When the conversation turns to Oregon’s best Pinot Noirs, the names that readily roll off the tongues of wine buffs are typically confined to wineries in Yamhill and Washington counties—with one notable exception.
Broadley Vineyards, located near the hamlet of Monroe, some 15 miles south of Corvallis in southern Benton County, has produced sought-after Pinots for years. And that’s true despite the fact that it does a lot of things differently.
Who else plants vineyards on east- and northeast-facing slopes? Who else uses the Lyre trellis, a U-shaped support system? And who else employs whole cluster fermentation, including the stems?
It’s unconventional, to be sure. But it makes perfect sense when founder Craig Broadley explains it.
“For me, it was mostly about location,” he said. “Yes, you need sparse, well-drained soil. But climactic conditions are crucial in growing Pinot Noir.”
A firm believer in letting the wine make itself as much as possible, he felt that acidity was essential. He figured lower sun exposure on east- and northeast-facing slopes would protect his vineyards from coastal storms, allow adequate ripening and retain firm acid balance.
The unique trellising system opens up the canopy, allowing maximum sun exposure for all the clusters along a split-fruiting zone. Using wooden fermenters and including the whole cluster, stem and all, ensures a fuller, more structured wine of greater complexity.
That, in short, is the basic Broadley philosophy, which is applied with an entirely hands-on approach.
Broadley attended University of California, Davis in the early 1970s, when it was the only U.S. school where one could focus on viticulture and enology. He had a Gallo-oriented mentality at the time, but that would soon change.
Working for legendary North Beach poet and City Lights co-founder Lawrence Ferlinghetti gave him an eclectically creative outlook on life. Getting to know celebrated chef Alice Waters of Chez Panisse gave him an epicure’s appreciation for great food and fine wine.
He and his wife, Claudia, may have been booksellers from Berkeley, but long before leaving the Bay Area, they had concluded that producing top-tier Pinot Noir was their ultimate goal.
They established a business relationship with Ferlinghetti as distributors of books published by City Lights, then proceeded to take on other Bay Area presses as well.
The couple moved to Eugene in the late 1970s with their young son, Morgan. There, they could run the business while at the same time search for their own little bit of Burgundy in Oregon.
The Broadleys were convinced great Pinot Noir could be grown on property they could afford. And they found just such a property in 1980—a hillside just outside Monroe that was protected by the highest peaks in the Coast Range.
It was the coolest site in what was known as a local banana belt. They decided it was a place where they could set out to fashion something quite special from the finicky Burgundian grape.
While having the outward appearance of unconventionality, the elements that make up the Broadley whole are actually more mainstream than one might think at first glance. After all, the volcanic Jory and Hazelair soil types in their estate vineyards are similar to those in the storied Dundee Hills.
Their clonal selections are classic, combining the traditional Pommard and Wädenswil, planted in the early 1980s, along with more recent Dijon clones.
By definition, unrefined and unfiltered wines produced via whole-cluster fermentation are more darkly pigmented and fully flavored. It’s just that with Pinot Noir; you have to find a balance between bigness and finesse to achieve the best.
Broadley found that balance many years ago, as evidenced by his widely heralded 1994 Claudia’s Choice, a wine both big in body and deep in complexity. It was made from grapes grown on a four-acre, mid-slope block featuring the vineyard’s oldest vines.
Wine Spectator selected their 1994 as one of its 100 best wines of the year in 1997, awarding it 94 points. In a subsequent tasting of great Pinot from the U.S. and France, it garnered 97 points, the highest total ever awarded to an Oregon wine.
Broadley is one of the few Oregon wineries whose production is devoted exclusively to Pinot Noir.
It produces three wines—Claudia’s Choice, Marcile Lorraine and Estate—from 30 acres of estate vineyards and selectively sourced outside grapes in roughly equal measure. Its annual production runs about 4,200 cases.
Among the noted vineyards individually designated on Broadley labels are Shea, Bergström, Stoller, Lemelson and Zenith in the Yamhill Valley, as well as nearby Sunny Mountain.
The Broadleys’ son, Morgan, worked at his grandparents’ electronics manufacturing company in Southern California for a couple of years in the early 1990s, but eventually joined his father and mother at the winery.
Morgan credits his learning curve to direct experience with his father in the vineyard and the winery, a working trip to Burgundy and interaction with other winemakers, including Mike Etzel, Josh Bergström and Jim Prosser.
His active interest in the business has grown to the point where he is now serving as principal winemaker. His wife, Jessica, also contributes as their webmaster and office manager.
For this family enterprise, it all works. Broadley’s intensely flavored and complex, layered wines can be counted among Oregon’s finest.
Tasting Room: 265 S. Fifth St. (Highway 99W), Monroe
Hours: By appointment only
Information: 541-847-5934 • www.broadleyvineyards.com