An Eye-Opening AVA Tasting of 30 Oregon Pinot Noirs at Adelsheim Vineyards

(May 2017) I was very much looking forward to meeting the legendary David Adelsheim, Chairman of Adelsheim Vineyard, with over 40 years of experience making Oregon wines. As one of the original winemakers of the Willamette Valley, he also helped to establish the Oregon Wine Board and has mentored many newcomers over the years.

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Finally Meeting David Adelsheim

David did not disappoint us, because he was a very charming host and welcomed us with the utmost hospitality to his cellar, which was set up with a sea of tables for the most comprehensive and amazing tasting of Oregon pinot noirs I have yet encountered. Over the next few days, he continued to join us at the various events, and was consistently friendly, helpful, and fun.

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Pinot Noir AVA Tasting at Adelsheim Vineyards

Climate and Appellations of Willamette Valley

After we were comfortably seated, David proceeded to provide us with a brief overview of the climate and AVAs of the Willamette valley. He explained that the climate is cooler than California, but because of 15 hours of daylight in the summer and the same latitude as Burgundy, the Willamette Valley is able to ripen pinot noir and chardonnay grapes perfectly. Protected by the rain shadow of the coast range mountains, they receive around 100 centimeters each year of rain (39 inches). They do not get the thick coastal fogs that California pinot noir regions rely upon to keep their grapes cool in the evenings and mornings.

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Vineyards Near Adelsheim Winery

The soil is primarily a combination of basalt lava flows from volcanic eruptions and marine sediment from the Missoula Floods. It is a “layer cake of soil,” according to David. The valley is 250 kilometers long, and 84% of the acreage is pinot noir.

The first grapes were planted by David Lett in 1965.  David Adelsheim and his wife established their winery in 1971. Most vineyards are organic or sustainably farmed. The main certification for sustainable vineyards/wineries in Oregon is called LIVE – Low Input Viticulture and Enology.

Today there are 6 smaller AVAs in the Willamette Valley (see slide below). These are: 1) Dundee Hills, 2) Eola-Amity Hills, 3) McMinnville, 4) Yamill-Carlton, 5) Ribbon Ridge, and 6) Chelhalem Mountains – where Adelsheim Winery is located.

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Six Sub AVAs of the Willamette Valley

Tasting 30 Willamette Pinot Noirs Blind by AVA

After David’s overview presentation, a panel of experts described each of the six AVAs in detail. After each AVA presentation, we tasted a flight of pinot noirs from that region. Since the tasting was blind, it was fascinating to learn the name of the winery at the conclusion of the tasting. All wines were from the 2010 vintage, one of the coldest on record. This was probably a wise choice with so many European MWs in the crowd, because the wines had the high acidity and earthiness that many of them prefer. Following are my notes on the tasting.

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Panel of Presenters on Willamette AVAs

Dundee Hills AVA – named for a location in Scotland. Slightly warmer, protected from winds, mainly volcanic red soil – clay/loam, very slippery when wet. Produces red fruit character – red cherry, red raspberry. Label must be 95% from Dundee Hills. There are currently 45 wineries in this AVA. At the conclusion of the tasting, I learned that my two favorite wines from here were:

  • Archery Summit 2010 Pinot Noir – Medium ruby, spicy, muted red fruit. Red raspberry, fine grained tannins, concentrated, long, a bit of warm earth, well balanced, allspice, oak.  92
  • Sokol Blosser 2010 Pinot Noir – Floral, red cherry, earthy, bigger tannins, higher acid. Long juicy finish. 91

Eola Amity Hills AVA – lowest point in coastal range, a bit cooler. Marine and volcanic soils, but different on each side of hill. Wind and cooler in the evenings. Last on the margin of viticulture, especially during cooler vintages. Usually higher acidity and elegance. Around 30 wineries. At the conclusion of the tasting, I learned that my three favorite wines from here were:

