Here’s the lowdown on some of the more notable – if not fantastic – organic, Biodynamic®, and sustainably grown wines tasted during (and just after) my most recent jaunt (August 2009) through the West Coast. For an explication of the green delineations, please refer to previous pieces on The War Between the Greens and A Consumer’s Precise Guide to Going Green:
Seven Springs Vineyard, Celebration Gamay 2008 (Eola-Amity Hills; uncertified organic/biodynamic grapes) - Employing nouveau vinification, but a far cry from the usual: vivid purplish ruby followed by teems of sweet blackberry (like the gushy wild fruit we were picking off the sides of the road during our entire two weeks in Oregon) and raspberry aromas; round, luscious, drippy in a zesty center; the sensations soft, yet dense enough with mild tannin to give a little bit of grip on the palate.
Seven Springs Vineyard, Les Gamine 2008 (Eola-Amity Hills; uncertified organic/biodynamic grapes) - Passetoutgrains inspired blend of authentic gamay (60%) and pinot noir; but again, because of the sheer, gorgeous intensity of this vineyard, more like a passetoutgrains of your dreams: vividly defined rouge on noir berry perfumes in complex, nuanced nose; marvelous interplay of zesty edge and silk/velvet textures, the luscious berry fruitiness emanating brightly on the palate. Utterly unique, compelling.
Seven Springs Vineyard, La Source Pinot Noir 2007 (Eola-Amity Hills; uncertified organic/biodynamic grapes) - Oregon pinot noir lovers have been enthralled by this vineyard for years; and although, since being purchased by Evening Land Vineyards, its grapes are no longer going out to artisanals like Penner-Ash, Cristom and St. Innocent, rest assured that in the hands of French born winemaker Isabelle Meunier and über-consultant Dominique Lafon, Seven Springs pinots will be better than ever. The proof is already in the bottle: beautiful, luscious, fragrant array of rose petal, anisey spice, wild red berries, and blueberry jam in the nose. Velvety smooth entry leading to long, sweet flavors, anchored by sturdy tannin, solidifying the fruit once past the mouth-watering middle.
Maysara, Delara Pinot Noir 2006 (McMinnville; Biodynamic® grapes) - Given its unique locale at the furthest western, coastal edge of the Willamette Valley – strongly influenced by cooling winds pushing through the nearby Van Duzer Corridor – the McMinnville AVA is already associated with pinot noir of exhilarating breadth, more steely structured with acidity and tannin than pinots from the rest of Oregon. Delara is perhaps the most terroir driven of Maysara’s cuvées: its dense, fullsome body elevated by lively acidity, while amplified by its luscious, pungent fruitiness – sweet raspberry and strawberry jam infused with peppermint, pepper, and anise/licorice nuances.
Maysara, Estate Cuvée Pinot Noir 2008 (McMinnville; Biodynamic® grapes) - Slated for fall 2009 release, this cuvée shows the fully ripened, sweet fruit, silk texture, zesty edge, and moderated alcohol typical of this vineyard, as well as the bright qualities of this cool yet trouble-free vintage. Unfettered, wild strawberry in the nose, expressed in vibrant, fruit forward sensations on the palate, gliding clear through firmly defined tannins.
Stoller Vineyards, SV Pinot Noir 2007 (Dundee Hills; LIVE sustainable grapes) - This is one of the deeper toned pinot noirs coming out of this AVA, associated as it is with reddish fruit forward pinot profiles, and an outstanding one at that. Here, the red berry perfume is laced with brown spices and faint, composted earth qualities; on the palate, a fine, long, feminine body underlain by sinewy tannin, giving savory, nuanced flavors, suggesting raspberry tea, smoky spices, and caramelized oak.
Cristom, Jessie Vineyard Pinot Noir 2007 (Eola-Amity Hills; LIVE sustainable grapes) - Geez, can Oregon Pinot get any richer? The nose is jammy sweet, bright, richly oaked, almost wild with blackberry, raspberry and dried cherry skin; the flavors electrified on the palate by sheer intensity of the fruit, bursting out of the sturdy, fleshy structure thickened by the polished oak.
