I Am Where I Come From

Celia Strong

We are all products of our environments. City or country. Big family or small. Healthy, stressed, happy, lonely, whatever. Same thing is true for wines. One grape variety can produce different styles of wines depending on the environment where they are grown. Soil type. Climate. Winemaker’s input. Grapes from any one environment tend to make similar style wines, and certain environments become known for being better for certain wines. Like Napa Valley Cabernets. Or, in our case this week, Pinot Noirs from Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

Pinot Noir is a noble variety. It produces all the great red wines of France’s Burgundy region. Pinot Noir grapes, though, can be difficult to grow. They are susceptible to vineyard diseases and like to ripen in cooler climates where they can hang on their vines longer and develop more flavors. Oregon has soils and climates that are very close to those in Burgundy, so it is a perfect source for good Pinot Noir wines. 

The Willamette River and its waterways, besides being essential to Oregon’s economy, continuously deposit highly fertile, alluvial soils on the river’s broad plain. In the Willamette Valley there are three basic soil types. The Jory area has volcanic basalt that is rich, moist and fertile. This makes Pinot Noirs with flavors like cherry pie — fruity, sweet and spicy. In the Willakenzie area, sedimentary soils that are dry and brittle are more common. This soil forces vine roots to “dig” deeper for nutrients and moisture. These Pinot wines show “Dr. Pepper” flavors with black fruits, cola and chocolate. Third, the loess soils in the Laurelwood area are powdery, volcanic, shallow and ashy. These soils drain easily, erode easily and require more careful vineyard management. The Pinots from here show bright red fruit flavors with earth and white pepper notes. 

The climate in the Willamette Valley is Mediterranean with oceanic features. Summers are very dry and mostly cloudless and range from warm to extremely hot. Winters are cool, rainy and cloudy. During the grape growing season, there is little to no rain. Most of the precipitation comes between November and February, when no grapes are growing. Daytimes temperatures run in the 80s all summer and mid-40s in the winter. 

Firesteed Winery was established in 1992. Their goal was to produce premium varietal wines that represented their origins and were affordable. Hard work and attention to all the details helped them succeed. In Oregon’s cooler climate, along with the inconsistencies of temperature and rainfall, it was not always easy. 

Their 2017 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir is a perfect example. Normal spring weather was followed by a hot, dry summer. Pinot Noir harvesting began Oct. 2 — by hand — and continued until Oct. 29. They were able to make their fruit driven style wine with specific cellar techniques (gentle crush) and imagination in the vineyards (blending from different sites). The grapes were fermented in stainless steel tanks with selected yeasts they import from Burgundy. Pressing was done during the last days of fermentation. After malolactic fermentation, the wines were racked — rolled from one French oak barrel to another. 

This finished wine has a bright acidity with aromas and flavors of red cherries, maple syrup, currants, strawberries, rhubarb, raspberries, cedar, baking spices, cocoa powder and more. It is well balanced with a round mouth feel. Dark chocolate, crème brulée, cream and caramel come on the long finish. Succulent and delicious, with ripe tannins. This winery, with this wine, is the third most awarded winery in the United States. Truly, a wine that represents its environment. Flavors, textures, quality. All from the soil, the climate and the winemaker. Perfect. For $11.99. Enjoy. 

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