Two Abbey Ridge Pinot Noirs from Westrey

Hello friends. We have two vintages today of a wine that I consider among the best values coming out of Oregon: Westrey’s Abbey Ridge Pinot Noir. These are exquisite Pinots from perhaps the most thrilling vineyard site in the Willamette Valley, and we’re able to nudge the TPU tariffs under $35. For those of us who value purity, transparency, and sense of place in our Pinot Noir, these are bottles not to be missed.

As far as I know, only three wineries currently make single-vineyard Pinots from Abbey Ridge fruit: Cameron, J. Christopher, and Westrey. If Oregon was Burgundy, Abbey Ridge would be a Grand Cru site. Of that I am one hundred percent certain.

Planted in 1976 at 500-700 feet elevation on the red volcanic soils of the Dundee Hills (location here), it is one of the oldest commercial vineyards in the Willamette. Bill and Julia Wayne’s original goal at the time of planting was to grow Pinot fine enough to sell to the inimitable David Lett (Eyrie Vineyards). They did eventually sell fruit to David, and later to Eyrie’s neighbors, Amy Wesselman and David Autrey of Westrey.

Amy and David were both philosophy majors at Reed College in Oregon. David worked the ’89 (Adam Winery; now defunct) and ’90 (Cameron) vintages in the Willamette Valley before spending the ’91 vintage in Burgundy at Domaine Dujac. Returning to the WV in ’92, David worked one more harvest (this time with Bethel Heights and Rex Hill), before launching Westrey in 1993 at a total production of 400 cases. Production has increased since then, but not by much. The Abbey Ridge bottling usually comes in at between 200 and 300 cases.

Despite celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, Westrey remains well under-the-radar, beloved by insiders in the Oregon scene but difficult to source outside the state. Their wines are rarely reviewed by the national press, but they’re message-board darlings, and their wines frequently receive rapturous user reviews on CellarTracker (I see several Full Pullers among the reviews of both of today’s wines).

So, we have 20+ year veterans of the Oregon wine scene working with a glorious vineyard entering its fourth decade of production. Top-notch growers, top-notch fruit, top-notch winemakers: it’s a potent combination.

2008 Westrey Pinot Noir Abbey Ridge Vineyard

Because so much is the same each year with the viticulture and vinification of Westrey’s Abbey Ridge Pinot, the differences from year to year are all about vintage. And Pinot is as expressive a conduit of vintage as a grape gets.

2008 was, well, 2008: generally regarded as the best vintage of that decade and among the best in the Willamette’s history. In winemaker-speak, “best” is frequently synonymous with “most age-worthy,” which can be confusing for consumers, who expect “best” to mean “best right now.” Woe unto those who have opened 08s before their time: they are right now mostly tightly-wound structure balls.

In the case of this wine, nothing can hold back the aromatics of Abbey Ridge; not even a super-structured vintage. They come spilling out of the glass: deep marine funk, red cherry, pine forest. It’s surprisingly high-toned for 2008, surprisingly expressive. There’s nothing, however, surprising about the palate, which is very 08 indeed, with a dense, tight mineral/marine/tannin core. Held up in all those densely-packed layers are lovely floral notes (lilac, lavender) and fruity notes (red cherry, redcurrant), but they’re going to take more time to unfurl completely. This is the beginning of something truly beautiful. But only the beginning.

2010 Westrey Pinot Noir Abbey Ridge Vineyard

Let’s skip the warmer 2009 vintage, which made some lovely early-drinking wines but which you’d be hard-pressed to call profound, and move onto 2010. This was a well-regarded vintage with an entirely different character than 2008. It was cooler, with very high quality fruit and very low yields (the birds that migrate through the Willamette are also fine judges of quality fruit, and they decimated this late-hanging vintage). Unlike 2008, the structure in 2010 is much more acid-based than tannin. What tannins are there are finer-grained, softer, more forgiving, and so this makes for a vintage that has more to offer in its youth than the 2008s. I suspect the 10s won’t age as long as the 08s, but there is plenty of acid there for those inclined to hold them.

The 2010 Abbey Ridge drinks younger, fresher, with the red-fruit core (raspberry, red cherry) on more vibrant display (like the 2008, this only sees about 25% new oak). In this case the umami notes (kelp, soy, cucumber) serve more as nuance than as core. It’s a fresh, juicy, red-fruited palate, lifted by citrus peel and bay leaf notes. The aching purity of the 2010 vintage is on transparent display here. A completely different animal than the 2008, but no less thrilling, no less beautiful.

The 2008 is the more limited of the two. Let’s limit that to 4 bottles and the 2010 to 8 bottles, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. Both wines should arrive in about a week, at which point they will be available for pickup or shipping during the spring shipping window.

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