16 Great Oregon Pinots for Springtime Pouring
It's funny, in a way, how firmly Oregon Pinot Noir is lodged in our wine-loving brains. It's become one of those automatic associations—Oregon? Pinot Noir!—and yet the grape was only first planted in the state in 1961 and has been grown in the Willamette Valley only since 1965. Fifty-odd years is nothing when it comes to wine; Cistercian monks in Burgundy were growing Pinot in the 1300s, if not before. Happy chance, then, that Oregon, and the Willamette Valley particularly, has so rapidly proven so exceptionally suited to Pinot Noir. (Top that, monks.)
And, for anyone who loves Oregon Pinot, it's also a boon that the 2018 and 2019 vintages were so spectacular. The 2020 vintage, which is just beginning to land on store shelves, was more challenging: Smoke from wildfires blanketed parts of Willamette, and Pinot production dropped over 40%, as wineries either discarded or never even picked rows of smoke-tainted grapes. Those who did had to work hard to produce good wine. Clare Carver of Big Table Farm says, "We brought in all our fruit and paid all our growers in full, but not all that fruit got made into wine. And all our top single vineyards went into the basic Willamette Valley wine, too; we decided to forgo any single-vineyard or barrel-selection wines. So we made just one wine in 2020—the best wine we could. It was a tough business decision but, I think, a good artistic decision." I agree: Big Table's Willamette Valley bottling, recommended on p. 68, is one of the best wines I've tasted from 2020 so far.
$30 and Under
2020 King Estate Inscription Pinot Noir ($20)
Too often, Pinot at this price tastes thin and uninspiring. Not this succulent bottling from King Estate winemaker Brent Stone. He bleeds off 10% of the juice to concentrate the wine's ripe red raspberry and foresty herbal notes, a technique that works very well here.
2019 Brandborg Bench lands Pinot Noir ($23)
Umpqua Valley, which sits south of the Willamette Valley, receives less attention than it should—certainly if wines like this transparent, silky, savory Pinot from Elkton-based Brandborg are any indication.
2019 Averaen Willamette Valley pinot noir ($25)
Tea-leafy tannins and distinctive spice notes decorate the fresh raspberry flavors of this impressive Pinot. It's sourced from 15 different vineyards throughout the Willamette Valley.
2018 Apolloni Vineyards Cuvée Pinot Noir ($26)
Alfredo Apolloni, whose family's winemaking roots lie in Tuscany, founded his namesake winery in 1999. Today, he and his children sustainably farm more than 62 acres of vineyards in Willamette's Tualatin Hills, making wines like this pretty, fragrant red.
2018 Ponzi vineyards Tavola Pinot Noir ($27)
Benchmark Willamette producer Ponzi Vineyards sold to the Bollinger family, of Champagne fame, in 2021, but winemaker Luisa Ponzi remains on board, crafting wines like this juicy, crisp Pinot. It's a total pleasure to drink, perfect for a picnic (cold roast chicken, anyone?) in the park.
2019 Raptor Ridge Barrel Select Pinot Noir ($29)
From his home base in Willamette's Chehalem Mountains subregion, Raptor Ridge co-owner and winemaker Scott Shull makes a plethora of extremely good Pinots from vineyards around the valley. Fruit from seven of them goes into this bright, strawberry-cherry scented cuvée.
NV Roco Gravel Road Pinot Noir ($30)
Roco's co-owner and winemaker Rollin Soles hit on a clever way to work around 2020's smoke issues: make an affordable nonvintage blend of 2019 and (smoke-free) 2020 wine. The plan paid off in this creamy textured red with its fine, glossy tannins and dark berry fruit.
2019 Bethel Heights Estate pinot noir ($32)
A stellar Pinot for the price, this cuvée from one of Willamette Valley's pioneering wineries is transparent dark ruby in hue, with intense aromas and flavors of red cherries, raspberries, and baking spices. F&W Wine Fellow Lucy Simon remarked, "That's a wine that makes me want to be in a cabin in the woods." So true.
2019 Elk Cove Vineyards Willamette Valley Estate Pinot Noir ($32)
Adam Campbell of Elk Cove is known for his complex, terroir-driven, single-vineyard Pinots, but his basic estate bottling is no less appealing. Floral on the nose, it offers substantial flavor without weightiness, ending with a hint of peppery spice. If you like this one, you may well find yourself investing in his single-vineyard bottlings, too.
2018 Haden Fig Cancilla Vineyard pinot noir ($36)
This is one of those "every time you take a sip, you want another" wines—addictive, in a good way. Think dark, juicy black cherries with a touch of vanilla and a savory-salty note on the finish to rein in the richness.
2019 Illahe Bon Sauvage Estate Pinot Noir ($37)
Illahe's Brad Ford eschews as much technology as possible: no enzymes or additives, old-school wooden basket presses, and, up until recently, Percheron draft horses (Doc and Bea) helping in the vineyard. The result? Expressive wines like this floral Pinot, with its seductive layers of red berry fruit.
2019 Crowley Entre Nous Pinot Noir ($40)
Tyson Crowley founded his eponymous winery in 2007, focusing on site-specific Pinot and Chardonnay. His Entre Nous bottling, saturated with flavor but taut and poised at the same time, is emblematic of his approach.