Cristom, Signature Pinot Noir 2005 (Willamette Valley; uncertified sustainable grapes) - Winemaker Steve Doerner has stuck to his guns over the past twenty years – applying 100% natural yeast, whole cluster (50% in riper years, closer to 30% in cooler years like` ‘07) fermentation, zero filtration, and minimalist handling – and has honed it to perfection. The full, strapping masculinity that is invariably produced is all here in a dense, round, buffed body gripped by sinewy tannin; fleshed to overflowing with concentrated, velvet lined fruit, perfumed by wild blackberry, raspberry and cherry cola, darkened by smoky oak, peppermint spice, and organic nuances of crushed brown leaves. Only the third vintage (after '98 and '04) of a Signature pinot produced by Cristom since its inception in 1992.
Bergström, Bergström Vineyard Pinot Noir 2007 (Dundee Hills; Biodynamic® wine) - Quintessential Dundee Hills style, redolent of sweet red berries, flowery and lacy over the rim; but it’s on the palate that this wine really shows its stuff – a plump, soft entry transitioning into a velvety, lush, round, medium-full middle, the red berry sensations fleshy, supple, pliant to the touch.
Bergström, de Lancellotti Vineyard Pinot Noir 2007 (Chehalem Mountains; Biodynamic® wine) - Vivid violet-ruby color, nearly just as deep at the rim; the nose mixing wild blackberry and cherry, less floral than its brethren bottling from the Dundee Hills, but given a dense, gripping, substantive feel on the palate, under an artistically delineated layer of softly sweet fruit.
Beaux Frères, Beaux Frères Vineyard Pinot Noir 2007 (Willamette Valley; uncertified organic/biodynamic grapes) - Of this meticulously farmed jewel crowning the Ribbon Ridge AVA, the most significant thing I can report is that it is no longer laden with the tannic heft associated with max-extraction, nor with the aggressively toasted, lumbering oakiness that once gave the brand its swaggering edge. Instead, it’s metamorphosed into a sumptuous, gracefully rounded epitome of the grape. Sure, there still is a perceptively smoky oak nuance embellishing the lush nose of strawberry and wild berries; but on the palate, the feel is crisp, silky and refined rather than thick and chewy. Big Bad Bill is Sweet William now.
Beaux Frères, Upper Terrace Pinot Noir 2007 (Willamette Valley; uncertified organic/biodynamic grapes) - One of the discernible differences biodynamic practices have wrought on recent Beaux Frères vintages, according to vigneron Mike Etzel, is redder as opposed to blacker fruit profiles. Physiological ripeness comes at lower sugars (hence, lower alcohol and less raisiny-ripe, root beerish notes; and in response, Etzel has been exerting less punch-down, and more gentle pump-overs, to coax rather than extricate complexity. Juicy strawberry leaps from the glass of this Upper Terrace, the fruit aroma tinged with smoky spice. A round, fleshy body comes across as soft and silky; the red fruit flavors, fresh, lively, elegantly poised against this polished, yet sturdy, veneer.
Brick House, Les Dijonnais Pinot Noir 2007 (Ribbon Ridge; Biodynamic® grapes) - Bright transparent ruby signaling the delicacy and lacy silkiness found in the glass; the red berry perfume, singular yet fragrant, penetrating; the fruit qualities on the palate, while fine and sweet, in taut balance with mouth-watering acidity and moderated tannin against a faint backdrop of brown spiced oak, finishing long and lively.
Brick House, Ribbon Ridge Pinot Noir 2007 (Ribbon Ridge; Biodynamic® grapes) - Here the femininity of the house style reaches an extreme, with fragrances of candied red berries tinged with brown spices (suggesting cinnamon and allspice); sleek, slender, light-medium body enlivened by tingling acidity and soft, unobtrusive tannin.
