Friday, October 15, 2010

The Jay Somers Wines of Bill Holloran, Oregon

Picture: Bill Holloran and Christian G.E.Schiller

The Jay Somers Wines of Bill Holloran

I was excited to meet Bill Holloran of Holloran Vineyard Wines at Cecile’s in McLean, Virginia, a few weeks ago. Bill Holloran produces with his winemaker Jay Somers small quantities of hand crafted wine from premium vineyard sites in Oregon's Willamette Valley. I know Jay Somers from his collaboration with Germany’s Ernst Loosen.


Holloran Vineyard Wines is in the Willamette Valley, were about two-thirds of Oregon’s wineries and vineyards are. Buffered from Pacific storms on the west by the Coast Range, the valley follows the Willamette River north to south for more than a hundred miles from the Columbia River near Portland to just south of Eugene. But Oregon is not only about Willamette Valley. Oregon’s vineyards span the whole State, rising up and falling over the rolling hills and gentle valleys of more than 12,000 acres (4,858 hectares) of wine grapes. Oregon’s major wine regions are the Willamette Valley, Rogue Valley, Umpqua Valley, and the Columbia Gorge. Some regions straddle the border between Oregon and the States of Washington and Idaho.

Picture: Oregon's wine regions

Wine was made in Oregon in the 19th century already, when Italian and Swiss immigrants planted wine grapes and started bottling wine. Oregon's wine industry was suppressed during Prohibition. It wasn’t until1961, when Richard Sommer set up shop in southern Oregon and planted Riesling, that the modern Oregon wine industry was borne. Other pioneers include David Adelsheim, Dick Ponzi and Bill Sokol-Blosser. Then the French also came with Domaine Drouhin bringing European sophistication to Oregon. In the past 40 years, Oregon has become one of the country’s top three wine States, with 350 wineries producing an average of 5,000 cases each a year. Most of it is Pinot Noir, but there’s also Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and modest amounts of Riesling and Merlot.

Oregon produces wine on a much smaller scale than its southern neighbor California. Oregon's biggest producer ships only 125,000 cases per year and most produce under 35,000 cases. The State features many small wineries which produce less than 5,000 cases per year. In contrast, E & J Gallo Winery, the US’ largest winery, produces about 70 million cases annually. The majority of wineries in Oregon operate their own vineyards, although some purchase grapes on the market.

Like New Zealand, Oregon rode the Sideways Pinot Noir boom for several years, expanding vineyard plantings repeatedly. Now the financial crisis has hit the wine industry. Malbec from Argentina and Camenere from Chile are hot and prices are tumbling. As if weak demand and strong competitors weren't enough, the 2009 crop was a big one -- up 23% from 2008. Combined with the unsold inventory from 2008, the State faces its first significant surplus of wine in many years.

Bill Holloran

Bill Holloran's story is: technology executive moves to Oregon to raise his family, starts to dabble in wine, hires one of the best young winemakers in Oregon (Jay Somers), buys a famous vineyard (Le Pavillon), and starts turning out classic Willamette Valley wines at high quality. The fruit is sourced from vineyards that are farmed organically or biodynamically.

The Vineyards

The Le Pavillon vineyard is located in the Dundee Hills AVA and is over 35 years old. The soil type is Jory, an ancient volcanic soil. The producing blocks are Pinot Noir, Riesling and Chardonnay. Farmed organically since 1999, Biodynamically since 2005.

The La Chenaie vineyard is located in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA. Pinot Noir, Tempranillo, Chardonnay and Riesling are planted on south, east, and southwest-facing slopes. This site also has volcanic soils, including Jory, Gelderman, and Ritner, and the mature producing blocks are farmed organically.

The estate Vineyard Meute de Chiens has 6 different clones of Pinot Noir. Farmed organically.

The Labels

The top cuvees are offered under the Holloran label, and provide flavors and aromas that are representative of their source vineyard or AVA. The Stafford Hill line is the “second label” providing good value for handcrafted, small production wines.

Jay Somers

Bill Holloran's winemaker is Jay Somers, better known for his culty J Christopher label and also for his cooperation with German star winemaker Ernst Loosen.

