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WILLAMETTE VALLEY OREGON
The biggest news out of Oregon's Willamette Valley is the stellar 1998 vintage. All the stars seem to have aligned to produce outstanding Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay in this principal wine region of Oregon, just south of Portland. The '98s possess a richness and opulence reminiscent of 1994, the last great vintage in this part of the world, but boast greater balance, concentration and acidity. Or as Michael Etzel, winemaker at the heralded Pinot Noir house Beaux Frères, says, "We think it's the best vintage to date."
The bad news is that, due to the combination of low crop yields and soaring demand, the 1998 wines can be hard to find. Beaux Frères, for example, has long been sold out of its 1998 Pinot Noir, which carried a cool $62 price tag on release (devoted fans can still find it at top restaurants like Campagne in Seattle and Veritas in New York). Other producers who turned out highly touted Pinot Noirs from the 1998 vintage include Ken Wright Cellars, Brick House Vineyards, Archery Summit, WillaKenzie Estate and Domaine Drouhin.
If you have trouble locating the wines of any of these producers, well, there's always next year. In fact, according to winemaker Ken Wright, of Ken Wright Cellars, not only are there more of the 1999 wines to be found but some are quite promising, possibly even "awesome."
Some of the best sparkling wines in this country are made in the Anderson Valley of Mendocino County, California. Located just north of Napa and Sonoma, this cool region is home to particularly fine Pinot Noir and Chardonnay (the grapes of Champagne) and heralded sparkling-wine specialists such as Roederer Estate.
Started in 1982 by the Champagne house Louis Roederer, Roederer Estate was one of the first wineries to recognize the Anderson Valley's potential, turning out rich, deeply flavored wines that might be mistaken for Champagne. And, according to Roederer Estate winemaker Michel Salgues, thanks to a banner year in 1999, things will only get better.
Tex Sawyer, winemaker at another Anderson Valley sparkling-wine powerhouse, Pacific Echo (formerly Scharffenberger Cellars), shares this point of view. Now part of the LVMH empire, Pacific Echo has experienced such a demand for its wines in recent years that Sawyer notes they had to raise projected production figures by 10,000 cases, to more than 50,000 a year. And finally, as an interesting footnote, the success of these sparkling-wine houses has convinced some of Napa Valley's best-known makers of still wine to move north. Famous names like Robert Mondavi and Duckhorn Vineyards have recently become land owners in Mendocino County, joining established wineries like Domaine St. Gregory.
LONG ISLAND NEW YORK
Some questioned Kip Bedell's sanity when he started making wine on Long Island back in the 1970s. What a difference 30 years makes. Last August Bedell sold Bedell Cellars for $5 million to Michael Lynne, the president of New Line Cinema (who had also purchased another Long Island property, Corey Creek Vineyards). Bedell, who inked a five-year deal to stay on as Lynne's winemaker, says he's excited about the new arrangement and what it signals for the region as a whole. "It's a vote of confidence in what we've accomplished here," Bedell says, adding that he believes the best wines are yet to come: "World-class wines can be made on Long Island."
And more than a few people (with more than a little money) seem to agree. Another Long Island pioneer, Hargrave Vineyards, was purchased for $4 million by Italian Prince Marco Borghese and his American wife, Princess Ann Marie, and a short time ago entrepreneur Vincent Galluccio of West Hampton snapped up long-established Gristina Vineyards for a record-breaking $5.2 million. In the meantime, other well-known estates that haven't changed hands are improving and expanding. Pellegrini Vineyards has planted 40 acres of new vines, mainly Merlot, while Schneider Vineyards, which produces fine Cabernet Franc and Merlot, bought up 22 acres of North Fork land, where the Schneiders are planning to make their first estate-grown Cabernet Franc blend.
Nicholas O'Connell is a Seattle-based freelance writer and winemaker.