  • Antica Terra Antikythera 2010 Pinot Noir – Ripe, black berry jam, floral, rich, velvety, structured tannins, long finish with an energetic vibe running through it. A truly amazing, and mind-blowing wine. Utterly delicious – wow! 96
  • Evening Land 2010 Pinot Noir – Cherry cola, supple, rich, concentrated, long. Lovely! 92
  • Christom 2010 Pinot Noir – Floral, stemmy (earth), black cherry, truffle, dirt, well-balanced, complex, tempting – 92

Yamhill-Carlton AVA – on the map it looks like two crab claws. Maritime climate, cooler, more sedimentary soils. They don’t plant on the north slopes because they can’t ripen pinot there. Known for bramble berry, blue berries, and some blackberry; Christmas spice, savage notes, and some salinity. At the conclusion of the tasting, I learned that my two favorite wines from here were:

  • Big Table Farm 2010 Pinot Noir – Spice, oak, smoke, and black cherry, deep, juicy, complex, earthy – yum! 94
  • Sotor 2010 Pinot Noir – Ripe berry nose, spice, grippy, yet supple tannins, inviting – 91

McMinnville AVA – mix of soils, but primarily volcanic. Furthest west, closer to the ocean, but further south. The town of McMinnville is not in the AVA. Known for bright acidity, black fruits, ash, deeply colored and concentrated larger tannins. At the conclusion of the tasting, I learned that my two favorite wines from here were:

  • Hyland Estates 2010 Pinot Noir – floral, raspberry, juicy, long, black cherry, earth, well-made. 91
  • Brick House 2010 Pinot Noir – spice, ash, burnt cherry, big tannins, chewy – 90

Ribbon Ridge AVA – a spine that runs like a ribbon along the top of the ridge; has had its own community for years. All sedimentary soils – drains down the ridge. 5.3 kilometers long. Some spheres of basalt. Close to Dundee Hills. More red fruit with some black cherry. At the conclusion of the tasting, I learned that my two favorite wines from here were:

  • Beaux Freres 2010 Pinot Noir – Rich, ripe, raspberry, luscious and approachable.  Very satisfying! 93
  • Ayres 2010 Pinot Noir – Muted nose, black cherry, more concentrated tannins, earthy, long – compelling, 92

Chehalem Mountains AVA – Mixed geology and soils. Not a clear signature style, due to mixed soils, but seems to have more concentrated tannins. At the conclusion of the tasting, I learned that my three favorite wines from here were:

  • Ponzi Aurora 2010 Pinot Noir – black cherry, earth, chocolate, chewy tannins, good acidity – delicious! 93
  • Bergstrom Silice Single Vineyard 2010 Pinot Noir – cola, earth, mixed berry compote, wonderful juicy acidity, fresh – tempting – 92
  • Le Cadeau Winery Rocheux Vineyard 2010 Pinot Noir – Lovely rose perfume and raspberry, jammy,  juicy, concentrated tannins, texture – very approachable. 92
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Discovering My Favorite Wine of the Blind Tasting

Visiting the Unique Cellars of Philippe LeClerc in Gevrey-Chambertin

(Sept. 2016) Hidden off a narrow road in the tiny wine village of Gevrey-Chambertin is the entrance to a Burgundian winery called Domaine Philippe LeClerc. Located in a 13th century building with yellow limestone walls covered with flowing baskets of colorful flowers, the domain is not only the home to some very excellent pinot noir wines, but also houses a cellar crammed with antique winemaking equipment and a bizarre collection of taxidermy animals.

Entrance to Philippe LeClerc Winery

Entrance to Philippe LeClerc Winery in Gevrey-Chambertin, Burgundy

I visited here twice with relatives during my three months in Burgundy, and both times we were welcomed by a friendly employee who encouraged us to visit the museum in the cellar first (free of charge), and then come back upstairs to taste some wines (€10 euro charge, refundable with wine purchase.)

