california vs. oregon – whose pinot deserves our envy?

Monday, July 22, 2013

My e-friend Ron Washam (aka the Hosemaster of Wine) has put up a rare blog discussing a specific producer’s lineup of wines. I am more than a little proud to say that Waitsburg Cellars received some handsome reviews from the Hosemaster a few weeks ago, and I believe this is the first time since that Ron has put down his satirist pen to take a whack at reviewing an actual set of wines.

In this instance the winery was Fulcrum, a 1000-case producer exclusively of Pinot Noir. The whole essay, which I highly recommend you read (link is below), includes a brief history chronicling the rise in Pinot popularity. But the line that stuck in my homey craw was this one: “There was a brief time, really the ’85 vintage, when Oregon Pinot Noir was the choice of wine trend chasers. That didn’t really last.”

Whoa! Didn’t last, you say? I would submit that not only did it last, it kept the concept of varietally-true, dare I say Burgundian Pinot Noir, alive through all the years that California Pinots were virtually indistinguishable from California Syrahs.

I have never tasted the Fulcrum wines, but based on the descriptions Ron put up, I’ll bet that I’d like them quite a lot. In fact, they might be downright Oregonian! “If you like Pinot Noir that is intent on purity and delicacy, on aromatics and subtlety, on the conversation between winemaker and vineyard, on Pinot Noir as the prettiest girl in the room, I think you’ll like Fulcrum Wines,” writes Ron.

Hear hear! Now, if you want to find more than a handful of examples of such a style, I urge you to turn your gaze north, to the Willamette valley.

The 2011 vintage was a difficult one in Oregon, cool and rather wet, and at the time there was some hand-wringing in the press that it was an off year. But now as the wines reach me, and I’ve tasted dozens of them this spring, I find that both whites and reds, in the right hands, express the sort of elegance and finesse that warm, ripe vintages cannot capture.

Ken Wright, Sineann, Rex Hill and several others are among the early releases that have (or will) receive excellent scores and reviews for their 2011 Pinots in my Wine Enthusiast reviews. And to that A+ lineup you may add the wines of Trisaetum.

This fairly new winery, headquartered in the Ribbon Ridge AVA, focuses on estate-grown Pinot Noir and Riesling. The Rieslings deserve a separate essay all their own, which they will get next. But first, here is a look at the 2011 Trisaetum Pinots. Most were released this past May; only the Reserve is not yet out, set for a September debut. All of these wines show lower alcohol and less flesh than the winery’s 2010s, but that is not to take anything away from them. For refinement, elegance, and a style that inevitably will bring comparisons to a good – not great – year in Burgundy, these are highly recommended. I hope that Ron will one day have a chance to taste them, and catch up on what has been happening in Oregon since 1985.

Trisaetum 2011 Pinot Noir
Willamette Valley; $36
2177 cases; 12.8%
Briary berry fruit, with pepper and spice, shows a more herbal aspect than the single vineyard wines. Sealed in screwcap, this wine may be enjoyed over the next 4 to 6 years.

Trisaetum 2011 Coast Range Estate Pinot Noir
Yamhill-Carlton; $55
446 cases; 12.7%
Rhubarb, pie cherry and tart strawberries comprise the fruit component of this young, tangy Pinot Noir. The acidity is still pronounced, and suggests that further aging is a good idea. A nice dusting of cinnamon adds interest to the finish.

Trisaetum 2011 Ribbon Ridge Estate Pinot Noir
Ribbon Ridge; $55
452 cases; 12.8%
Lovely whiffs of fresh rose petals come up from the glass, along with apple blossoms and intimations of pale cherry fruit. The wine has some good grip to the tannins, and a hint of clay and earth. More time is needed to knit the different strata firmly together.

Trisaetum 2011 Wichmann Dundee Estate Pinot Noir
Dundee Hills; $55
100 cases; 12.5%
This is a new cuvée for Trisaetum, in the heart of the Red Hills of Dundee. It shows some old vine character in its brambly, Burgundian elegance. Light flavors of raspberry and cherry float above a bed of clay, yet there is enough muscle for the wine to extend gracefully through a lingering finish, with a lick of chocolate.

Trisaetum 2011 Estates Reserve Pinot Noir
Willamette Valley; $75
655 cases; 13%
A fine effort in a cool year, this reserve combines the best barrels from the winery’s three estate vineyards, which occupy three different sub-AVAs. Hence the Willamette Valley appellation. With excellent depth and power, it showcases a core of cherry, berry and chocolate, accented with sweet spices and a hint of fresh herb.




Kevin Pogue said...

This comment:

"it kept the concept of varietally-true, dare I say Burgundian Pinot Noir, alive through all the years that California Pinots were virtually indistinguishable from California Syrahs".

really resonated with me. I was at a dinner last week where our host poured a wine blind, in black glasses. Everyone at the table had considerable wine-tasting experience. I guessed it was an Aussie Shiraz and everyone else guessed it was a California syrah - it was a 2010 California Pinot....

