The Yamhill-Carlton District was granted status as an American Viticultural Area in 2004, though its history as a grape-growing and winemaking region goes back to 1974, when the pioneering Pat and Joe Campbell founded Elk Cove Vineyards. The area, in the northern stretch of Oregon’s Willamette Valley, is now home to 34 wineries and some 60 vineyards that cultivate about 1200 acres of vines. Set into a rough horseshoe-shaped amphitheater of ragged hills (and centered around the two hamlets of its name), Yamhill-Carlton, the yelow area on the accompanying map, features ancient marine sedimentary soils that are among the oldest in Willamette Valley and that drain quickly, a necessary aspect for successful grape-growing. The rules of the AVA stipulate that vineyards must be planted between 200 and 1000 feet above sea level.

One of the youngest of the wineries in Yamhill-Carlton is Lenné Estate, started in 2000 by Steve and Karen Lutz, who found an old pasture that year, near the town of Yamhill, and decided, because of its exposure, soil and drainage, that it would be perfect for growing pinot noir vines. The soil is called peavine, described in official surveys as “poor, shallow and gravelly,” meaning that vines have to sing for their suppers if they’re going to find the proper nutrients deep in the bedrock. All the wines produced at Lenné derive from this 20.9-acre vineyard.

Bloggers and other wine industry people attending the Wine Bloggers Conference this week in Portland should know that Steve Lutz will be pouring the three wines that I review here at the opening reception Thursday night. These were samples for review. Map from
Lenné Estate Karen’s Pommard Pinot Noir 2010, Yamhill-Carlton District, Willamette Valley. The wine, a selection of the best barrels from the vineyard’s Pommard blocks, is named after Steve Lutz’s wife. The color is an enchanting limpid, almost transparent medium ruby; aromas of smoky black and red cherries with touches of plum and mulberry are bolstered by notes of clean earth and loam and just a hint of graphite and bittersweet chocolate. The wine aged 11 months in French oak, 66 percent new barrels. The emphasis now lies with the stones and bones of structure in the realms of vibrant acidity, supple oak, moderately dense tannins and a pretty profound granitic-loamy mineral quality, but fear not, because the wine still feels succulent and satiny, spicy and paradoxically ethereal. The finish is dry, a little mossy and brambly, a touch austere. 14 percent alcohol. Production was 125 cases. Best from 2013 or ’14 through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $55.
Lenné Estate Pinot Noir 2009, Yamhill-Carlton District, Willamette Valley. The wine aged 11 months in French oak, 35 percent new barrels. The hue is medium ruby with a shading of scarlet fading into garnet. Seductive and exotic aromas of sandalwood and cloves, violets and rose petals and potpourri are woven with roasted plums and a hint of fruitcake. A product of an unseasonably hot year, this 2009 is intense and concentrated, deeply flavored with a combination of spiced and macerated cherries and plums with dried cherries and cranberries; there are distinct backnotes of the Willamette Valley’s characteristic loamy influence, as well as a bit of spice cake and mocha. The whole package is beautifully balanced and integrated, though the wine is fairly dense and chewy, and the finish flushes out dry and a little austere. 14.8 percent alcohol. Production was 450 cases. Best from 2013 through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $45.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Lenné Estate Pinot Noir 2008, Yamhill-Carlton District, Willamette Valley. Again 11 months in French oak, only 30 percent new barrels. The color is medium ruby with a slight garnet-mulberry hue at the rim. The nose is clean and fresh, engaging and appealing, yet with a serious iodine and iron edge highlighted by earthy briery and brambly elements; curiously, you feel the wood a bit more in this wine than in its cousins from 2009 and ’10, yet give it a few minutes in the glass, and it conjures notes of cloves and sassafras, rose petals and violets, spiced and macerated red and black cherries and plums, characteristics that segue smoothly onto the palate. The texture is platonically satiny and sensuous, but the wine is no kissy-face crowd-pleaser; rather, it drapes that texture around a structure deeply infused by essential acidity and the loamy, gravel-like minerality that ties all these wines to each other and to their birthplace. I wanted to weep because I didn’t have a roasted Cornish hen with which to drink this pinot noir. 14 percent alcohol. 491 cases. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $55.