About Philippe LeClerc

The owner, Philippe LeClerc, was born in Gevrey-Chambertin and raised in a winemaking family that sold their wine to negotiatants. When he took over from his father in the 1970’s, he decided to take the business in a new direction and bought an old building to establish a winery where he could sell directly to consumers. Around the same time, he started collecting old winemaking equipment and taxidermy animals – both items that people were glad to part with, because neither was in vogue.

Over the years, Philippe was able to purchase some of the surrounding buildings, which had old cellars – a common architectural feature in Burgundy. He connected several of the caves so he would have room to store his wine, and then began to display his collection.

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Inside the Wine Musuem of Philippe LeClerc

One of the Few Tasting Rooms in Burgundy Open on Sundays

Today visitors are welcomed to stop by seven days a week between 9:30am and 7pm to tour the cellar and museum for free, and then to enjoy a wine tasting. These long opening hours are rare in France, especially when most businesses close for two hours during lunch and are rarely open on Sundays.

With such welcoming hours, it would be expected that the wines may not be up to par, but this is not the case. Philippe owns vines in some of the top premier cru vineyards in Gevrey-Chambertin, including the famous Les Cazetiers and Les Champeux vineyards. Sustainable practices are used, and many of his pinot noir wines are aged for 22 months in French oak barrels. The wines have won awards and wine critics have rated many in the 90’s.

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Wine Tasting at Domaine Philippe LeClerc

Unique Cellars with Stuffed Animals and Antique Wine Equipment

Upon arrival visitors are encouraged to take a self-guided tour of the cellars, which generally takes about an hour. Descending a steep stone staircase, long arched hallways stretch out in multiple directions, and dusty bottles can be seen sleeping in side caverns. Turning a corner, a large baronial dining room comes into view with tall antique red velvet chairs and wooden tables rescued from monasteries. All along the wall are stuffed animals, including badgers, fox, deer, small boar and a mountain cat.

Then, descending into another cellar, a huge lighted tunnel comes into view. Collections of antique winemaking equipment line the walls, as well as a suit of arms, and hundreds of other bizarre antiques that Philip has collected over the years from estates all over France.  At the end of the first tunnel, three other tunnels branch off and loop around, filled with even more bizarre items, such as life-size models of cows and horses, as well as stuffed pigs. The site of a large stuffed dog is a little off-putting, but is most likely testimony to someone’s favorite pet from decades gone by.

Cellars of Philippe LeClerc Winery

Stuffed Animals in Unique Cellars of Philippe LeClerc

Tasting the Wines of Philippe LeClerc

Though it is possible to tour the cellars and museum without tasting the wines, it would be folly to miss the inspiring pinot noirs that reflect the different vineyards and vintages of Gevrey-Chambertin.  After all, Chambertin is reputed to be one of the favorite wines of Napoleon Bonaparte, who supposedly said, “Nothing makes the future look so rosy as to contemplate it through a glass of Chambertin.”

During my first visit, we tasted the following seven wines:

  • 2013 Village Chambolle Musigny – soft, floral and elegant €30
  • 2011 GC Village En Champs – earthy, tannic, interesting €36
  • 2012 GC 1st Cru Champeaux – ripe cherry nose, vanilla, velvety tannins, long finish €42
  • 2012 GC 1st Cru Les Cazetiers – mineral on nose; black cherry and vanilla on palate, velvety tannins, more concentrated the Champeaux – €46
  • 2013 GC 1st Cru La Combe Aux Moines – strange nose of tar and charred oak, black anise on palate. Perhaps just in a dumb stage. €50
  • 2011 GC 1st Cru Les Champonnets – Earthy, big tannins, no fruit. Not approachable yet €56
  • 2006 GC 1st Cru La Combe Aux Moines – older vintage so showing secondary notes of truffle and spice. Very complex, with new notes on each taste. Long finish. €68
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Dusty Wine Bottles in Cellar of Philippe LeClerc

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Vineyard Maps for Wine Tasting at Philippe LeClerc

Three Months in Burgundy

(Autumn 2016) The opportunity to live in France for three months was a dream come true – part of a bucket list item I’ve had for years as something I would do “someday”. However someday came much sooner than expected after a doctor told me I only had one year left to live. Five days later another doctor told me it was a misdiagnosis, but during those five days – which were some of the longest of my life – my husband and I had deep talks about how we would spend that last year together.

