Most writers describe the Yamhill-Carlton District, an American Viticultural Area in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, as horseshoe-shaped, but as you can see from the accompanying map, it doesn’t look anything like a horseshoe; more like a deconstructed triumphal arch. The region, which occupies parts of Yamhill and Carlton counties, was approved in 2004, but only for elevations between 200 and 1,000 feet. Vineyard plantings in the district measure about 1,200 acres. The five wines under consideration today are all single-vineyards bottlings from Yamhill-Carlton, tasted at an afternoon event — a hot afternoon — at Elk Cove Winery in conjunction with the 2012 Wine Bloggers’ Conference held in Portland last August. The question, of course, is whether the five pinot noirs, all from 2010, display identifiable regional characteristics. If the experience had been based only on the first three wines, I would have said that the soil, elevation and microclimate of Yamhill-Carlton encourage bright fruit of brilliant purity and intensity, lean yet supple structures and fairly profound yet balanced earthy qualities. That assessment was thrown off, however, by the last two wines, which were tannic and austere. I make no conclusions, therefore, but encourage a search for the Belle Pente, Penner-Ash and Elk Cove pinot noirs in particular.
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Belle Pente Winery Belle Pente Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010. Jill and Brian O’Donnell established Belle Pente in 1994 and produced their first wines in 1996. Estate vineyards amount to 16 acres, farmed on organic and biodynamic principles. Production in 2010 was 3,600 cases. The Belle Pente “Belle Pente” Pinot Noir 2010 offers a medium ruby-cranberry color; it’s a wine of tremendous purity and intensity, with spiced and macerated black and red currants and plums that feel slightly stewed and undertones of briers and brambles, roots and branches for a distinctly earthy, loamy, foresty character; nonetheless, what dominates, as it were, are the utter transparency of beautiful fruit and clean acidity that cuts a swath on the palate. 785 cases. Information about oak aging and alcohol content is not available. Drink through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About $35.
Image, much cropped, from vindulgeblog.com.
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Penner-Ash Wine Cellars Dussin Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010. The winery was launched in 1998 by Lynn and Ron Penner-Ash; winemaker is Lynn Penner-Ash. Fifteen acres are planted to vines, now Oregon Certified Sustainable. Production in 2010 was 8,000 cases. This wine aged 10 months in a carefully calibrated regimen of French oak: 38 percent new barrels; 29 percent one-year-old; 29 percent two-year-old; four percent neutral. The color is a rich garnet-mulberry; the bouquet draws you in with seductive aromas of smoke, cedar and tobacco, sage and bay leaf, spiced and macerated red and black cherries and currants with a hint of plum. It’s a pinot noir that balances substantial presence in body and tone with an elevating and almost ethereal cast of red and black fruit flavors, enmeshed in a hint of lightly spiced oak. A seamless marriage of power and elegance. 575 cases. Alcohol level is 13.5 percent. Drink through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. about $60.
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Elk Cove Vineyards Mt Richmond Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010. Elk Cove, founded in 1974 by Joe and Pat Campbell, was a pioneer in Yamhill-Carlton long before the notion of that AVA was a gleam in anyone’s eye. Producing acres on the estate amount to 232. Winemaker is Adam Godlee-Campbell. Production in 2010 was 35,000 cases. The Elk Cove Mt Richmond Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010 displays a slightly darker ruby-cherry color than the previous two pinot noirs; again, lovely purity and intensity, impeccable balance and integrity; ripe, sweet red and black cherry scents and flavors tinged with smoke and a hint of oak and dried spice in the cloves and sassafras range; undercurrents of briers and brambles lend an earthy foundation, along with tongue-swabbing acidity for liveliness and allure. The oak expands from mid-palate back through the finish, along with a touch of dusty tannins for a bit of austerity. 696 cases. Alcohol content N/A. Drink through 2016 to ’17. Excellent. About $48.
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Soléna Estate Domaine Danielle Laurent Pinot Noir 2010. The estate is named for the daughter of Danielle Andrus Montalieu and Laurent Montalieu who acquired their first 80 acres in 2000, forming the basis of a certified biodynamic vineyard, Domaine Danielle Laurent. Case production in 2011 was 9,000. Laurent Montelieu is winemaker. This wine aged 13 months in French oak, 37 percent new barrels. The color tends toward ruby-garnet, while the totality of the wine tends toward an expression of oak-mineral-and-tannin structure with acidity playing an essential supporting role; you can almost smell the structure in the wine’s slightly woody-minerally aspects, and you certainly feel the structure on the palate. Perhaps the austere nature of the Soléna Estate Domaine Danielle Laurent Pinot Noir 2010 indicates its motivation as an age-worthy pinot noir; perhaps it will allow its fruit to unfurl in a year or two. Try from 2014 through 2018 to 2020. 13.6 percent alcohol. 480 cases. Very Good+ with a nod toward Excellent potential. About $50.
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WillaKenzie Estate Pierre Léon Pinot Noir 2010. Bernard and Ronni Lacroute founded WillaKenzie Estate in 1992, with the first wines made from the 1995 vintage. Winemaker is Thibaud Mandet. Production in 2011 was 21,000 cases. The winery holds Oregon Certified Sustainable Wine status. I have tasted pinot noirs from WillaKenzie before, but the WillaKenzie Estate Pierre Léon Pinot Noir 2010, which aged 14 months in 50 percent new French oak, is the most tannic and austere example that I have encountered; it’s quite dry and austere and exhibits a full complement of the dusty-brushy-foresty graphite components that indicate a wine intended for the long haul. Is this the best method of treating the pinot noir grape? Not in my book, but they didn’t ask me, did they? I would give this wine from 2015 or ’16 through 2020 or ’22 to flesh out and allow other elements their legitimate expression. 13.5 percent alcohol. Number of cases N/A. Very Good+ with a Big If. About $42.
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