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Thanks for the plug. I've actually done "serious" wine reviews on HoseMaster of Wine since the end of last year, but only occasionally. I know they bore most of my readers, who come for the comedy. But, hell, it's my blog, I'm a Poodle Champion, I do what I want.

There are wonderful, fabulous, world class Pinot Noirs in Oregon (though, admittedly, since I retired as a sommelier, I don't taste as extensively as I once did, so I'm not up to date). My point was that the excitement about them, which was incredibly high back in the '80's when Parker and other critics "discovered" them, and Parker even invested in Oregon vineyards, faded rather quickly. There was a time, in the early '90's, at least in LA, you would find several Oregon Pinot Noirs on every competent wine list, and a large selection of them in most wine shops. Oregon Pinot Noir was ubiquitous, and hot. That hasn't been true since then, even if the wines are far better now. Not that they won't be hot again one day--in the wine biz, everything old is new again eventually.

I never meant to disparage Oregon wines, and I'm not afraid to disparage anything. And I could be wrong about how much buzz there is about them. I don't get out much. People throw things at me. And I'd love to get the chance to taste the Trisaetum Pinot Noirs. I'm sure they are every bit as yummy as you say. And look at those low alcohol levels! "Cool year" indeed.

PaulG said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
PaulG said...

Kevin, great story, that proves the point. Ron, thanks for letting me (gently) hose the Hosemaster. Your wine reviews are exceptional. I am no judge of how L.A. restaurants view Oregon wines, but if indeed they dismiss them they are missing out on some really excellent producers. But now that half of Oregon is being bought by big California wine companies, maybe the tide will turn!

Note: the comment I deleted merely contained a spelling error. No content was harmed in the deletion of this post!

Unknown said...

I will give your recommendations a try. I don't know a Cali Pinot guy that doesn't love a well made Oregon Pinot. I hope to try my hand at making some Oregon Pinot very soon(maybe 2014 harvest).

David Rossi
Fulcrum Wines

Bob Henry said...


A decade ago, I "moonlighted" on weekends on the sales staff at The Wine House -- a leading wine store on the westside of Los Angeles.

I brought a Russian River Valley (e.g., William Selyem) Pinot Noir sensibility with me to the store . . . which was bereft of Oregon Pinot Noirs. (A case of California provincialism -- solely supporting the "home team"?)

The 1999 vintage Oregon wines impressed me at a trade tasting hosted by Tom Elliott of Northwest Wines.

On the strength of my recommendation, a selective portfolio of Oregon brands (led by “sleeper” producer La Bete) were brought into the store.

Based on my "hand sales," the wines found a following and sold out.

The legacy of “dipping that toe in the water"? The Wine House in the ensuing years has become the "go to" retailer in Los Angeles for Oregon Pinot Noirs.

~~ Bob

Chris Wallace said...

My brother served me a wine the other night blind, and I guessed mid-priced Aussie Shiraz; it was a Cali Pinot. But, thankfully, not all CA wine-makers pursue that style when it comes to Pinot. CA Pinot will almost always be "bigger" tasting than OR Pinot; particularly those from the warmer regions of the Central Coast. I have a tolerance for big a point. It still has to be recognizable as Pinot to me. Personally, there is room for both OR and CA Pinot in my cellar. But there is no room for the Syrah-lovers style with me.

Unknown said...

Hi there Ron. I can tell you from here at the frontline of marketing Oregon wines in California as our prime specialty (28 years - Northwest Wines Ltd) that Oregon wine sales have only continued to increase at both wine shops and restaurants. When the 1985 vintage came out (and I think you really might have meant the 1983 vintage which is the one that "put OR on the international map") we were 2 sales people with around 100 accounts. Today we're 28 salespeople with nearly 2000 Oregon wine accounts in California. Back in the 1980s Oregon wines were definitely a "push" anywhere in the world, including in Oregon(!). Today there's a huge "pull" on them in CA, nationally and in many other countries too.

Have not seen you in maybe 15 years since we did that OR tasting together for members of that fancy country club you were buying for in Santa Rosa. It would be fun to catch up sometime. I've got some OR wines I'd be delighted to share with you, including Trisaetum. Meanwhile, here's a link to some fun facts…

Bob Henry... Big shout out to you!

Bob Henry said...


You are one of the "White Hats" in the wine world, championing Pinot Noir -- not from California.

(The other is David Strada in San Francisco, who represents the New Zealand producers here in the U.S.)

So when will the Oregon producers be making their next appearance in Los Angeles?

As that tabloid rag used to exclaim in their late night cable TV ads:

"Enquiring minds WANT to know !"


~~ Bob

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