chehalem

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Chehalem will celebrate its 20th vintage this year. Founded in 1990 by Harry Peterson-Nedry and his partners Bill and Kathy Stoller, it was one of the first – if not the first – wineries to settle up on Ribbon Ridge. The original estate vineyard – Ridgecrest – had been bearing since 1985, selling grapes to Adelsheim and Tempest. The first Chehalem wines included a pinot gris, a chardonnay, a pinot noir and a gamay noir; all four remain the building blocks of the brand today.

In the fall of 1995, Chehalem purchased a second vineyard and winemaking facility from a long-gone winery named Veritas. The 26-acre Veritas vineyard was renamed Corral Creek, and brought Chehalem’s estate holdings up to 65 acres, and pushed production capacity up to 5,000 cases. Chehalem continued to add wines to the lineup, expanding with reserve bottlings, experimenting with Dijon clones, introducing INOX – an all-stainless chardonnay – and bringing in more Alsatian varietals, notably riesling and pinot blanc. The 173-acre Stoller vineyard and 55-acres Wind Ridge vineyard (20 acres planted so far) have been added to the estate holdings, and all four get bottled as single-vineyard pinot noir selections.

I don’t know how Chehalem is viewed by other critics, but I have found this property to be one of the top 10 in Oregon, with a clear focus, a style that emphasizes breed and elegance, attentive and thoughtful winemaking in every vintage, no matter how challenging, and prices that fall on the light side in a region where the $150 bottle of pinot seems to have become some sort of credential. All Chehalem wines are highly recommended. Here are notes on some of the current releases (note that the pinot blanc was reviewed yesterday).

Chehalem 2008 3 Vineyard Pinot Gris; $19
From an unusually cool vintage that seems to have heightened and focused the white wines, this stainless-steel fermented wine is vivid and fresh, with complex fruits, orange peel, citrus, suggestions of ginger and even (as the winery points out) sea spray!

Chehalem 2008 INOX Chardonnay; $19
5844 cases
INOX is Chehalem’s un-oaked Chardonnay, tank-fermented, no malolactic fermentation or lees contact, all Dijon clones. Chardonnay doesn’t get any more transparently fresh. Flavors of flower water, mineral, kiwi, lime, fennel and bracing minerality deliver pure pleasure. A great food wines.

Chehalem 2007 Ian’s Reserve Chardonnay; $36
The model for Chehalem’s Ian’s Reserve Chardonnay is fine white Burgundy, and with that in mind this is vinified quite differently from the winery’s INOX. Scents and flavors emphasize caramel, unsalted butter, green apple and green banana, with the barrel flavors in the lead at the moment. Give it plenty of breathing time.

Chehalem 2007 Cerise Red; $24
Cerise is Chehalem’s take on a Passetoutgrains, a blend of 80 percent gamay noir and 20 percent pinot noir. It’s an explosion of cherries; light, forward, delicate yet deep. At just 12.8 percent alcohol, this is a perfect summer red.

Chehalem 2007 3 Vineyard Pinot Noir; $32
Widely available (almost 6000 cases), this blend of barrels from three of the four estate vineyards brings watermelon, strawberries and rhubarb pie fruit flavors, along with black tea and cola. A fine effort in a difficult year.

Chehalem 2007 Wind Ridge Vineyards Pinot Noir; $44
This is so delicate it’s like a perfect reflection of a beautiful pinot noir. Cherry candy and cola flavors combine almost weightlessly – the winery lists the alcohol at just 12.3 percent.

Chehalem 2007 Stoller Vineyards Pinot Noir; $44
Elegance is the word here; wild strawberry and rhubarb flavors bringing tangy fruit to the front. There is an unusual metallic edge to the tannins – iron filings if you will. Sculpted and balanced, it gracefully reflects the scale of the vintage.

Chehalem 2007 Ridgecrest Vineyards Pinot Noir; $44
The original Ribbon Ridge vineyard is beautifully balanced, with briary, dusty, currant and berry fruits. It has less concentration than in warmer years, but compensates with impeccable balance. The alcohol is listed at just 12.8 percent.

Chehalem 2007 Corral Creek Vineyards Pinot Noir; $44
Corral Creek and Ridgecrest are my two favorites of the estate pinots, and each quite distinctive. This is the earthiest and most complex of them all, loaded with wild berry fruit, forest floor aromas, sweet baking spices and a streak of black tea.

http://chehalemwines.com

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