Black Cap Wine
The Black Cap Pinot noir expresses the elusive, mysterious, cult-creating qualities of the Pinot noir grape, and reflects a very deep knowledge of winemaking. Jason Lett's “Indie Pinot” Black Cap is housed within his family’s Eyrie Vineyards winery.
We've featured every vintage produced of Black Cap Pinot noir in the Club. So much has changed since his inaugural vintage, 2002.
For Jason, the change has come in taking over the family business, The Eyrie Vineyards. Let me be clear: this is no ordinary passing of a business from one generation to the next, because Eyrie is no ordinary business. David Lett, Eyrie's founder, was a visionary winegrower who moved his family from California to Oregon in search of the perfect spot to grow Pinot noir. He planted the first Pinot noir in the Willamette Valley and the first Pinot gris in America. Not ordinary.
More About Black Cap Winery
When I describe Eyrie's Original Vines wines, I often sum it up this way: this wine, these vines, are largely responsible for putting the Willamette Valley on the map as a world-class wine growing region.
That's a lot to put on a wine, and a lot to put on the person in charge of growing and making it.
That person is Jason Lett and from my standpoint, he's one of the few people on Earth who's capable of doing it. He has an extraordinary mind. I forget how many conversations I've had with him over the years - hundreds - but every time, that's every, I learn something new. And I almost always laugh.
I think back to when I took a 2005 Black Cap Pinot noir as gift to long-time wine industry veteran. His comment was to the tune of "oh, this is that modern style with more new wood (compared to Eyrie), etc." I bit my tongue but inside my head I was a combination of annoyed and pissed off. I wanted to respond, "you mean, the whopping 15% new oak and the entirely traditional winemaking methods?!" That's a sliver of, a window into what I'd suspect are some of the challenges Jason has faced with his transition to Eyrie and his coinciding development of Black Cap.
Looking back now, the veteran's comments made sense. Jason is essentially two winemakers; he is carrying on the family tradition at Eyrie while establishing his own wine voice through Black Cap and Eyrie. He's the head of a relatively large winery, with distribution all over the country, and he's an "indie" winemaker with a tiny, boutique label. He deserves incredible respect for accomplishing it all, and for being a true ambassador of Oregon wine. - Marcus
Since the first vintage, these wines have created a stir—requests for Black Cap that last months after the wine is gone. The Black Cap Pinot is one of those rare Oregon Pinot noirs made with the purpose of expressing the character of the Pinot grape, and of the particular Pinot of the vineyard site. It is made from one small block of the older vines in Eyrie's vineyard, plus a select organically farmed site (the 2009 is half from old vines in Cattrall Vineyard in the Eola-Amity Hills).
Jason's dedication to allowing the terroir of these old vines to show through is expressed in the pure, classic style of this wine. Sophisticated, sensuous, and complete.
BlackCap was named for two native (and tasty) species of Oregon plants- the black capped morel and the black cap raspberry. The name also belongs to a native songbird, the black capped chickadee.
Jason Lett has been involved in making wine for most of Oregon's vintages through his family's Eyrie Vineyards. Jason's father, David Lett, is one of Oregon's wine industry pioneers. He planted and popularized Pinot gris, and received high scores for his early Pinot noirs from blind tastings in France, leading to the initial recognition of Oregon as a viable wine growing region.
Below, Eyrie Vineyard, source of Black Cap's fruit
Having grown up working in his family's vineyards and winery, Jason gained a unique perspective on growing and making wine.
Jason explains: "my father's holistic approach to wine growing has been my greatest influence. He has always emphasized that great wine is made in the vineyard."
Jason added to the lessons learned from his family's vineyards by spending summers in his teen years working and living in Burgundy, and visiting family friends who grew wine in Germany and Switzerland. Later, while in his 20's, Jason worked harvest at New Zealand's Matrinborough Vineyards.
In 2002, longtime friend John Davidson invited Jason to make wine from Davidson's La Cantera vineyard. The resulting wine became Jason's first solo vintage, the Black Cap 2002. In keeping with Jason's philosophy, the project was kept small (3 barrels) and meticulously tended.
Jason says: "For me, making wine is the ultimate way to explore the concept of 'tasting place.' My intention is to express the vineyard as fully as possible. I'm doing that by using traditional tools- cool, small batch fermentations, extended macerations, native yeasts, and bottling without fining or filtration. I also use a very moderate amount of new oak - taking the Burgundian approach to oak that was traditional until the last 15 years or so. When you taste the Black Cap my hope is that you will taste an expression of place and a vintage, without the pretensions of a winemaker getting in the way. I'm proud to be a winegrower."
In 2006, Jason started taking over the winemaking and vineyard management of his family's winery. With his father's passing in 2008, Jason is now the head of Eyrie Vineyards.
"Making wine from fruit you've grown closes the circle," says Jason. "An intimate knowledge of the vineyard in influences how finesse the wine, and what you learn from the wine guides the management of the vineyard."
Jason and his wife Diane live on a small farm near McMinnville with their 3 children. In his spare time, Jason stays busy with the kids, the animals and the garden.