Chehalem, Stoller Vineyard Pinot Noir 2007 (Dundee Hills; LIVE certified grapes) - Lovely rendering of this classic Dundee growth; nose of sweetly concentrated dried plum and red berries, with sachet-like mix of dried rose petal, star anise and Chinese five spice perfumes; long, refined, silken medium body, intricately layered with sweet berries, polished oak, exotic spices and gently tugging tannins.
Chehalem, Reserve Pinot Noir 2006 (Oregon; LIVE certified grapes) - Decidedly masculine style: deep, bright burgundy red followed by intense black cherry aroma; juicy, fleshy fruit-bomb qualities couched in an emphatic, viscous, full body, tightened by muscular tannin.
RR, Pinot Noir 2005 (Willamette Valley; LIVE sustainable grapes) - Chehalem’s upper crust, reserve quality label, culled from older sections of Ridgecrest Vineyard in the Ribbon Ridge AVA (hence, the “RR”). The ’05 is a vinous orgy: roasted bacon/meat mixed with concentrations of cherry and dried plum in the nose; huge (for a pinot), fleshy, dense and velvety on impact, becoming dense, almost ponderous, yet perfectly round and seamless in the mid-palate; the meaty, plummy, cherry bomb fruit compacted, and oozing from the center like a Whitman’s chocolate.
Domaine Serene, Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir 2006 (Willamette Valley; LIVE sustainable grapes) - Who doesn’t think of this growth as an apotheosis of Dundee Hills? It’s been consistent enough, and finer with each passing vintage. The classic, pretty red berry perfume in the ‘06 is deftly harmonized with rich, toasty oak. The handsome oak, full body and weight adding tannin do not keep the wine from being balanced and buoyant; the fragrant fruit fleshing out the middle, rolling into a sweet finish.
Cooper Mountain Vineyards, 5 Elements Pinot Noir 2007 (Willamette Valley; Biodynamic® wine) - Bright, purplish ruby; luscious, fruit focused nose of black cherry and plums, with bare whiffs of vanilla; good size – medium-full on the pinot scale – shaped by dense, round, thick, slightly viscous sensations; again, the flavors focused on deliciously unfettered fruit, as opposed to feminine or finesseful aspects of the mythical varietal profile.
Cooper Mountain Vineyards, Life Pinot Noir 2008 (Willamette Valley; Biodynamic® grapes; TILTH organic wine) - This is Cooper Mountain’s pure, unsulfured cuvée; in a way, experimental (only 100 cases produced), but a 100% success as far as I’m concerned. Winemaker Gilles Antoine de Domingo quips that this is for the “OCD palate,” in reference to the fruit focus incurred from minimal oak aging, resulting in the fresh, lively, mildly spiced, totally clean and bright varietal fruitiness (cranberry/cherry), couched on a bed of soft tannin. As good as it gets for unsulfured pinot.
Domaine Drouhin, Laurène Pinot Noir 2006 (Oregon; LIVE sustainable grapes) - Here and there you hear references to the “Dundee spice,” and whether it exists or is just a figment in an overenthusiastic collective imagination, there is a sweet, brown kitchen spice (cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, etc.) lending interest to the otherwise singular red berry (veering towards black) fragrance of this Dundee Hills estate bottling. The entry is soft, fine, silky; becoming tight with tannin in the middle of a medium-full body, but finishing sweet between the hardening textures.
Pali, Momtazi Vineyard Pinot Noir 2007 (Willamette Valley; Biodynamic® grapes) - Pali is housed in the “Wine Ghetto” of Santa Barbara’s Lompoc, but they do too good a job with Maysara’s McMinnville, Oregon grapes not to mention here: a sweet, lush, vibrantly aromatic, smoky spice tinged mix of red and black berries backed up in the mouth with sturdy tannins; the feel is full and dominant, yet the texturing, soft, plump, pliant
King Estate, Signature Collection Pinot Noir 2007 (Oregon; LIVE sustainable & TILTH organic grapes) - Bright, flowery, juicy strawberry/wild cherry nose tinged with light peppermint spice; accessibly soft, forward fruit flavors of the same following up in a compact, medium body with easy going tannin, finishing as softly fruity as it starts.
