#6 Story: Vindication of a Vintage

Commentary by Ken Collura • First Published in the July 2009 Edition

I remember the day I first fell in love with Pinot Noir. I had just moved to France and was living in Nice on the Mediterranean. Although I had grown up around wine (my Sicilian grandfather made his own), I was only about 22 years old and a favorite pairing at the time was Hostess Cupcakes—the one with the white squiggle down the middle—and milk. My girlfriend, however, older and wiser, pointed out the enlightened paths during this period of my evolvement.

The wine epiphany took place at a bistro on the Moyen Corniche in the hills above Nice. I can recall everything on the table that day: grilled—not fried—calamari, butterflied on a skewer and a glass of crisp Rosé. This was followed by a filet of local fish in a beurre blanc sauce, pomme frites with aioli and a fresh green salad to finish. The wine she chose to accompany this beautiful meal was Volnay. It was a jolting introduction to Pinot Noir, and it blew me away. All the tastebuds on my palate stood up and said, “Boys, we’re not in Kansas anymore.” Light, elegant and fruity, the Burgundy elevated the food like no other wine I had yet tasted. I was hooked.

What that meal—and many others that followed—served to establish was a correlation in my mind between lighter, fresher styles of food and Pinot Noir. Over the years, this relationship has never wavered. Which brings us to the subject at hand.

I’ve recently read reviews regarding the 2007 Oregon Pinot Noirs, most of which are in the marketplace now. These reviews were gleaned from a number of publications, both local and national, and are well known to the readers of the Oregon Wine Press. And here are some of the things they said: pale; thin; somewhat insipid; lacking stuffing and, most to the point, a vintage to skip. Stand back folks, as I plan to rant a bit here.

What the 2007 Oregon Pinot Noirs ARE NOT: huge, opaque, fat, lush, sappy, powerful or overripe.

What the 2007 Oregon Pinot Noirs ARE: bright, finesse-driven with good acidity, fresh, light-to-mid-weight and food-friendly.

The ham-fisted table-thumpers who seek Syrah in their Pinots will be disappointed. The ’07s will not pair well with steaks and chops. However, they will marry happily with the dishes that Pinot from vintages such as this one have always paired well: fish, chicken, veggies and salads. What’s wrong with Pinot that looks, smells and tastes like Pinot?

Having personally tasted about 75 different 2007s, I believe I have this vintage pegged now. The wines are high-toned and snappy, with colors that remind me of Oregon Pinots from the ’90s—i.e., correct color and weight in the glass, but not black and over-extracted. Aromas are generally understated and clean, with some sour—or “pie”—cherry top-notes. The grand majority exhibits a beautiful dexterity at table, a trait that makes us sommeliers smile.

Wine is meant as an accompaniment for food, something to elevate the dish being served to a higher level. When a wine becomes the focal point of a meal, things have gone awry. These “wines with bolts in their neck” tend to trample the flavors of a meal with displays of their bravado.

We need years like 2007 to offset powerhouse vintages like ’03 and ’06. Sure, this was a difficult vintage to navigate, but after discussions with dozens of winemakers and other professionals in the business, the assessment seems to be unanimous. Everybody who works on a daily basis with this product feels the ’07s are clean, happy wines meant for fairly early consumption.

So this summer, crack them open with the bounties that Oregon summers provide. And possibly move those negative reviews to the bottom of the birdcage where they may have a more applicable use. ◊

Ken Collura has been the wine director/sommelier at Andina in Portland since 2005. He was a syndicated wine columnist for the Tampa Tribune and has written numerous articles in Cheers and Santé magazines, among others.

The Locals’ Vintage

Why Oregon’s 2007 Pinots are some of my faves

Commentary by Boris Wiedenfeld • First Published in the December 2009 Edition

The year 2007 was a terrible vintage for Oregon Pinot Noir, right? After all, that’s what the press has been unified in telling us. From Parker and the Speculator to Tanzer and the Enthusiast, the vintage was slammed. I remember one reviewer going as far to say something along the lines of “you would have to be delusional to expect anything but mediocre wines at best” from this vintage.

So, when I first ‘came out of the closet’ and went on the record as saying that 2007 was one of my top three favorite vintages in recent history, I caught a lot of flack. People have accused me of being Pollyannaish or obviously sitting on too much ’07 inventory. And then, slowly but surely, more and more folks came out in my defense. And more and more of them had last names appearing on some of Oregon’s most sought-after wines. Yet, the national wine press paid almost

no attention.

What happened in 2007? In short: Rain at the wrong time.

Growing conditions had been close to ideal throughout the spring and summer, all the way into late September, when it started to rain; and it kept raining until late October. It made for a challenging and tough harvest, but the nights were quite cool and kept botrytis and other harmful organisms in check.

Is 2007 a uniformly great vintage? Absolutely not.  

Some of the worst wines I have tried over the past few years have been from the 2007 vintage, but so were some of the greatest wines I have tasted. This vintage was certainly one that separated the boys from the men, both in terms of winemaking and especially in terms of viticulture. Meticulous farming techniques, canopy- and crop-management and picking decisions were absolutely essential, as were sorting and winemaking procedures.  

Some producers panicked and tried to bring in fruit that was not mature before the rains. Some didn’t manage their vineyards well enough and ended up with fruit that was starting to be affected by rot before it could fully ripen. And some just had plain bad luck with their sites. But a great number of producers were ready for this, having developed better and better ways to manage their vineyards over the past few decades.

I remember Ken Wright telling me that 20 years ago, “this vintage would have been a disaster,” but our industry has matured and those winemakers who knew what they were doing ended up with fruit that was low in sugar, high in acidity but in balance and with great flavors.

The resulting wines can be gorgeous, ethereal examples of Pinot Noir.  Light on their feet, with low alcohol, great acidity and a seductive, subtle complexity of aromas and flavors.  

I wish I could jump forward in time five years to see how they will develop. Oregon’s winegrowers and winemakers did what they are best at: They acted as a conduit to let a vintage and terroir express itself, rather than trying to squeeze it into a box. Let’s face it, if we just wanted reliable consistency, we’d be in Lodi, making Zinfandel.

Apparently, what the press likes to see and many customers—especially on the East Coast—have come to expect, are big, fruit-forward bombs. This still seems to be an ongoing trend in the national media, where the only wines worthy of 95-plus-point scores are inky, over-oaked monsters with 16-percent alcohol. So, if 2003, and to an extent 2006, are your ideals in Oregon Pinot, it begs the question: Why do you drink Oregon Pinot? There are other regions that would probably suit your palate better.

Having said that, the diversity of Oregon Pinot Noir is, in my opinion, one of its greatest strengths. Having salmon tonight? There’s a Pinot for that. A hearty lamb stew? There’s a Pinot for that. Blue cheese and figs? There’s a Pinot for that, too.

Finally, the 2007 vintage makes me proud of our industry and how far it has come over the years. It would have been an achievement to stand up to these challenging conditions and produce something decent. But so many wineries far exceeded this and embraced the qualities of the vintage instead of fighting them and ended up with some of the most charming and interesting wines in recent memory.

Next time you hear people say, “Oh, I heard that 2007 was a terrible vintage,” don’t just roll your eyes but try and educate them a little; or, better yet, pour them a glass. ◊

Boris Wiedenfeld is the general manager at Oregon Wine Merchants & Sundance Wine Cellars in Eugene.

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