Head for the Foothills

By Karl Klooster

Lamentation by this writer over denial of McMinnville Foothills as the full and fully descriptive name of the Yamhill Valley’s newest American Viticultural Area has been long and vociferous. But, to no avail.

This is not the first time government bureaucracy and common sense have failed to find compatibility in regard to the wine industry and it will likely not be the last.

Regardless, confidence in the unique attributes of the common ground they share motivated vineyards and wineries within the boundaries of the McMinnville AVA to seek and secure its creation and to form a winegrowers association at the beginning of this year.

On a sunny Saturday, July 18, the association held its premiere promotional event at Yamhill Valley Vineyards. It was fitting that the area’s oldest winery play host to this first-ever joint presentation of AVA wines.

Founded in 1983, Yamhill Valley Vineyards was the lone advocate of growing winegrapes in the coastal foothills just northeast of the Van Duzer Corridor for nearly a decade before being joined by Coleman Vineyard, first planted in 1991.

Pouring for a congenial crowd that Saturday were Amity Vineyards, Brittan, Coeur de Terre, Coleman, Maysara, Raptor Ridge, Seufert, Youngberg Hill and, of course, Yamhill Valley.

Though their wineries are not located in the AVA, Amity, Raptor Ridge and Seufert source grapes from vineyards there. As such, when they bottle these wines separately, they are entitled to put the AVA designation on the label.

Member growers in the AVA include Bass Hill Vineyard, Bellevue Cross Vineyard, Fox Ridge Vineyard, Four Winds Vineyard, J Wrigley Vineyards, Hyland Vineyards, Meredith Mitchell Vineyard, Stony Mountain Vineyard and Sunny Ridge Vineyard.

Stony Mountain also makes a small quantity of Pinot Noir under its own label.

Pinot Noir is by far the dominant grape planted in the AVA and its low moisture, silty clay and clay loam soils—primarily Yamhill, Nekia, Peavine, Willakenzie and Hazelair—have proved well suited to the variety.

These shallow, well-drained soils coupled with a cumulative average of nearly 2,200-degree days during the growing season and the night time coolness created by close proximity to the corridor, bring distinctive characteristics to McMinville AVA Pinots.

Several at the tasting exhibited a flinty mineral taste component akin to that found in Italian sangiovese. Some of the 2007s still held onto a hard edge, which should soften as firm tannins resolve.

The 2007s that have already come around included Coeur de Terre’s Willamette Valley, which offered a nice balance of earthiness, minerality and characteristically varietal fruit. Co-owner Scott Neal said several soil types influence their estate wines.

When asked about how the current vintage is shaping up, Neal noted that, despite a cool start, heat units have now caught up with the seasonal average and are on track toward an outstanding year. Given Mother Nature’s fall cooperation, of course.

Brittan Vineyard’s 2007 Basalt Block also showed very well and their 2006 from the same vineyard was one of this writer’s favorites, exhibiting ripe, juicy fruit with a velvety smooth palate impression.

The aroma of Maysara’s 2007 Asha Pinot leapt out of the glass and led into round, very berry flavors. The vineyard contains their oldest Pinot plantings.

Annie Shull of Raptor Ridge brought along a couple of older vintages to give attendees an idea of the positive influences a bit of time in bottle can have. A 2004 pinot in magnum from Meredith-Mitchell Vineyard ran deep, smooth and long throughout.

The 2005 from Stony Mountain Vineyard possessed the classic Burgundian characteristics—floral aroma, touch of earth, cedar, and round cherry berry in a well-balanced, middleweight package.

Jim Seufert, whose winery is in Dayton, presented a three-year vertical from Coleman Vineyards. The ’07, though still young, had nice bright fruit. The ’06 was rich, full and fleshy. The ’05’s earthiness set it apart.

Bringing a culinary counterpoint to the wines, three vendors were on hand to present other tantalizing tastes of wine country—truffles, olives and chocolate.

Jack and Heidi Czarnecki of the Joel Palmer House drizzled their Oregon Truffle Oil over lox. That and a small baguette slice was all you needed. Red Ridge Farm’s did the same with fresh mozzarella.

As for Honest Chocolates offerings. Well, honestly, dark chocolate and Pinot Noir. What more can one say?

The whole affair, set up on the winery’s tree-lined wooden terraces, made for an enjoyable late morning and early afternoon. Participating wineries welcomed attendees for tours and special tastings at each of their facilities after 2 p.m.

The event wasn’t entirely commercial, however. Profits from a raffle went to benefit Juliette’s House in McMinnville, a child abuse community-based assessment center that has received high marks for its ongoing outreach. 

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