May is Oregon Wine Month so I’m going to kick off the festivities with a few quick thoughts about the 2012 ROCO Pinot noir from the Willamette Valley.

The Geekery

ROCO was founded in 2001 by Rollin Soles and his wife Corby Stonebraker-Soles. In 1987, Soles founded the sparkling wine producer Argyle in the Dundee Hills with Australian winemaker Brian Croser. Argyle expanded to still wine production in 1992 with Soles at the helm till 2013 when he stepped down as winemaker to focus on ROCO. He is also the consulting winemaker for Domaine Drouhin’s Roserock project in the Eola-Amity Hills.

During his time at Argyle, Soles wines were featured on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 list more than any other Oregon winemaker with his Extended Triage Brut being the top scoring American sparkling wine for six straight years.

Prior to his time at Argyle, Soles worked at Wente Brothers and Chateau Montelena in California and at Petaluma Vineyards where he met Brian Croser.

In 2016, Soles released his first post-Argyle sparkling wine, RMS.

The 2012 Willamette Valley Pinot is sourced from vineyards in the Chehalem Mountains, Yamhill-Carlton District and Dundee Hills AVA. Around 2500 cases were made.

The Wine

Medium intensity nose. Fresh red cherries with a mix of red and blue floral notes.

Photo by CorinthiaBTSm. Released on Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

Juicy red cherry notes are abundant in this ROCO Pinot noir.

On the palate, the cherries come through and bring raspberry notes with medium body weight. High acidity is ample but doesn’t veer into tartness. Medium tannins have noticeable grip but are soft. Moderate finish introduces a cherry cola note that adds some intrigue.

The Verdict

I was a bit surprised at how elegant and light this Pinot was for the very “California-like” 2012 vintage that saw drought conditions which concentrated flavors. Usually from this vintage, I expect to find more full-bodied and fruit forward Pinots.

Instead, this wine came across as more of a “classic Oregon” Pinot with restrained, but present, fruit and ample acidity that shines on the table. At $27-30, it is a solid bottle for fans of that old-school, classic style.

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60 Second Wine Review — Whidbey Island Pinot noir

A few quick thoughts on the 2015 Whidbey Island Pinot noir from Cultus Bay Vineyard in Puget Sound.

Full Disclosure: This wine was received as a sample.

The Geekery

Whidbey Island Winery was founded in 1986 when Greg and Elizabeth Osenbach planted their first grapes on the Puget Sound island. The winery was opened in 1992 and today they produce around 3500 cases with about half of their production devoted to estate grown fruit–including Madeleine Angevine, Madeleine Sylvanver and Siegerrebe.

The Pinot noir is sourced from Gene Felton’s Cultus Bay Vineyard located on the southern end of Whidbey Island near Clinton, Washington–overlooking its namesake bay. Spoiled Dog Winery was apparently the first to plant Pinot on Whidbey with their first release coming in 2009, so I would assume the Cultus Bay plantings are younger.

Paul Gregutt, in Washington Wines, describes Whidbey Island Winery as one the “rising stars” in the state.

The Wine

High intensity nose-a mix of black tea, rose petals, a little earthiness coupled with red fruit notes of cherries and currants.

On the palate, the earthy notes become more defined as fresh forest floor with the black tea notes coming out even more. Medium-plus acidity keeps the fruit juicy and balances well with the medium tannins. The floral rose petal notes linger all the way through the long finish.

The Verdict

Photo by Selena N. B. H. from Fayetteville, USA. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-2.0

The fresh black tea note in this Pinot is a delight!

This is by far, the first Washington Pinot noir that has impressed me. While I said in my review of the Tagaris Pinot that at around $30-35 you are paying for the novelty of Washington Pinot, that is certainly not the case here.

This wine more than holds up on its own with layers of complexity and beautiful balance–and from such young vines!

In a blind tasting, I would have pegged it as something from a Burgundian minded producer in  Oregon. Maybe the Chehalem Mountains or Yamhill-Carlton district. It’s not quite at the level of something like the Winderlea Shea Vineyard but it is one of the best examples of Pinot noir you’ll find in Washington.

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Exploring The Burn with Borne of Fire

Going to need more than 60 Seconds to geek out about this new Washington wine.

In January, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates released their newest wine, Borne of Fire, featuring fruit from the newly proposed AVA The Burn of Columbia Valley. A 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon with 10% Malbec blended in, Borne of Fire is the only wine currently on the market that features fruit exclusively from this new region in Washington State.

The Burn

Located in Klickitat County just west of the Horse Heaven Hills and east of the Columbia Gorge AVA, The Burn encompasses the plateau and benchland bordered by the Columbia River to the south and two creeks (Rock and Chapman) flanking it northwest and northeastern sides. The name comes from the tradition of settlers in the late 1800s and early 1900s of setting the entire plateau on fire in the fall to provide ash and fertilizer that would rejuvenate the grasslands in the spring when the horses needed to be fed.

