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."