The modern history of Oregon wine dates back only to 1966, when David Lett founded the Eyrie Vineyards. Lett had the then-heretical belief that the Willamette Valley, just south of Portland, could be an American paradise for Pinot Noir, the red grape of Burgundy. Today, there are some 250 Oregon wineries, almost all producing Pinot Noir.
An Amazing Vintage
Oregon's had a string of good Pinot Noir vintages, starting with 1998. But the 2002 wines, most of which are now appearing in stores, may be the very best. The cool, often too-wet Willamette was mild and dry that year, and the harvest was longrunning from late September to late Octoberwhich allowed vintners to pick the grapes at exactly the right time.
Rich, Fruity Wines
The best 2002 Oregon Pinot Noirs combine fruit-ripeness, richness and aromatic freshness. The finest wines, produced in limited quantities, aren't inexpensive but they're a good value when compared with wines of similar quality from California and France.
Best 2002 Values
2002 Archery Summit Premier Cuvée $37 The sister winery to Napa's Pine Ridge produces its Premier Cuvée with lots blended from its four estate vineyards. The 2002 is one of the vintage's most intense, powerful, broodingly dark Pinots.
2002 Domaine Drouhin $45 The American outpost of Burgundy's Drouhin winery turned out a sneakily rich, lavishly filled-in Pinot, but one that demands a good 15 minutes aeration in a glass or decanter.
2002 Domaine Serene Yamhill Cuvée $33 Domaine Serene Pinots are remarkable for their silky smooth texture. This 2002 may be the smoothest yet.
2002 St. Innocent Anden Vineyard$30 One trademark of Mark Vlossek's Pinots is a firm backbone of acidity. Although the acidity is certainly present in this 2002, there is also a lively juiciness.
2002 King Estate Domaine $50 This flashy Napa-esque property on the outskirts of Eugene alarmed the homey Oregon wine community in the 1990s, but the King family has demonstrated it's serious about producing elegant and harmonious wines.
2002 Ponzi Vineyards $30 When Dick and Nancy Ponzi founded their winery in 1970, they helped put Oregon on the winemaking map. Now daughter Luisa is the winemaker, responsible for this spicy, subtle, world-class Pinot.
2002 Soter Beacon Hill $48 Soter Vineyards was named F&W's Most Promising New Winery in 2003 thanks to wines like this one: dense, sumptuously textured and aromatic.
2002 Stoller $42 The Stoller family bought its property in 1943 to raise turkeys but recently began growing grapes and making wines like this soft, cherry-blossom-perfumed Pinot.
2002 Ken Wright Cellars Savoya Vineyard $55 Ken Wright is admired by other winemakers, and this Pinot, his first Savoya wine, explains why. It's a knockoutthough surprisingly nuanced for all its power.
2002 The Eyrie Vineyards Estate Grown Pinot Noir ($25) David Lett presides over his many small batches of Pinot Noir with a craftsman's eye and a mad scientist's glee. His light touch delivers Pinots like this perfectly balanced beauty, an ideal food partner that will improve with age.