Cabernet Sauvignon vines were first planted in 2002 by Chateau Ste Michelle and the Mercer family of the Horse Heaven Hills. In 2015, plantings were greatly expanded with more Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Syrah, Sangiovese and Chardonnay. Of the nearly 17,000 acres in the proposed AVA, 1261 acres are currently planted. Chateau Ste. Michelle already has plans to expand to 2100 acres.

This expansion would surpass the 1671 acres currently planted in Walla Walla and almost reach the 2225 acres planted in Red Mountain.

The Next Red Mountain?

Map from the Washington State Wine Commission with edits added by the author

Location of The Burn within Washington State

The propose AVA draws some comparison to Red Mountain with its warm temperatures and similar heat accumulation numbers. However, the heat is spaced out over a longer growing season that allows more hang time to ripen stem and seed tannins while still maintaining fresh acidity.

The unique soils of The Burn are a mixture of silt-loam and loess that retains water better than the gravel and sandy loam typical of Red Mountain and many other Eastern Washington AVAs. With an average of 8.7″ of rain, vineyards in The Burn have reduced needs for irrigation and the potential to dry farm in some vintages.

The AVA petition for The Burn was officially accepted October 31st, 2017 with Joan Davenport (of Washington State University and Davenlore Winery), Kevin Corliss (of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates) and John Derrick (of Mercer Canyons) as the petitioners.

Wine Stats

Borne of Fire is made by Juan Muñoz-Oca, the head winemaker of Columbia Crest and Intrinsic, at Ste. Michelle Wine Estate’s Paterson facility. The wine is 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Malbec.  Sourced from 2015 plantings, the Malbec was harvested after only its second leaf.

The Cabernet grapes were mostly fermented whole cluster with the stems. The wine was then aged nearly a year in large 120 gallon puncheons of Hungarian oak. The casks were lightly toasted to pay homage to The Burn’s history. Around 35,000 cases were produced for the inaugural release. Plans for the 2017 release has that number jumping to 95,000 cases.

The Wine

Photo by Imtiyaz Ali. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0

This very young wine has some fresh red cherry notes.

Medium-minus intensity nose. Very tight. Some red cherry and spice. There is an interesting black tea component on the nose that I usually associate with Pinot noir from the Yamhill-Carlton District (like stuff sourced from Shea Vineyards).

On the palate, the tightness and youth still hold court. Medium plus acidity and medium plus tannins lock the fruit and doesn’t allow much to express itself. Working it around a bit in the mouth lets some red currant join the cherry fruit from the nose. The finish is short but that intriguing mix of black tea and “Malbec-like” spice briefly appears.

The Verdict

At around $23-26, you are buying this wine on its potential–both of the wine and the terroir of The Burn. As Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon usually cost $35+, this AVA could offer compelling value.

There are definitely some intriguing hints. I can see this wine developing on a steep learning curve over the next year. Right now, it just needs more bottle age.

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60 Second Wine Review — Winderlea Shea Pinot noir

Some quick thoughts on the 2011 Winderlea Shea Vineyard Pinot noir.

The Geekery

Winderlea was founded by Bill Sweat and Donna Morris in the Dundee Hills in 2006. The name “Winderlea” comes from the Vermont home of the founders and means “wind in the meadow”.

The wines are made by Robert Brittan who previously spent more than 30 years in California working at blockbuster estates in Napa Valley such as Far Niente and Stags’ Leap Winery before pursuing his passion for Pinot noir up in the Willamette Valley.

According to John Winthrop Haeger’s Pacific Pinot Noir, Dick Shea got the inspiration to plant Shea Vineyard in the late 1980s from Mark Benoit, son of the owner of Chateau Benoit that is now Anne Amie Vineyards. Shea and Benoit thought that the sedimentary soils of the Yamhill-Carlton District had just as much potential to produce distinctive Pinot noirs as the volcanic red soils of the Dundee Hills.

It is now considered one of the top vineyards in all of Oregon with a very exclusive list of wineries sourcing fruit from it including Winderlea, Archery Summit, Bergström, Ken Wright, Penner-Ash and St. Innocent.

The 2011 Shea Pinot spent 10 months in French oak barrels (13% new) with around 390 cases produced.

The Wine

Medium plus intensity nose–lots of red berry, cherry and spice notes. With a little air some floral elements come out adding more layers.

Photo by Veganlover1993. Released on Wikimedia Commons under CC BY-SA 3.0

The inviting black tea notes I find in this Winderlea Pinot noir I see often in Pinots from Yamhill-Carlton


On the palate, those cherry notes come through but the spice notes become more black tea like. Medium plus acidity gives nice juiciness to the fruit while medium tannins gives grip to the wine. The spice notes lingers for a long finish.

The Verdict

The 2011 vintage was cool but it’s a vintage that showcases a winemaker’s skill in crafting elegant and age worthy Pinots.

This 2011 Winderslea Shea is just starting to come into into its own and at around $65-75 certainly deserves its place as a top shelf Oregon Pinot from one of the Grand Cru vineyards of the state.

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