Back to the US. Oregon, the American Burgundy
Oregon. Mountains, valleys, and woods, and its always elegant landscapes dominated by green that become more serious and wilder when we look into the Cascade Mountains and leave the Pacific behind. We are in parallel 45, in line with one of the most famous wine regions of the world, Burgundy. It sounds promising!
I am with my friend Miguel Charters, with whom I have been working on a new and incredible project in the Melides region (more on this later). There is no better thing than travelling, searching for new experiences, new people, and new knowledge. I always get that little nervous excitement before leaving. This time around, I go to the west coast, back to where I did a harvest internship in 2003, California. But this time, I also have a chance to hop into Oregon, this unique State where wines are a reference.
Within the State, we have five main regions: Portland, Walla Walla, Columbia Gorge, Umpqua Valley, Rogue Valley and, of course, Willamette Valley. There is no time to visit all of them, so we focused on the Willamette, the heart of Oregon wines and where we found the most exciting projects. The Willamette valley is surrounded by the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Cascades to the east. The Willamette River runs through the middle of this area, which cuts the landscape of the vineyards, almost always hidden by massive Douglas Fir woods. A little bit like the Portuguese region Dão, but our version is filled with eucalyptus.
It’s the beginning of May, and the budburst is going strong in the vineyards. What? In Portugal, ours are flowering already? We arrive at our first visit and are surprised once again, we see huge vine trunks, it’s an old vineyard – this new world producing country has a lot to it with old vineyards such as this… I like it, though. However, there is a detail we must not forget. Spring frost burned all the new buds, and production was lost. -“Sad, isn’t it?” John Paul, Cameron Wines winemaker, tells us with a sad smile that this year’s harvest is to forget because it’s gone. What we see are secondary and non-producing buds. It looks tragic.
The viticulturists surrender body and soul to their vineyards, but chance always rules the seasons. John tells me he has never seen anything like it. He planted his first vineyard right there in 1977. Cameron wines are in the sub-region of Dundee Hills, where John Paul and Bill Wayne, his partner, are pioneers of viticulture. They have some of the oldest vineyards, beautiful with huge trunks and full of history. They do mass selection, recovering the vines with wood cut from older plants that have their origins in Burgundy clones – and that is how you maintain the complexity and singularity of they are growing.
Ah, of course, they are passionate about Burgundy wines and references, and you can see that in the cellar as well, a mix of America and France. You see a classic American building on the outside, inside a cave where the barrels are ageing the wines. And the wines also follow the French profile, a tense, vibrant and super fresh Chardonnay, and pure seduction, finesse and a whole class of the Pinot Noir. John, you make incredible wines. We finish the tasting and go visit another vineyard, guided by Bill, one of those viticulturists who speak with great passion. What a great experience! Thank you!
Pinot Noir and Chardonnay! The Americans are the kings of experimenting with varieties, but this Oregon inspired by Burgundy is a hymn to these two grape varieties. We continue to Domaine Serene, also in Dundee Hills, in the same Willamette Valley, to go and meet one of the most iconic producers of the region. We see classic Burgundy houses investing here, such as the Drouhin and Jadot estates, but also the reverse happens, and Domaine Serene went and bought Chateau de la Crée in Burgundy. Now that’s a statement!
We see the dimension of Domaine Serene in that detail as well. A new cellar, a visitor centre in the American way, pure show biz! The cellar is irreprehensible, done with attention to detail, a Pinot celebration temple. The massive amount of open-top fermenters we see, a traditional tank for Pinot, where the pump-overs are instead punched downs, done mechanically in a very gentle way, for a more controlled extraction. Then, 13 000 barrels are a dream for any winemaker. When we taste, we feel the same detail in the wines. Perhaps here, the oak is more noticeable, creating a wine with more of an American style. We finish our tasting with a Pinot made only for their wine club. And what can I say, it was a world-class wine!
Resonance Winery and the incredible Thomas
If the first day in Oregon was perfect, the second couldn’t be worst, so we went to the Louis Jadot cellar. They work exclusively with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The area is incredible, at a high point of Carlton, with dramatic views over the Willamette valley. The tasting room is one of the most beautiful in the region, surrounded by an American oak forest. The wines are faithful to the philosophy of their origins: tension, minerality and pure terroir expression.
We followed this visit to go and see one of the most special producers of the region, John Thomas. This producer is well known in the entire area. He is the actual one-man show, and he literally does everything himself. Never had a worker, only hires for harvest, and it is done in one day. I explain it’s a 2ha vineyard, where he harvests 10 000kgof Pinot Noir grapes. After he does all the cellar work alone, reception, punch downs, racking, filling and emptying barrels, bottling, vineyard work and pruning. All by himself!
Close to his 70’s, this is the true Oregon’s vigneron. And above all else, he is an incredible person. With excellent knowledge of the vineyard and extraordinary honesty, John opens the books and tells us everything. No makeup, no secrets. One of those people that we will never forget. This is also the case with the wine he shared with us. a Thomas 2022 in magnum. A stratospheric Pinot!!!
An example for Portugal
In Oregon, we have time to visit a friend, Barbara Gross. Her father, Robert Gross, is also part of the region’s pioneers. He planted the first vineyard in 1978 (a year suitable for everything), and today it is a reference for organic and biodynamic viticulture. We were welcomed with open arms, shared glasses of wine, and tasted the enormous pinots they make from that 1978 vineyard. Conversations that were pure, no running around the bushes, of experience and knowledge sharing. It’s so easy to talk with the Americans, and it seems like they have a gift for not complicating things. They work well together, always look to do what interests the region – ah, if we were more like this, maybe today Portugal was on a different level…
After Oregon, it was time to go down to California and continue our trip. We left craving for more, though. Next time it’s mandatory to stop, but with more time. With me, I take the will to come back and with a bit of pride: everyone talks about Portugal, and all told us they have plans to visit soon. We must welcome these guys well and help spread what we best have in our country.
P.S. Thank you, Amy Lee, for welcoming us on such a great trip!