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Beautiful Vineyards of Burgundy at Sunset

The one item that kept coming to the top of my list was living in France for a while. So when the trauma was over and I learned I had a sabbatical coming up at work, my husband and I agree that I would go to France for a semester to teach and do research. It was decided that since he works internationally in the oil industry, he could easily stop by to visit me several times coming and going from his job.

Burgundy, Bordeaux or Alsace?

So then came the tough decision of where to go in France. Fortunately for all of us in wine education, there are always opportunities to work at universities in France part-time. Therefore, I reached out to my fellow professors in France and was offered the chance to teach in either Burgundy, Bordeaux, or Alsace. I chose Burgundy because my research matched the region better, and because I have always dreamed of living amongst those famous pinot noir vineyards.

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Finally Living in France — Beaune Farmer’s Market

A Gite in Vosne Romanee

Therefore in the autumn of 2016, I found myself in France for three and a half months. I spent the first two weeks at a French immersion program in Bordeaux (see post here), before flying to Paris to rent a car and drive the 3 hours south to Burgundy. On the way, I stopped off to visit my relatives who live near Fontainebleau for a few days, and then arrived in Burgundy at the beginning of September for a three month stay.

During my sabbatical, payment for teaching part-time at the Burgundy School of Wine & Spirits in Dijon came in the form of a rental house. I was offered an apartment in Dijon or a 3 bedroom house in the village of Chambolle-Musigny, of which I promptly chose the latter. However, one month before departing California, I received an email informing me that they were changing the location and I would be staying at a 2 bedroom gite in Vosne Romanee. A gite is a rental apartment or house that is located in an older dwelling, and has been subsidized by the French government to assist in renovating  historic structures.

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Private Garden of Gite with Striking Blue Door

At first I was disappointed, because expecting many visitors, I was hoping for a 3 bedroom house; however, when I saw the gite, I was delighted with how spacious and charming it was – including a private walled yard with striking blue door at the entrance. It even had a name – the Consulate. Still more thrilling was the fact that the gite was only a five minute walk from some of the most famous vineyards in the world, including my namesake, La Tache, as well as Romanee Conti, La Romanee, Richebourg and Romanee-St. Vivant.

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Living Room of Gite – Photo Credit: Le Consulate website

However the biggest surprise was to learn that the gite was owned by the Chateau Liger-Belair, and my landlords were the count and countess, who lived across the street in the large chateau that dominates the center of the small village of Vosne-Romanee. They turned out to be delightful and friendly hosts, and the last evening I was invited to a cozy dinner complete with amazing wines. Of course the other very famous winery in Vosne-Romanee is DRC – Domaine Romanee-Conti, which was also one block away from my gite. I was fortunate enough to have visited here in the past (see post), but was honored to be allowed to visit three more times during my stay.

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Looking Through the Gates of Chateau Liger-Belair

Living in Vosne-Romanee – a Village without a Bakery

Several people thought it was strange that I wanted to live in a small French village without a grocery store or bakery, rather than live in the bustling center of Dijon or Beaune.  But I am a country girl at heart, and living near the vineyards is important to me. So though Vosne-Romanee has less than 500 people, and only boasts a small, friendly post-office, a church, and two excellent restaurants, it was perfect for me.

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Downtown Vosne Romanee

Each morning I was able to take a long walk in the vineyards, which are trespassed by many hiking and biking trails that run along the Cote d’Or. The grocery store and bakery were only 2 kilometers down the highway in Nuits St. George, and the distance to both Dijon and Beaune was only 18 kilometers each way. So I settled into my little gite, and melted into my dream of living in France. Some days were challenging, many were miraculous, but none were lonely – because as soon as my friends and family knew I had a gite in France, I had visitors almost every weekend.

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The Famous Stone Cross of Romanee-Conti Vineyard