Jay Somers first worked making wine with John Paul, winemaker and owner of tiny cult winery Cameron. In 1999, after three vintages at Cameron, he partnered with Bill Holloran and they built a small winery on Holloran's farm. In return for making Holloran's Holloran Winery and Stafford Hill label wines, Jay uses the facility to make his own J Christopher label, which he launched in 1996. J. Christopher Wines specializes in Pinot Noir made in the traditional Bourgogne style.

Ernst Loosen is the owner of the Weingut Dr. Loosen in the Mosel wine region in Germany. At the same time, he makes wine in the US. First, he makes the Eroica Riesling, in collaboration with Chateau Ste. Michelle, the huge Washington State winemaker. Second, he makes Two Worlds with Jay Somers. This is an inter-continental blend. It is composed of 90 percent of German Sp├Ątburgunder from the Pfalz, where Dr. Loosen owns the J.L. Wolf winery and 10 percent Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. In addition, the 2 wine makers have started to produce a boutique bottling of Oregon Pinot Noir called Appassionata.

Picture: Ernst Loosen and Jay Somers

What we drank

Here is what Bill poured, with Cecile’s notes.

Stafford Hill Chardonay CMV 2008

Here's your new favorite unwooded Chardonnay - crisp, fresh, and perfect for sipping and Holiday entertaining! Bill Holloran developed the Stafford Hill label to feature pure, ready-to-drink, wines sourced from terrific vineyards up and down Oregon's Willamette Valley. Bill grew the fruit for his 2008 Stafford Hill Chardonnay in the Eola Hills, Willamette's southern region just north of Salem, Oregon. Perfectly ripe Chardonnay fruit receives a cool fermentation in stainless steel and then rests briefly on the lees before going directly into bottle - no wood barrels involved! The result is a bright, zippy,wine loaded with green apple, fresh pineapple, and tart mango fruit laced with fine minerality and a touch of citrus. A great taste of Oregon's fantastic 2008 vintage at a stunning price. US$ 18.99

Holloran Riesling 2008 Le Pavillon Vyd Willamette

The more we taste wines from Oregon's 2008 vintage, the more impressed we get! Holloran has long been recongized as one of Oregon's best Riesling producers, and the 2008 single vineyard Le Pavillon Riesling will only grow that reputation more. This is a big, ripe, wine that's loaded with apricot, ripe peach, and lime zest fruit. Made in the style of Alsace leader Zind-Humbrecht, it's rich and very deeply flavored with a long, rich, finish that just won't quit. A great wine for seafood or scallops accented with fruit salsa or anything Asian. US$ 26.99

Holloran Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 2006

Bill Holloran's winemaker is Jay Somers, better known for his culty J Christopher label. Bill and Jay told us back when the 2006 Pinot was released that it was clearly their best vintage ever for this wine. A few months aging have made it even better! The warm 2006 vintage clearly shows in aromas of ripe strawberry and cherry and earth that lead to deep red fruit and exotic spices on the palate. The tannins are light and the finish long, lingering, and full of fruit and spice. This will drink really well right now but has the depth of fruit and balance to develop for another 3-6 years. A fine value! US$ 29.99

Holloran Pinot Noir Le Pavillon Willamette 2007

Bill Holloran's Le Pavillon Pinot Noir is always a Dundee Hills classic – spicy and redolent of strawberry and raspberry fruit. As usual, the 2007 model is built to improve with cellar time – a 1999 Le Pavillon Pinot Bill poured for me last summer was still fresh and delightful! – but is more than accessible enough to enjoy now with a little air. There’s plenty of concentration and depth this year, but also a silky texture and sense of transparency that I prize in great Oregon Pinot Noir. Tasted blind, you’d swear this would sell for $50 or more. Fantastic value. US$ 39.99

Holloran Vineyard Wines

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1 comment:

  1. Great article, thanks. I have always considered the foremost pinot noir pioneers from Oregon to be Dick Erath from Erath and Dave Lett "Papa Pinot" from Eyrie. The term coming of age seems to be rather subjective. There have been very nice wines made in the area for years. I attended the first ever Pinot Camp and was fortunate to taste through each vintage of the 80s from Eyrie. The wines still showed great fruit concentration, surprising complexity and considerable elegance. In my humble opinion, Oregon came of age in the late 90s. It is now an established wine production region in the global community.