Pinot Noir is a grape with a rich history. Obviously here in Oregon it is known as the grape that grows in our beautiful Willamette Valley, and has put us on the map in the world of wine. What is it about Pinot Noir that everyone is so drawn to? I have tried many, many Pinots in my time and I personally love them because of their complexity, earthy flavors, and how diverse they can be depending on where the grapes are grown. Each Pinot truly shows “terroir” (essentially the taste of where it came from), and the range of flavors that can be found is astounding.
Pinot Noir is a very popular grape. It doesn’t grow in all climates though, and some may call this grape finicky. Thin skinned and low on phenolic content, this grape requires a long time on the vine with cooler temperatures for a slower ripening period. It is generally a lower yielding crop as well. There is definitely an art to growing Pinot. Oregon is well suited (as well as Burgandy, the Yarra Valley in Australia, and the Russian River AVA in California) to growing grapes due to the consistently colder climate and clay soils. We are very fortunate to have such an array of Pinots to choose from here!
There are many clones and mutations of this grape. Pinot blanc and Pinot gris are both mutations, and there are many clones that are grown. A few popular ones that you’ll find in Oregon are “Pommard”, “Dijon 115”, and “Dijon 777”. Although the choice of clone varies greatly on the area where the grapes are being planted, and specifically the type of soil. Each clone produces different characteristics and flavors. That is what makes wine so fascinating – you can make a bad wine out of great grapes but you cannot make a great wine out of bad grapes.
The first Pinot grapes in Oregon were planted all the way back in 1961 by Richard Sommer (of HillCrest winery) in the Umpqua Valley. People literally thought he was crazy to move here from California to grow Pinot Noir. In the end, he was the one that started the craze here along with David Lett of The Eyrie Vineyards, Dick Erath of Erath Winery, and Dick Ponzi of Ponzi Wines. There are so many more people that have helped Oregon become the Pinot haven that it is now that it isn’t possible to list them all. However, all of these people followed the dream of planting the tricky grape that is the Pinot Noir. Without their “crazy” ideas we might not be where we are today!
The next time you pop open a bottle of Oregon Pinot, no matter who produced it, remember that the bottle was made with love from first plantings to it’s creation in the winery. Oregon Pinot Noir is a labor of love, but luckily for us drinking it is far from that – in fact – it is heaven. Cheers!