The Wine: Zenith Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014
(from the winery’s website)
Zenith Vineyard, named by Wine Enthusiast as one of "Five Great Oregon Vineyards Worth Knowing," is located in the heart of the Eola-Amity Hills on marine sedimentary soils. The site, soils, and conscientious farming practices – without irrigation or herbicides – are responsible for bringing this ageable, layered, savory, and complex beauty to life. It's intense, but not “big," and there's no new oak to interfere with the site expression. Picked on September 14th – the coldest morning of the entire month.
Here's John Gilman's review in View From the Cellar: “The wine is ripe and quite black fruity on the nose, offering up a fine, youthful blend of black cherries, espresso, dark soil tones, a touch of balsamic tones, a touch of mustard seed and a smoky topnote. Deep, full-bodied and primary, with a nice touch of sappiness at the core, firm, ripe tannins and very good length and grip on the tangy and chewy finish. This is a good, structured young pinot noir that shows fine balance.”
The Producer: Franchere
Mike Hinds is the talented winemaker and owner of Franchere winery, named in honor of his great-great-great grandfather, and here is what he says about the project:
”I set out on my own adventure, my own pursuit of the beauties of simple nature, after experiencing a Vouvray, of all things. It captivated me utterly and made me wonder, "What is this? Why is this so magical with my food? How did this wine come to be like this?" It launched an obsession.
After four years of working in wine shops in Chicago, I returned to Oregon and in short order began viticulture classes, grape farming, and winemaking. I was also a cellar rat at Illahe Vineyards, and that is the winery where I began making the Franchere wine. 2013 was my first commercial vintage.
My gentle winemaking regime ensures the wines express their central Willamette Valley origins. Fermentations are conducted exclusively with native yeasts and I never add enzymes, tannins, colorants, water, adjuncts, or gums. The wines are aged in used barrels and neutral tanks, and the end results are fresh, savory, and balanced.
When I am able to lease vines and vineyards, I farm along organic lines. Other fruit is purchased from trusted growers who farm sustainably, without irrigation or systemic herbicides."
The Region: Willamette Valley
Willamette Valley AVA is located in western Oregon, stretching for about 120 miles south of Portland. The Willamette River runs through the entire region. Willamette Valley is famous primarily for its Pinot Noirs, and it’s become one of the world’s benchmark for this cold-climate grape varietal, in some cases rivaling Burgundy.
The development of viticulture and winemaking in Willamette Valley can be attributed to the curiosity of a handful of University of California Davis students. In the 1960s they explored the area’s potential for viticulture and found that Pinot Noir would have adapted the best, and the rest is history.
In 1979, a Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley took part in the Gault-Millau French Wine Olympiades, beating several Burgundy Pinot Noirs, which at the time were regarded as the best expression of this fascinating grape varietal. This put Oregon and especially Willamette Valley one the wine world map.
Willamette Valley has been its own AVA since 1984, but in 2002 a movement to differentiate the valley’s terroirs started. As a result, several new sub-AVAs have been established in the past fifteen years: Dundee Hills, McMinnville, Eola-Amity Hills, Yamhill-Carlton District, and Chehalem Mountains and Ribbon Ridge.
The Terroir of Willamette Valley
The climate of Willamette Valley is predominantly maritime with rainy winters and dry summers. Temperature variation between day and night can be substantial. Pinot Noir, a grape varietal which tends to ripen early and favors cool climates, has adapted perfectly to the region.
The characteristic soil formation of Willamette Valley is rich in iron and is called Jory. It can be found pretty much everywhere in the valley and it’s responsible for Willamette’s signature Pinot Noir profile.