My third and final day in the Willamette Valley brought me back to the Dundee Hills, for what turned out to be one of the most interesting and personable events at Oregon Pinot Camp.
Far from being a competition or wine scoring “taste off” as the name might imply, “East Side vs. West Side” was a fantastic opportunity to really understand and taste the differences between to different terroirs within the same AVA or mesoclimate.
The plan was for our group to convene at Winderlea Wine Co. before heading up the hill to our first vineyard stop. I was 20 minutes late..and got a ride up in the vineyard truck. Authentic! Our expert hosts for this in depth tour and tasting included:
Representing the East Side:
Winderlea Wine Co: owners Bill Sweat and Donna Morris; Robert Brittan winemaker
Erath: winemaker Gary Horner
Representing the West Side:
Stoller Vineyards: winemaker Melissa Burr
First on the agenda, our group of 10 or so were treated to the different soil profile of the Dundee Hills AVA. Gary explained that east side of the region contains high degree of volcanic basalt, the reddish lava-based soils known as Jory soils. This soil type is moderately fertile, drains fairly well, and exhibits light to moderate erosion levels.
It is this eastern side of the where another legend of the Oregon wine industry first set down roots. In 1972 Dick Erath of his eponymous winery produced the first commercial wine from the eastern side of these Dundee Hills. A whopping 216 cases!
In contrast, the western side of the Dundee Hills is comprised of a different soil makeup. Gary explained that further west, the sedimentary Willakenzie soil series covers the slopes of the Dundee Hills. More specifically, rather than decomposed volcanic basalt produced from igneous rock, Willakenzie soil is derived from sandstone, siltstone and tuffaceous materials. Great you might be saying, but really…
How does all of this soil stuff translate to how a wine tastes?
We’ll find out later at our East Side vs. West Side comparative tasting!
After our soil tutorial, our group headed back to Winderlea Wine Co. , where we met co-owner Bill Sweat and winemaker Robert Brittan for a tour through the vines. Winderlea is the realization of a shared passion and dream between Bill Sweat and Donna Morris.
Originally from Boston MA, Bill and Donna move to Oregon in 2006, purchased the famous Goldschmidt Vineyard, and renamed their new venture “Winderlea”. This name was inspired after a Vermont farm founded years ago by a Jewish/German family, for which “Winderlea” meant “a valley protected from the wind”.
Winderlea Vineyard was originally planted in 1974 by owners John and Sally Bauers, and represents several blocks of the oldest own-rooted Pinot noir vines in the Willamette Valley. Bill explained that some of these old vines may eventually succumb to phylloxera.
In 1998 ex-Oregon Governor Neil Goldschmidt purchased the vineyard and re-grafted existing parcels of chardonnay, gamay and cabernet sauvignon with pinot noir. David Adelsheim of Adelsheim Vineyards (link) was hired to manage the re-plantings.
Today, 16 acres at Winderlea is comprised entirely of pinot noir on 13 separate blocks.
Winemaker and viticulturalist Robert Brittan explained that high density planting, the introduction of Dijon clones, and biodynamic viticulture are practices that the winery are employing in order to produce high quality site specific wine as well respectful stewards of the land.
Next: lunch @ Winderlea and a comparative tasting of East Side vs. West Side!