Last summer, my buddy Joe and I journeyed to the Willamette Valley in search of some answers. We didn’t find (m)any, but we had some great wine, food and fellowship.
The question that got perhaps the strongest response was whether some slivers of the valley could be likely candidates for a grand-cru-type designation. Most of the responses were of the “it’s way too early to tell” variety, with a smattering of “WTFs?”
So kudos to the excellent wine writer Katherine Cole for taking on the topic in a post for Wine Searcher earlier this week. I guess. She clearly ran into some of the pushback we got but bravely took a stab at naming five potential grand-cru vineyards, acknowledging that we won’t know for a generation or three.
I emailed some acquaintances out there to get their responses, which follow:
Janie Brooks Hueck, Brooks: “Any time you put Grand Cru and Oregon on the same page [it’s a good thing]. Katherine is very insightful. I think the article, as it should, has the soul of Oregon.”
Ken Wright, Ken Wright Cellars: “We have spent 28 years identifying the best sites in the valley. None of the five listed would be of interest to us.”
Mimi Casteel, Bethel Heights: “I have seen Katherine’s article. It was much buzzed-about right after it came out. I generally hate the use of Burgundian classification terms in reference to American vineyards for so many reasons. First, we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of what terroir means in America. The soils, from a farming perspective, are virginal, and our traditions are as well.
“I realize the temptation, that because something exists in such a defined way and has been so fundamental to our understanding of a thing, that we would constantly hold up one tradition to another. … Those vineyards she mentions include geek favorites and obvious standards. It is an interesting five. Do I think they all deserve attention? Sure. … [but] there are so many more.”
Wayne Bailey, Youngberg Hill: “There are great sites across the entire valley. And everyone has their favorites. Shea, Seven Springs, and Youngberg Hill are my top choices. But as you know, the fruit varies dramatically across the six sub-AVAs. Not in terms of quality, but in terms of characteristics. So it depends on what you like.”
Page Cowles, Knudsen Vineyards: “It is interesting to note that four out of the five vineyards she cites as possessing Burgundian grand cru potential are located in the Dundee Hills. As Dundee Hills winegrowers at Knudsen Vineyards for over 40 years, my family and I are always thrilled when our AVA receives well-deserved acclaim. The vineyards she features are indeed excellent vineyard sites, and there are many more worth exploring, as she suggests.”
Mark Vlossak, St. Innocent: “It seems absurd that Seven Springs and Shea are not on the list. I agree with Maresh, maybe Eyrie (more likely Premier Cru). To be Grand Cru, the wines need to age very well and be very consistent, especially in the problematic years. I think Justice may need to be considered as it is especially good in more problematic years. It ages beautifully, and the Burgundians that I often give it to love it and mistake it for Richebourg.
“My basic point is this: Most Grand Cru vineyards have been produced for long periods of time by multiple winemakers. The consistency of quality in every year as well as their age ability are major qualifiers for Grand Cru status. It is not just that they can achieve greatness. Many Premier Cru sites are better than Grand Cru in the best vintages. However, in challenging vintages the Grand Cru sites come out on top, consistently. Their quality is not dependent on a single winemaker, but that quality is achieved by many, specifically because the site is great.”