Hello friends. Despite our neighborly status, Washington has a not-uncomplicated relationship with Oregon wines. Many of the better Oregon Pinot producers send just a tiny amount over the border into Washington, and those wines can be extremely difficult to source, with allocations based on long-time historical relationships. Cameron is a good example. I would *love* to write about Cameron more often than we do, and to offer more Cameron wines. But the truth is: the majority of Cameron’s Washington retail allocation each year goes to our colleagues at Pike & Western. Does it pain me to write that? Yeah, a little. But I get it. And I respect it. Michael Teer and his gang were there for Cameron in the early years, and they earned the right to some dibs on these wines.
How I see my role, then, when it comes to Oregon, is not to spend my time begging and pleading for one more bottle of Cameron, but instead to spend my time trying to identify the next crop of outstanding Oregon producers, and to get in on the ground floor. And right now, there’s one winery name that comes up again and again in conversations about outstanding young producers. That name is Walter Scott.
2014 Walter Scott Pinot Noir Willamette Valley
This is the winery of husband and wife team Ken Pahlow and Erica Landon, and they’re as buzzy as a winery gets in Oregon right now. Ken and Erica have tons of industry experience, he on the winemaking/sales side (stints at St. Innocent, Patty Green, Evening Land), she on the restaurant/somm side. The winery began in 2009, but it’s only in the past year or two that the wines have escaped the clutches of the winery mailing list and the state of Oregon, and they still turn up more frequently in restaurants than at retail. A lot of the early buzz came from positive press from exacting publications like Tanzer’s IWC and Burghound. Then the excellent wine writer Neal Martin arrived in 2015 to write about Oregon for Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, and the buzz turned into a roar, thanks to these (excerpted) notes:
In my communications with Ken and Erica, one of my favorite quotes comes from Erica: “Becky Wasserman was once quoted in spectator saying that you can always tell a great domain by their Bourgogne. These are words we LIVE by. We put the same care and attention to detail in these two wines as our single vineyard selections. It is our reputation and our life.”
Hell. Yes. Erica is quoting the great Burgundy importer Becky Wasserman, who was saying that a great Burg domain can (should) be judged by their entry-level Bourgogne Rouge. The equivalent in Oregon is an entry-level Willamette Valley Pinot, and Erica is intimating that she and Ken are comfortable being judged on the merits of their WV Pinot. Perhaps especially so in a vintage like 2014, which seems like it’s going to be that rare year in Oregon that allows for both high yields and high quality.
In a year like ’14, you get something Erica refers to as “The Grand Cascade.” What that means: well, let’s say a winery normally gets enough fruit to make 100 cases of their expensive single vineyard Pinot. But in a year like 2014, they get enough fruit to make 150 cases. One option, of course, is to just produce 150 cases of expensive wine and hope the market can bear it. Another option: “cascade” those extra 50-cases worth of single-vineyard juice into your Willamette Valley Pinot program, and make your entry-level wine, your gateway drug, that much better. I think it’s obvious which option is better for we the consumers.
So that helps explain why this ’14 is a complete knockout. The fruit was almost all (95%) from the Eola-Amity Hills, and is primarily made up of Eola Springs, along with Freedom Hill, Temperance Hill, Ingram Lane (owned by Bethel Heights), Bieze, and Lewman vineyards (outstanding sites all, and several of them end up in single vineyard Walter Scott bottlings for $45-$55). The wine is 100% destemmed, fermented with ambient yeast, and aged in barrel for just shy of a year, 30% new.
Partway through the note in my notebook, there’s an underlined passage: “wow; this is like Cotes de Nuits meets Oregon.” There is a darkness to the fruit character, an insistence to the mineral tones, that caused me to jot that opinion. This is a gorgeous wine, mixing black cherry and blackberry fruit, loads of minerality, resinous forest notes, and exotic spice. It’s amazingly complex for such a young wine. Texturally, it’s lively (13.5% listed alc), propulsive, with real live-wire intensity to the mix of fruits and crushed rocks. Eminently drinkable/approachable, food friendly for all manner of autumn-season meals, and ultimately balanced above all else, this is an outstanding Pinot Noir for its price class. I’m really pleased our list members will have the opportunity to try this one.
2014 Walter Scott Chardonnay Willamette Valley
And a bonus Chardonnay to boot, which is probably even rarer than the Pinot. Here’s Erica: Our Chardonnays are picked with a potential alcohol of 13% and with low PH, high acid. We ferment with ambient yeast, in barrel (mostly puncheon) and stir the lees as little as possible, only to stir them into suspension to assist them with fermentation. Once finished they are not stirred again. Malolactic is 100%, and then the wines sit in barrel for about 11 months, then blended and bottled. There is roughly 15% new oak on the Willamette Valley.
Vineyard sources for the Chard are Clos des Oiseaux, Bieze, Eola Springs, and Freedom Hill, again including vineyards that go for considerably more when bottled as single-site wines. Listed alc here is 13.0%, and this begins with a beguiling nose of pear, lemon curd, and threads of smoke and mineral. Elegant, mouth-coating, and minerally, this again charms with its intensity. The sense of extract, the mouth-filling texture, the endless length: all delight. Those of you who have enjoyed Tyson Crowley’s Chardonnays over the years should pay close attention here.
First come first served up to 24 bottles total (mix and match as you like), and the wines should arrive in a week or two, at which point they will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.