Ken Wright, Carter Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008 (Eola-Amity Hills; uncertified organic grapes) - Since high demand pinot noirs are often allocated or pre-sold, it’s a good idea to get a handle on the upcoming 2008s. According to, Ken Wright, ‘08 was very cool, almost bleak, especially after a “significant rain the first week of October.” But this was followed by “twenty-two gloriously warm days that gave the grapes the opportunity to assemble everything… tremendous structure, and very agreeable, complex, delineated flavors.” The ’08 Carter is a good indicator: displaying ringingly bright, concentrated wild berry fruit tucked into densely layered textures, begging for more time in the bottle than usual for Oregon. Wright advises us to expect 2008 to be “not be as fleshy as ’06, ’02, or ’94,” but punctuated by an energetic acidity that “reminds me of ’88.”
Alma Rosa, La Encantada Pinot Noir 2007 (Sta. Rita Hills; CCOF organic grapes) - More aggressive California style nose – sun dried blackberry, caramelized oak, and brown spices – yet refined, moderately weighted on the palate despite sinewy tannin and the smoke of oak, lending chewy tobacco-like qualities to the pinot fruit.
Porter-Bass Estate, Pinot Noir 2007 (Russian River Valley; uncertified biodynamic grapes) - Luscious fruitiness of all the strawberries in the world, scented and layered between velvet textures, piquant acidity and soft, finesseful tannins.
Porter-Bass, Zinfandel 2005 (Russian River Valley; uncertified biodynamic grapes) - More of a pinot-like perfume, rather than a typical ultra-ripe zinfandel jamminess, in the nose of this uniquely fashioned wine: a pristinely fresh burst of wild raspberry, strawberry and cherry, spiced with cinnamon, clove and green peppercorn; on the palate, the juicy, briar laced fruitiness couched in a fine, medium body punctuated by prickling acidity and just mild tannin.
Amavi, Les Collines Vineyard Syrah 2006 (Walla Walla Valley; IOBC sustainable grapes) - Black purplish color unveils a powerful, plummy, violet scented nose nuanced with gunflint black tea, garrigue-like rosemary, and smoked meat aromas; big and round on the palate, the thick tannins smoothed over by the preponderance of varietal fruit.
Tyrus Evan, Seven Hills Vineyard Syrah 2006 (Walla Walla Valley; LIVE sustainable grapes) - Seven Hills is known to many aficionados of Walla Walla Valley wines, although what’s often overlooked is that the vineyard lies at the south end of the AVA, in Oregon rather than in Washington St. (hence, its Oregon LIVE certification). Ken Wright lends his polished style to his Tyrus Evan label, all but containing the explosively ripe, floral, blue and black berry nuanced Syrah perfume; big, thick, yet round and velvety on the palate.
Saviah Cellars, Syrah 2006 (Walla Walla Valley; LIVE & IOBC sustainable grapes) - Here’s a whippersnapper: out of a purple haze, blackberry liqueur and cloved cherry compote aromas condensed into compact nose; on the palate, a dense, tannin lined, vanilla laced fruitiness with youthful, primary qualities – piquant, chewy, sweet.
Va Piano, Bruno’s Blend V (Columbia Valley; VINEA sustainable grapes) - An artfully crafted, multi-vintage blend of syrah (67%), cabernet sauvignon (19%) and merlot (14%) that hits an exact, crowd pleasing bull’s eye of lush, ripe, sweet toned, mildly spiced fruit, suggesting dried cherry and blueberry, with smoky oak and minty/herbal flourishes. While densely textured on the palate, the feel is round and plump, letting fruit wrap around its modicum of tannin to give friendly, toothsome sensations.
