Thu 2 Apr 2015
The history of Youngberg Hill is as complicated as such things often are in the West Coast wine industry. This land in Oregon’s Willamette Valley was farmed by a Swede named Youngberg until 1987, when Norman Barnett, a financier from Boston, rolled in, bought the acreage and built an inn. In 1989, the legendary Ken Wright planted two vineyards here and used those grapes for his Panther Creek pinot noirs. Wayne Bailey, originally from Iowa but nurtured on the wines of Burgundy and his work there, bought the property in 2003, and 10 years later he is still the owner and winemaker of this family-owned business, which includes the inn — now renovated — that Barnett established 26 years ago. The winery has practiced organic methods since 2003. The property includes a bed-and-breakfast facility that looks absolutely splendid.
I am a fan of the winery’s pinot blanc, one of the best made on the West Coast, so I was happy to receive samples of the three pinot noir wines under consideration today. These turned out to be bigger, more highly structured and earthy pinots that I had expected, but fall entirely within the parameters of the grape and of the Willamette Valley. They are produced in small quantities, so I encourage a search on the internet or a visit to the Youngberg Hill website.
The Youngberg Hill “Cuvée” Pinot Noir 2012, Willamette Valley, is the winery’s entry-level pinot noir, a blend of grapes from three vineyards, including the Youngberg Hill estate vineyard. It offers an entrancing mulberry-magenta hue and arousing aromas of loam and graphite, ripe and slightly smoky black and red cherries, currants and plums, and a profound reservoir of exotic spices in the form of cloves and sassafras and a wisp of sandalwood. The wine is quite dry on the palate, satiny and raspy together in texture, but juicy with red and black fruit flavors and lively with bright acidity and a refreshing granitic mineral element. As moments pass, it becomes more spiced and macerated, finding more depth but getting a touch austere through the finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 298 cases, says the label; 290 cases according to the winery website. Drink now or from 2016 through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $35.
The Youngberg Hill Natasha Block Pinot Noir 2012, Willamette Valley, originates from a 6.6-acre parcel of vines that faces southeast toward the morning sun. The color is an intense purple-magenta; vivid scents of red raspberries and blueberries are permeated by hints of cloves and allspice, sour cherry and melon ball and a back-note of pomegranate, all arrayed over a foundation of loam and new leather. These qualities segue seamlessly to the mouth, where sleek, supple tannins and lip-smacking acidity cut a swath on the palate. Nothing ephemeral here, this pinot noir is lithe and muscular, but not chunky or clunky; you feel the power and dimension of the structure as well as its energy and liveliness. The wine evolves toward more dryness in the glass, and you feel the oak and tannin injecting serious claims on the finish. 13.8 percent alcohol. Try from 2016 through 2022 to ’24. Production was 137 cases, printed on the back-label, 327 cases from the winery website. Huh? Excellent. About $40.
Of this trio, the Youngberg Hill Jordan Block Pinot Noir 2012, Willamette Valley, came closest to my ideal of greatness in the grape, and that is a marriage of powerful earthy dimension to details of ineffable and ethereal delight. The vines form a 3.3-acre block that faces south on a steeper slope than the rest of the vineyard. The color is dark ruby-magenta; the bouquet is aggressively loamy, briery and brambly, with hints of moss and mushrooms, but entwined with high notes of lavender and rose petals, black cherries and currants and an undertone of pomegranate. “Jordan” is even more muscular than “Natasha,” more lithe and sinewy, deeply rooted in its rooty, woodsy character yet never relinquishing trust in its spiced and macerated black fruit flavors and the fleet acidity that lends fruit and structure their vibrant nature. The finish is all polished graphite and flowers. 13.4 percent alcohol. Production was 300 cases (or 270 cases). Try from 2016 through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $50.