Thursday, April 1, 2010

Wine Tasting: The Pinot Noirs of Patricia Green Cellars, Oregon, US

Picture: Patricia Green and Christian G.E. Schiller at Pearson's in Washington DC

Wine Tasting: The Pinot Noirs of Patricia Green Cellars, Oregon, US

Patricia Green from Oregon came to Washington DC to show us her wines. I attended a tasting at Pearson’s. Patricia Green founded Patricia Green Cellars in 2000, with Jim Anderson. Since then, the winery has established itself as a producer of outstanding Oregon Pinot Noirs.


Patricia Green Cellars 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.

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.

Picture: Wine country Oregon

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.

Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir in the US has become synonymous with the relative cool climate grape growing regions of Oregon. The reputation that gets Pinot Noir so much attention, however, is owed to the wines of the Bourgogne in France, where it has probably been cultivated since at least the 4th century. It's responsible for the great red wines from the Bourgogne, which includes Chambertin, Pommard, and Romanee-Conti, to name a few. In the Champagne region, Pinot Noir is one of the three grape varieties (along with Chardonnay and Meunier) allowed in the sparkling wine. Pinot Noir is also an important red grape in Germany. In northern Italy, Pinot Noir is known as Blauburgunder in some areas and Pinot Nero in others. Some of California's better Pinot Noir wines come from the State's cooler regions such as Carneros, the Russian River Valley and Santa Barbara.

Regardless of where it’s grown, Pinot Noir is not typically a value wine. That is so because Pinot Noir is such a delicate grape that it is difficult and expensive to grow. It is a fickle grape that demands optimum growing conditions with warm days supported by cool evenings. As the German name – Spaetburgunder - implies, it ripens late (spät). Compared with those from California, in general, the Oregon Pinot Noirs are lighter in color, fruitier in the nose and cleaner on the palate.

Patty Green

The 48-year-old winemaker’s career in the wine industry began by leaving the re-forestation business to pick grapes at Hillcrest Vineyard outside of Roseburg. There, she quickly was given the reins. She then worked and consulted for various wineries, including Ashland Vineyards, Girardet Winery, Adelsheim Winery and La Garza Vineyards. When she left Torii Mor Winery with the 1999 vintage in barrel, there were a slew of 90+ point scores on wines from the 93- 97 vintages, widespread recognition within Oregon s wine community as a talent to watch and near cult-like status from Pinot Noir drinkers. In 2000, together with Jim Anderson, who worked at Torii Mor with Green as well as with a silent partner, she acquired the winery of Tom and Wendy Kreutner and the Patty Green Vineyards was borne.

Patricia Green Cellars

The estate has 26 acres, although Green and Anderson farm 60 acres of property for grapes. Patty explained that all of the vineyards they either maintain or purchase fruit from, are extremely well-tended sites that seek to grow the best fruit possible through rigorous attention to detail on every single vine. To ensure that the sites truly show the characteristics of the soil, micro-climate and clonal material none of them use irrigation. In the winery, the philosophy of attention to the smallest details is further extended all the way from the fermenting must to the final bottling process.

Green uses only native yeast in making their wines; she does not add commercial yeast to get grapes to ferment. She also puts certain types of lees back into the barrels while the wines are aging. Lees are the seeds, skins and related solids that fall to the bottom of fermenting grape juice. They can add a layering quality to the wine and a berry-like texture.

Patty makes wine from a variety of Willamette Valley sources, encompassing the two primary soil types in the region: sedimentary and volcanic. The vineyards are broken up into 17 different blocks based upon age of vine, clonal material, elevation, and other factors. The blocks have been given a name for various reasons (Pheasant, Lakeview, etc.).

Prices are in US$. The current exchange rates are 0.90 BP = 1 EURO = 1.34 US$ = 124 JPY.

Wines we tasted:


Winery Notes: Not to be left out of the discussion of wines from this vineyard would be the Chardonnay. We have developed more of an appreciation for this vineyard s ability to give us the kind of fruit we wanted as we figured out more and more what kind of wine we wanted to make from this site. All the new barrels are long gone and at this point the newest barrel in the Chardonnay has been used five times. We are also starting to pick at a point where we still have some greener berries mixed into some of the bunches. That gives us a hint more acidity than we have had in the past pushing the wine further and further into the lemon candy/lemon curd flavor profile that we love and are trying to coax out of our wine. In 2003 and 2004 we felt as though we were looking to the wines of the Macon or village level Meursaults for our inspiration. With the 2005 we definitely stare into Chablis with a wine that is full of lemony goodness, a dollop of crushed oyster shell and some spice on the finish. This is a lean, mean fighting machine. Not for everyone but you will love it if this in your genre of Chardonnays. 330 cases bottled. $24.99


Winery Notes: This is not only the best bottling of Four Winds we have ever done (by a long shot) it is one of the best wines of the vintage. It is simply incredible in every way. From the electric black/purple pigmentation to the wild berry/smoke/earth/licorice aromatics to the sheer intensity and concentration of flavors to the massive texture supported by firm tannins this wine is a rock star. This bottling has not always been everyone s cup of tea. Those who have liked this have loved it and those not so attracted to it tended to find it distastefully earthy and odd. This wine will not be nearly as polarizing. There is a lot to love about this wine because there is a lot of stuffing packed into this wine. This is a dynamo. We waited patiently for these vines to show the benefit of some vine age and we think we are beginning to see the fruition of that patience. Didn t hurt that this came in at slightly over 1 ton to the acre either. Stock up if you have been a fan in the past or jump on the bandwagon if you haven t been a disciple in the past. 320 cases bottled. $36.99


Winery Notes : This bottling has the sweetness of red fruit, high-toned acidity, and super-silky tannins that make Balcombe Vineyard such a terrific and sought-after site. There is a great deal of intensity in this particular wine and while its nature tends toward femininity and elegance there is an underlying darkness and strength to it that provide a whole different dimension. Fans of this bottling will love this vintage as it is mouth-watering, smooth, and rich, and it possesses so much substance that it will be terrific for many years down the road. $44.99


Winery Notes: This bottling is designed to show off the inherent power that younger vines display in the Ribbon Ridge Appellation. There is a darkness that runs through this wine from its color, to its aromatic profile, into the flavors and down into the tannins that finish it off. While other qualities resonate in flashes such as violets and bing cherries in the nose and rose petal and loam in the mid-palate the background of power and darkness is always there. While this wine is not truly a powerful wine as it is quite graceful it has a brooding character that gives it quite a bit of depth. This is a terrific expression of the type of subtle power wines from the Ribbon Ridge Appellation contain. Sort of like Baryshnikov doing Swan Lake in a leather jacket while carrying brass knuckles. $44.99


Winery Notes: This blend changes each vintage based on what we think are the most exotic barrels the cellar has to offer...We chose based on the superbly rich, dense, creamy, and full-bodied natures of these barrels. This wine is a marvel in 2008. What is truly recognizable even at this young age is the length of this wine. There is so much substance that is so well-balanced that it carries on and on. Buy it for its concentration, depth, and exotic fruit but cellar and savor it for its length and complexity. This is a beautiful, beautiful, wine. 135 cases bottled. $79.99

Patricia Green Cellars
Oregon, US

Washington DC, US

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