Beckmen, Purisima Mountain Vineyard Syrah 2007 (Santa Ynez Valley; Biodynamic® grapes) - Black purple extraction; intense, wild blackberry concentration with a floral, violet-like perfume and smoky, chocolaty suggestions; on the palate, a gushy, almost sweet fruit-bomb character, notwithstanding a thick, muscular feel; the thick tannins and oak toast playing second fiddle to the plump, youthful fruitiness.
Stolpman Vineyards, Estate Grown Syrah 2007 (Santa Ynez Valley; uncertified organic grapes) - Glass staining purplish ruby releasing a varietal perfume of sweet violet, lavender and blackberry; big, thick, densely layered body compacted by sturdy tannin, filled to the brim with meaty syrah fruit sweetened by a glycerol viscosity, powering through the smoke and tannin.
Bonny Doon, Le Cigare Volant 2005 (California; uncertified biodynamic grapes) - 50% grenache/24% mourvèdre/22% syrah/3% carignane/1% cinsault. Randall Grahm’s eponymous red Cigare never really went away; it just floats in and out of our consciousness with the same plump, toothsome spirit that it has the past two decades, only now with more organic (i.e. more immediacy of fruit, wrapped in soft leather) feel. The earthen brett notes thinly wrap around sweet cherry/kirsch-like fruit in the nose; on the palate, coming across with a nice, notably acidic zest, a lusciously rounded, fleshy middling weight, with soft, leather glovey tannins seeping through the layers.
Quintessa 2006 (Rutherford/Napa Valley; uncertified biodynamic grapes) - Lush, chocolate coated blueberry and red berry aroma; the fruit draped in velvet and layered over muscular tannin, wrapped in rich, toasty oak with scrubby, organic underpinnings, expanding its medium-full body.
Neal Family, Wykoff Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 (Rutherford/Napa Valley; CCOF organic grapes) - Sweetly scented nose of shriveled blackcurrant and cassis; elegantly composed medium-full body giving velvety, soft leather qualities to the sweetly concentrated fruit.
Freemark Abbey, Sycamore Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 (Napa Valley; Biodynamic® grapes) - Classic blackcurrant varietal nose is modified significantly by almost wild, briary/foresty/mushroomy notes polished with smoky/vanillin/toasty oak. Rounded, medium weight for a Cabernet, with an even keeled, balanced quality to the briary, shriveled berry flavors, poised atop moderate tannin. Definitely more for aficionados of an older, earthier, organically defined style of Cabernet Sauvignon, as opposed to the ultra-ripe blockbuster style that is the current rage.
Ken Wright, Pinot Blanc 2007 (Willamette Valley; uncertified organic grapes) - This wine is so breathtakingly good, it makes you both laugh and cry to think of how underappreciated this grape can be. Then again, Wright does have a rarified touch; but either way, this bottling is a killer: from the Meredith Mitchell Vineyard in the coastal foothills southwest of McMinnville; exuding sweet, juicy perfumes of pear, nectarine and Santa Rosa plum; on the palate, scintillatingly crisp, fresh acidity lifts the fruit to further, liquid heights, overflowing its silky fine, long, slender, light-medium body.
Chehalem, 3 Vineyard Pinot Gris 2008 (Willamette Valley; LIVE sustainable grapes) - The finest Oregon pinot gris I’ve experienced in years; spectacularly intense tropical perfume, throwing out honeyed pear/apricot/veering-on-pineapple aromas, with notes of stony minerality. On the palate, totally exhilarating, lively, juicy fruit qualities embedded in slightly viscous, silky textures; yet just light-medium bodied on the palate, finishing with a crisp, mouth-watering exclamation.
Chehalem, Riesling Reserve 2008 (Willamette Valley; LIVE sustainable grapes) - Don’t know what exactly is going on here, but winemaker/proprietor Harry Peterson-Nedry and his team are really hitting home runs these days. The nose here is properly floral, while exuding exotic, almost stunningly unique aromas of kiwi, frangipani and mango nectar. Zesty, glittering fruitiness underlined by a whisper of sweetness (at 4% residual sugar, more of a suggestion prompted by the fruit intensity); the flavors filling the mouth, yet finishing light and refreshing.
