In the early days of Oregon’s wine industry, people grew everything. From Auxerrois to Zinfandel, growers tried them all. Success varied from spectacular to not so much. At Woodhull Vineyard, a you-pick in the 1980′s that’s now an experimental vineyard owned by OSU, the doctor owner amused himself by growing over 30 different varietals. I lived down the road from that vineyard in the 1980′s and helped make wine from the Gamay vines, now long gone.
Of the 30+ different grapes grown at Woodhull, the Gamay was one of the most successful experiments. Oregon Gamay has an interestingly different combination of floral and flavor components from Pinot noir, and the few vines left, now 25+ years old, make richer versions of the wines we made in the ’80s.
Old vine Gamay noir vines yield a very small crop of grapes. Intense flavors include strawberry, raspberry, red plum, and pomegranate. The scent is distinct, with both earthy and floral notes. Fresh and bright, there’s usually a balance of red fruit, minerality, and dark earthy notes (sometimes a hint of curry). It’s a bit different than anything else from Oregon.
Gamay noir has not fared well here. It grows well, but in the 1980′s, when Oregon wine was completely unknown outside the state, winemakers focused on the more popular and profitable Pinot noir. Most of Oregon’s Gamay vines were pulled out by the end of the 1990′s. Today, a few Oregon wineries grow and make highly regarded Gamay noir from several small blocks of grapes.
A few blocks of Oregon Gamay noir, planted in the early 1080′s, still exist. The oldest block of Gamay noir is located at Seven Springs Vineyard. Evening Land, the new owners of the vineyard, have improved its health and produced two fascinating and delicious Gamay based wines:
Evening Land Vineyards’s Celebration Gamay noir 09 $17.95 (any 12)
Great weight. Fresh, crushed raspberries are shaded with dark cherries and cracked pepper in a juicy wine with great weight. 100% whole clusters, handled traditionally. – Marcus
From the Oldest Gamay noir vines in the Willamette Valley, planted in 1983. Evening Land’s Gamay is inspired by the great Crus of Beaujolais like Morgon and Mouline-a-Vent. Only 300 cases produced.
Evening Land Vineyards Celebration Les Gamines 09 $22.45 (any 12)
Raspberry cream and flowers open to darker, broader palate and finish, still showcasing the peppery nature of the Gamay and the silkiness of the Pinot. You could drink this for breakfast. – Marcus
60% Gamay noir and 40% Pinot noir (Pommard clone). Only 118 cases produced.