I attended a wine bloggers conference in Portland, Oregon earlier this year. I was quite eager to go since GUY and I had written a proposal for the Virginia wine industry and our main selling point was the fact that Oregon went from fringe wine to the #3 wine producer in under 30 years. Although I had researched the subject, I had never visited Oregon, but of course I’ve tasted many wines from all over the state.
For this trip, however, I was seeking a more philosophical approach; I reached out to those wineries that I felt embodied PROTOCOL’s organic and grassroots mentality. Enter Lenné Estate, and proprietor Steve Lutz, where dry farming and recognizing terroir is the norm. Steve says of his wine, “Being organic isn’t a goal, making great wine is and doing it in a sustainable way is just common sense to us.”
It’s All in the Peavine
I visited Steve and his gorgeously intimate tasting room not far out in Newberg, Oregon. He hadn’t let on when we spoke a few weeks prior, but Steve arrived this day just for our tasting. He laid out a spread of charcuterie and fresh, chewy bread. And sitting contentedly right next to that plate was a glass jar full of this clay-like, rocky soil called Peavine.
This soil would become Lenné’s bread and butter. Mountain-made, the Peavine series consists of well-drained soils made from a clayey colluvium and residuum soils derived from sandstone, siltstone, basalt, tuffaceous rock and shale. This poor, gravelly Peavine is ideal for the intense flavor development of Pinot Noir.
Whatever Lenné Estate’s doing up there, it’s working. Steve was gracious enough to send samples of his 2008, 2009 and 2010 Estate Pinots. For a region like Oregon, it’s extremely important to communicate the vintage characteristics because they are slaves to climate, much like Burgundy. And knowing what went on in the vineyard gives us a better understanding as to what will happen in bottle.
A little Shy for a Burgundian
We started our tasting with the 2008 bottling. Steve told us that this was a stellar vintage, “It is an epic vintage for Oregon and in my opinion will be the longest lived vintage ever.” He went on to describe the details of the vintage, “The temperatures were moderate, with slight heat in early September and then cool, dry weather. All this created fruit set characterized by small clusters with tiny, thick-skinned berries. And just like fine Burgundy, the 08s are showing a little shyness of late, with acids up front and fruit waiting until ready to be seen.”
Finally Steve nailed his point home with the decisive remark, “I have a strong sense that they [08s] will be legendary when they emerge and I have held back 25% of the vintage betting on that idea.”
As I tasted his Pinot Noir from 2008 his words hit home. It’s a restrained wine, no doubt, but there’s impacted depth within this restraint, biding its time to unravel its true story.
We moved on to the next vintage and as restrained as 2008 was, 2009 struts in like the naughty girl at the party: big, bold and showy. The vintage was hot and as such, the fruit developed large, thin-skinned berries, prone to dehydration. The resultant wines have higher alcohol and super ripe fruit and although Steve says it’s his “least favorite vintage…” folks do love it because of its intensity.
Finally we finished with the 2010 vintage. Where 2008 was brooding and 2009 bold, 2010 was recorded as one of the coolest in the Northern Willamette. With a cool Spring came worry that grapes wouldn’t ripen fully. But the rains held off until late October and the result was a remarkable vintage. Steve says of the wine, “The 2010s are right up there with my favorite wines Lenné has ever produced. The wines have density and are still light on their feet which is rare and something I hope I experience many more times in my lifetime.”
I Grew up Here
Tasting the wines at the winery I noticed a distinct moist forest soil characteristic within all the wines, something akin to a particular guitar riff or drum solo—a “tell” about the wines that says this is where I was grown. Indeed, Lenne’s wines are known for a mocha aromatic and a denseness in the mid-palate. These characteristics are in direct correlation to that Peavine, Yamhill County’s poorest soil type and Lenné’s terroir signature.
It Takes only One
That signature terroir palate has proven a winner for Steve and Lenné. Recently, a Spanish restaurant representative had the opportunity to try the wines at a tasting. Immediately the rep saw the value in his glass and summarily bought 50 cases of wine. Of course Steve was skeptical of the whole thing, but the rep later disclosed that Lenné is the favourite wine of the Spanish Prime Minister’s wife. I imagine Steve closed shop early that day.
Vintage Selection of Lenné Estate Pinot Noir:
2008 Lenné Estate Pinot Noir
2009 Lenné Estate Pinot Noir
2010 Lenné Estate Pinot Noir
Lenné ~ 18760 NE Laughlin Road ~ Yamhill, OR 97148 ~ 503-956-2256
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