lemelson vineyards

Friday, September 11, 2009

Lemelson Vineyards, which debuted in 1999, remains a bit off the radar of many consumers. perhaps because a tasting room did not open until this past summer. Nonetheless, Lemelson wines get consistently good scores from the critics, who are in rare agreement about them. Located just outside of Carlton, the winery should be a must-see for anyone touring the region.

Lemelson wines were impressive from the get-go – I toured the winery shortly after it opened, and have tasted virtually every wine from almost every vintage. The winemaking is done by Eric Lemelson and Anthony King, and has consistently featured the same wines and vineyards for the past decade. At first there was a little over-reliance on expensive new oak, but the most recent releases, from the 2008 (for whites) and 2007 (for reds) vintages, have shown a welcome adjustment, pulling back on the oak throttle and letting the vineyards and grapes express themselves.

The 2008 vintage was especially good for white wines, despite an early freeze. Lemelson’s 2008 Dry Riesling ($20) is fruit-loaded with plenty of citrus, kiwi, peach and apricot. The acids are juicy and natural tasting, setting up a ripe, round, lingering finish. The Lemelson 2008 Tikka’s Run Pinot Gris ($19 – why the dollar difference I don’t have a clue; why not make them both $19?) – was whole-cluster pressed, and partially fermented in neutral oak barrels. It spent five months on the lees, creating a nicely textured, lightly spicy wine with round, fleshy, apple and pear fruit. Hints of orange blossom lead into a streak of orange candy, then a strong finish with mineral accents.

The 2007 vintage was a challenging one, and in some ways a defining one, for pinot producers. Some wineries made wonderful wines; others failed miserably. Lemelson’s 2007s are a full percentage point (or more) lower in alcohol than their 2006s, which I liked very much, but they don’t lack for either ripeness or volume. They are elegant pinots; the lower brix, indigenous yeasts, organic farming and modest yields (averaging 2.4 tons/acre) has kept them in step with the parameters of the cool, wet vintage. Yet here again, the winemaking is first-rate, and the wines may be lighter than the 2005s and 2006s, but they are no less satisfying.

Lemelson’s 2007 Thea’s Selection Pinot Noir ($32) is the entry-level, widely available (7887 cases) and $6 lower in price than in 2006. Bright, fruity scents and flavors of roses, cherries and red berries are offset with carefully moderated herbal underpinnings; nicely smoothed, with soft, slightly leathery tannins, a dusting of cocoa, and just enough forest floor material to give the finish some depth.

Lemelson’s 2007 Cuvée X Pinot Noir ($40) is the only pinot to top 14 percent alcohol. It’s from some of the steepest blocks of the Meyer vineyard; intensely fragrant, earthy and sharp, a fascinating Pinot Noir that orchestrates wild, brambly fruit, cola, cocoa, toasted hazelnuts and clean, moist earth. It’s generous and forward, but substantial.

Lemelson’s 2007 single vineyard offerings – Stermer Vineyard Pinot Noir and 2007 Meyer Vineyard Pinot Noir (each $48), from organically farmed vineyards, are well-matched. Were I to choose a favorite it would be the Stermer by a small margin – it’s a pleasing dark, black cherry color, with slightly more concentration and tannin than the Cuvée X. It’s earthier, with more flavors of wood, forest floor and soil. Black cherry fruit keeps it in balance, with juicy acids and a light dusting of cocoa.

Lemelson’s 2007 Meyer vineyard Pinot Noir is a graceful blend of sweet/tart cherry fruit, licorice, herb and moist earth. The alcohol is a full percentage point lower than the previous vintage, and somehow the wine seems more Burgundian as a result, yet with plenty of pretty, juicy fruit.

Regular tasting room hours are discontinued during harvest, but you may always try to get in by calling ahead for an appointment (503/852-6619). Offer to stomp some grapes and you might find yourself in the middle of things.


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