Seven Springs Vineyard, La Source Chardonnay (Eola-Amity Hills; uncertified organic/biodynamic grapes) - Oregon grown chardonnay is rarely something to write home about; but when it’s good, it’s spectacular from the perspective of uncommon balance (crisp, harmonizing acidity) and texture (tautly wound). Here, a sweet cream, subtle oak veil is draped over a honeyed pear/apple aroma, almost tropical in perfume; on the palate, silk and cream sensations are merged with lemony crisp textural qualities, unleashing sensations of buttery apples, with a bananas Foster-like caramelized intensity. Finishes long, with an amazing, almost sleight of hand levity (just 12.8% alcohol).
Cowhorn Vineyard, Viognier 2008 (Applegate Valley; Biodynamic® wine) - This is a promisingly new Southern Oregon estate, first planted in ’05 with the help of Biodynamic® guru Alan York. Sitting in a cooler section of the Applegate AVA, the wines are probably never destined to be blockbusters except in the definition of its grapes; as evidenced by this viognier, which sings loud and clear with perfumed fragrances, suggesting sweet apple and pear with a mango-like lushness; the wine framed in a crisp, silky, medium-full body, smartly smoothed over by creamy barrel fermented texturing.
Stolpman Vineyards, L’Avion 2007 (Santa Ynez Valley; uncertified organic grapes) - 90% roussanne/10% viognier: golden straw, followed by hugely exotic nose, suggesting waves on tropical shores (mango, ginger, honeysuckle, pineapple); high glycerol gives a fleshy, almost slippery quality to the full body, jam packed by the big, buoyant, aroma driven fruit flavors.
Bonny Doon, Le Cigare Blanc 2007 (Beeswax Vineyard, Arroyo Seco; Biodynamic® wine) - 64.3% roussanne/35.7% grenache blanc. Straw gold, followed by multi-faceted nose of wet stone/mineral, creamy marzipan, slivers of pear and toasted, honeyed nuts and a drop of vanilla. Full, round, fleshy feel on the palate; dense texture giving full body filled nearly to top with juicy pear and stony sensations. Winery suggests “molecular gastronomic dishes found at über-restaurants” like “Alinea, wd-50 or El Bulli”… yeah, right (thanks, guys). More plebian matches like paper wrapped boudin blanc, saffroned bouillabaisse or mussels in tarragon and/or fennel laced broth will probably do just fine.
Pacific Rim, Organic Riesling 2008 (Columbia Valley; WSDA organic grapes) - Not to be confused with the much larger (up to about 40,000 cases), ubiquitous, sushi associated, multi-national sourced “Pacific Rim Riesling” bottling, this is a product of hand crafting from Randall Grahm’s new facility outside of Washington’s Tri-Cities, representing a fulfillment of the Doonster’s Teutonic dreams. Coming out of one of the coolest vintages in the state (resulting in beautifully high acidities), picked at an amazingly low, yet fully ripened, 20° Brix, and vinified to 3.8% residual sugar and 10.5% alcohol, this is also one of the most Germanic medium-sweet rieslings you’ll ever find this side of the Rhine. The nose is white flowery and peachy fresh, with lemon peel nuances; the peach flavors are fleshy and viscous, tasting just slightly sweet, almost dry (amazingly) in its soft, smooth finish.
Ca’ del Solo, Muscat 2008 (Monterey; Biodynamic® wine) - Exceptional, mouth-watering acidity tilts the residual sugar towards just lightly sweet or “off-dry” (although I always thought that expression was contradictory) fruitiness. Nose is flowery fresh and only faintly musky, with peaches and cream aromas infused with whiffs of minerality; lithe, easy, crisply balanced on the palate. From the rare clonal variation, moscato giallo (or “gold” muscat) of Alto-Adige.