By Celia Strong
Every once in a while you get lucky. For some people, “once in a while” comes more often than it does for others. But, sometimes, “once in a while” is worth the wait especially when the lucky wine that comes along is way, way better than a normal “once in a while” piece of luck. This week’s wine is good enough to be one of the best pieces of luck for a whole year.
We’re going to Oregon this week. This Pacific-Northwest state has a solid reputation, in the United States and around the world, for excellent wines. Even though grape growing and winemaking date back to the 1840’s, real commercial production began in the 1960’s. There are now over 400 wineries in Oregon, with more than 20,000 acres of vineyards. A huge tourism business has grown up around them. More than $100 million dollars are made every year from the Oregon wine industry and its tourists.
Oregon wines are sold as varietals, meaning they are labeled for the grape variety in them. While the rest of the states producing wine in this country follow the federal 75 percent minimum law, Oregon, for most of its wines, requires 90 percent. That means a California Pinot Noir has to be made from a minimum 75 percent Pinot Noir. An Oregon Pinot Noir has to be at least 90 percent. (Because I know someone will ask, the Oregon 90 percent law does not apply to red and white Bordeaux varieties, red and white Rhône varieties, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Zinfandel and Tannat. All good grapes, but not the ones Oregon is known for.) Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay are, by far, Oregon’s better grapes. The Oregon climate and soil are both well suited to these varieties.
There are three main, and large, AVAs in Oregon. The Willamette Valley AVA, the Southern Oregon AVA and the Columbia Gorge AVA, part of which is in Washington state. With over 5,000 square miles, the Willamette Valley AVA is the largest in the state and has more than half of the state’s 400 wineries located in it. These wines can get expensive but that’s what happens when an area has a reputation for some of the best Pinot Noirs in the world.
The Willamette Valley is located in northwestern Oregon where the majority of the state’s population live. In the 1820’s, the valley was widely touted as a “promised land” mainly because of the richness of its soil. Oregon City, in the valley, was the destination for many covered wagon trains. When reports of the Lewis and Clark Expedition were published, about 1807, a steady stream of settlers began to flow into the valley. Fur traders and mountain men came. During the 1820’s and 1830’s, the Hudson Bay Company controlled the fur trade, not just in the Willamette Valley, but in the whole of Oregon. In 1841, when the Oregon Trail “opened,” it was a road wide enough for all types of wagons and lorries, and many people came to the West Coast.
The Willamette Valley is surrounded by mountain ranges on the east, west and south. The valley floor is wide and flat and very fertile. Ice age floods filled the valley with rich soils swept up into swollen rivers. About 40 times, probably. This left the Willamette Valley layered with alluvial soils, rich volcanic and glacial soils — all great for grape growing. This soil is about a half mile deep now. The climate in the valley is characterized by cool, wet winters and warm, dry summers. A cooler, slightly wetter version of a Mediterranean climate. The growing season is long, 150 to 180 days. (Normal is 110 to 130 days.) This is a cooler climate than in California. There are six AVA sub-regions within the Willamette Valley AVA: Chehalem Mountains AVA, Dundee Hills AVA, Eola-Amity Hills AVA, McMinnville AVA, Ribbon Ridge AVA, and the Yamhill-Carlton District AVA.
Left Coast Cellars is our winery. Founded in 2003, Left Coast uses almost only estate grown grapes. They make Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Viognier and Syrah; many of these are grown on Oregon’s 45th parallel. Left Coast owns just over 350 acres, 130 of them planted with grapes. They specialize in single vineyard wines and emphasize sustainable farming and balancing everything with nature.
This week we will learn about two of their wines available in South Carolina. The first variety is the best from Oregon, the Left Coast Cali’s Cuvée Pinot Noir. This is not a single vineyard wine, but a blend of grapes from all their Pinot Noir plantings, named for the owner’s daughter. The blend is very diverse, though. Different clones of Pinot Noir, different sites for growing, at different elevations with different exact soil types — all things that make subtle nuances in their grapes. All things that give us layers and layers of textures and flavors in our glasses of this wine. It is full of ripe plum and cherry flavors, and mix in floral notes and a bit of spiciness. This wine’s texture is easy and smooth, and lush at the same time. Less than 9,000 cases of Cali’s wine are made each year. This is truly one of those Pinots that should cost more.
Our second wine is the Left Coast Cellars Truffle Hill Chardonnay. This is a blend of three different Dijon clones of Chardonnay, fermented and aged in French oak. One hundred percent Chardonnay. It is spicy, toasty, clean and crisp and minerally. Lime and pear and green apple flavors lead a long list of others. Tasted in a line of multiple other wines, this Chardonnay stands out. Sipping some at home from a nice glass is a major treat, a rare treat, since only 511 cases were made. But we are lucky because these wines are now available here in South Carolina.
Now that we know about these wines, and how good they are, it will be exciting to know that each bottle costs only $19.99 at Bill’s Liquor on Lady’s Island.
Also, Left Coast Cellars is in the running for Winery of the Year, so we wish them the best of luck. And feel lucky enjoying our “once in a while” wine. Enjoy.