November #WineStudio – It’s All About Willamette Valley Chardonnay

We will be spending Tuesday evenings in November getting the lowdown on Willamette Valley Chardonnay with #WineStudio, an online Twitter-based wine education program. The discussions, organized by Protocol Wine Studio (@ProtocolWine), begin at 6 pm Pacific time.

You can join the conversation by following the hashtag #WineStudio. We will post a summary each week to keep you up to date.

Willamette Valley Chardonnays
There is no denying that the Willamette Valley is well known for Pinot Noir, almost synonymous is a way. But as delicious as Willamette Valley Pinot Noir is, it’s not the only wine star from this large Oregon appellation. In addition to Pinot Noir we have enjoyed delicious Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris from around the Willamette Valley, but our experience with Oregon Chardonnay is limited.

Eyrie Vineyards and Cooper Mtn. Vinyards Chardonnay
Happily, this deficiency is about to be corrected. Tuesday evening we began the discussion, and tasting, with samples from The Eyrie Vineyards and Cooper Mountain Vineyards. The online discussion was lively as usual — actually “like drinking from a fire hose” according to Jason Lett (@JasonLett) who joined us from The Eyre Vineyards. From Cooper Mountain Vineyards (@CooperMtnWines) Barbara Gross, who is responsible for sales and marketing (and I suspect a lot more) and Gilles de Domingo, the winemaker, joined us.

We prepared several small plates to enjoy along with these the two Chardonnays because wine and food are just a natural combination and when you get the combination right, each enhances the other. We’ll see what paired best.

The Eyre Vineyards

Eyrie Vineyards Chardonnay2012 The Eyrie Vineyards Chardonnay Reserve Original Vineslight yellow in the glass with generous aromas of gravel, melons and citrus. Flavors are bright, mineral driven and citrusy with a clean, lingering finish. ABV 12.5%. SRP $45 – $50.

This wine is aged for 9 months or more, on unstirred lees, in new and used French and Oregon oak. Yes, you read that correctly, Oregon oak. It “is tight grained like French but very strong, a little goes a long way.” according to Jason, who is responsible for all winemaking since the passing of his father David Lett in 2008. Oak aging is mostly in barrels that have been used for many years, some since the 1980s and 1990s. Jason purchases very few new barrels every year.

The Eyrie Vineyards Chardonnay Reserve Original Vines bottling comes from their original Chardonnay plantings made in 1966 by David Lett. At nearly 50 years of age, these vines are producing less than 2.3 tons per acre. But what amazing flavor.

This reserve wine is produced from select vineyard sections and select barrels to maximize flavor and complexity — essentially the best of the best. It’s evident in the glass.

Work in the vineyard is always moving ahead, changing, according to Jason. At Eyrie Vineyards, which is located in the Dundee Hills sub-AVA of the Willamette Valley AVA, new vines are being planted. And with a warming climate (yes, climate change is real Jason assured us) picking dates will come earlier to maintain balance.

Jason is continuing to make “pure” Chardonnay reflective of the site, just as his father did. It’s a style that is hard to argue with, as Jason observed, their library wines dating back to the 1970s are still “scarily fresh.”

This flavorful, bright wine paired nicely with our Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam triple cream cheese topped with fig preserves. There was plenty of acidity to cut through the creamy, soft cheese and the minerally flavors were complimentary to the fig flavors. This was our favorite pairing. This wine would also be lovely with a creamy pasta dish or fish sautéed in butter.

Speaking of fish, the Eyrie Vineyards Chardonnay Reserve Original Vines was amazing with our smoked Alaska sockeye salmon and ricotta cheese on sliced baguette. It kind of proved the brilliant pairing of this wine with something creamy. The flavors of the wine stood toe-to-toe with the peppery smoked salmon flavors as well. A very delicious and versatile wine.

Cooper Mountain Vineyards

Cooper Mtn Chardonnay2012 Cooper Mountain Vineyards Chardonnay Old Vineslight yellow in the glass with delicate aromas of vanilla, baking spice and citrus. Spice and tart lemony flavors combine with crisp acidity for a finish that is clean and long lasting. Along with crisp acidity, this wine had a bit of roundness too. ABV 13%. SRP $30 (2011 vintage)

Native yeast fermentation was completed in the barrel, with malolactic fermentation at 25%. Oak aging took place in 38% new French oak for 7 months with lees stirring. No fining. I love knowing all of these details!

Cooper Mountain Vineyards follows organic and Biodynamic® farming practices. Not only that, they are certified for both. Certification is no small hurdle to clear. Cooper Mountain Vineyards was the first Biodynamic® vineyard in Oregon to earn certification by Demeter and the fourth in the US. It’s worth familiarizing yourself with Biodynamic® principles if you are unfamiliar with them. It’s a farming practice I hope we will hear is more widely used in the future.

Why pursue these two costly certifications? It’s for the health of the soil, the vines and the environment. Biodynamic® practices are all about soil health and essentially training the vines to become resistant to disease pressures according to Barbara and Gilles. Vineyard yield can be quite variable from year to year, so maybe that’s part of the cost of Biodynamic® farming. It’s an involved farming practice, but it’s a commitment started by Dr. Gross with his first plantings in 1978.

In the wine cellar Biodynamic® practices are followed with native yeast fermentation, minimal addition of SO2 and no acidification. According to winemaker, Gilles de Domingo, following Biodynamic® practices in the wine cellar has come naturally (no pun intended I’m sure).

To my palate the Cooper Mountain Vineyards Chardonnay Old Vines is a lovely food wine. Interesting spice flavors combine with Chardonnay fruit flavors make this wine a good partner for food with lots of flavor. The bold flavors of our deviled eggs dominated by horseradish and candied bacon were not too big for this wine.

It made a nice match with our smoked Alaska sockeye salmon as well and it was difficult to choose a favorite pairing between the two dishes. We declared a tie! This is not a timid Chardonnay, but it’s by no means overbearing. Just delicious.

There was some discussion about the ABC crowd — the anything but Chardonnay group of wine drinkers. They would miss out on these two delicious wines, and that would be a shame. It would however leave more for those of us with an open mind to appreciate.

Next week the Importance of being Willamette Valley Chardonnay conversation continues. From the Protocol Wine Studio website:

Week 2: 11 November – How and Why the Chardonnay Grape Shines

Imbuing an Adventurous, Philosophical Spirit into the Grape
6:00pm – 6:30pm – J.K. Carriere Jim Prosser (@JKCarriereWines)
2012 Lucidité

Non-Irrigation and Preserving Fruit Quality
6:30pm – 7:00pm – Matello Wines Marcus Goodfellow (@GFCwines)
Goodfellow Family Cellars 2012 Whistling Ridge Vineyard
Matello Wines 2012 Durant Vineyard”

If you’re on Twitter join the conversation Tuesday, November 11 at 6 pm PST by following the hashtag #WineStudio. We will post our summary next week.

You can find the the schedule for the rest of the month on the Protocol Wine Studio website.

Thanks to Protocol Wine Studio for organizing the tasting. Thank you as well to Jason Lett of The Eyrie Vineyards and Barbara Gross and Gilles de Domingo from Cooper Mountain Vineyards for your time, expertise and the delicious sample wines. Both the discussion and the wines were thoroughly enjoyable.


Comments are closed.