2019 Lingua Franca Avni Pinot Noir ($40)
Burgundy star Dominique Lafon consults here, so it's not surprising that—as with many young Burgundies—there's a hint of French oak in this wine right now. Over the next few months, it should meld with the wine's beautifully focused red cherry and anise flavors.
2019 Adelsheim Breaking Ground Pinot Noir ($45)
"Oregon's gone from almost nobody to 500 or who knows how many wineries," David Adelsheim said a few years back about when Adelsheim opened in 1978. Chalk up that growth to wines like this one: deeply flavorful, full of raspberries and spice flavors that last.
2019 Domaine Drouhin Oregon Dundee Hills Pinot Noir ($45)
The Drouhin family was the first of a wave of Burgundian producers who have invested in the Willamette Valley. Their wines are uniformly superb, starting with this exquisitely balanced, complex Pinot from their estate vineyards in the Dundee Hills.
2020 Big Table Farm Willamette Valley Pinot Noir ($48)
By discarding any fruit from the smoke-plagued 2020 vintage that might remotely have been problematic, and by including all of their higher-end single-vineyard wines in this blend, Big Table created this darkly powerful Pinot, brimming with black raspberry fruit and firm tannins. Bravo, is what I say.
Where to taste, eat, and stay. —Hannah Wallace
Where to Stay
This 36-room boutique hotel is the best place to stay in McMinnville. Rooms contain furniture crafted by local designers and come equipped with a French press so you can brew your own coffee. Bathrooms feature big claw-foot tubs and Pendleton bathrobes. (Rooms from $285, atticushotel.com)
The Setting Inn
The second outpost of the original Napa property, this stylish eight-bedroom inn has commanding views of the Chehalem Mountains. Rooms are luxe and eclectic—high-thread-count sheets, Turkish carpets, and whimsical modern art. The general manager, a former concierge from the Hotel Bel-Air, will curate itineraries and set up tastings for you. (Rooms from $209, thesettinginnwillamette.com)
Silo Suites Bed & Breakfast at Abbey Road Farm
Five suites in converted grain silos have views of grazing sheep and cows. The owners of this 82-acre working farm/B&B/tasting room scored big during the pandemic: They snatched up chef Will Preisch from Portland's legendary (and now closed) Holdfast. Every day, Preisch prepares an unforgettable multicourse seasonal breakfast that starts with a pastry and ends with an entrée like chicken and waffles or pork belly hash. The on-site tasting room features wines from the farm's own wine collective, including James Rahn Wine, Statera Cellars, and Fruit Day. (Rooms from $350, abbeyroadfarm.com)
Where to Eat
If you're not staying at Silo Suites, you can still splurge on chef Preisch's six-course lunch on weekends from 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Each dish—a sunchoke and kohlrabi puree topped with chickpea miso and caviar; seared beef with carrots roasted in truffle honey and topped with fresh truffle—is paired with a wine from the Abbey Road Farm collective. Preisch will also be collaborating with Portland chefs like Joel Stocks and Gabe Rucker for a monthly Sunday dinner. ($150 per person, limited to 12 guests, abbeyroadfarm.com)
Sit at the bar and order tapas—patatas bravas, fried artichoke hearts—at this buzzing Spanish spot in McMinnville. The extensive wine list has won many awards and features a deep selection of both Northwest and Spanish wines (and ports and sherries). laramblaonthird.com
Don't miss the New York–style pies at this Newberg pizzeria—especially the Fungus Among Us (mushrooms, caramelized onion, garlic, truffle oil, mozzarella, ricotta, and honey) or whatever the monthly "Pie with Purpose" is (10% of the price goes to a local charity). Two of the owners run Godspeed Hollow, a source for much of the restaurant's produce. honeypie.pizza
Shiba Wichern Cellars
When Akiko Shiba moved from Tokyo to Germany, her plan was to study brewing. But then—lucky for us—she tasted a German Riesling and switched paths. She and her husband, Chris Wichern, rented a winery in Newberg, where she makes elegant Pinots, a Pinot Blanc, and even an Auxerrois. Her Willamette Cuvée (a mix of Pinots from three different vineyards) is always fantastic and also reasonably priced. Tastings are free as long as you buy a bottle, which you should. (Appointment only, shibawicherncellars.com)
This picturesque biodynamic vineyard is located in one of the newest sub-AVAs of the Willamette Valley: the Van Duzer Corridor, west of Salem. Winemaker Morgan Beck makes expressive, memorable wines from grapes grown on the 175-acre property. If you're feeling funky, ask to try the Disco Chicken Rosé, a blend of Blaufränkisch, St. Laurent, Zweigelt, and a touch of Pinot Noir. (Tastings $15, appointment only, johanvineyards.com)
At this biodynamic winery, located in the Eola-Amity Hills, winemaker Chris Williams crafts incredible Pinots, Rieslings, and even a few Muscats, ably carrying on the legacy of founder Jimi Brooks. The treehouse-like tasting room has a spacious back deck with views of the mountains, and executive chef Norma Buchholz offers an array of dishes that go beyond the ordinary cheese and charcuterie plates. (Tastings $20, fee waived with a three-bottle purchase, appointment only, brookswine.com)