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Paley's Place and Dusky Goose Pinot noir- new article
Wine Spectator rates Oregon's 2002 vintage 97 points


New section- under $20 Pinot noirs
New Section- $20-$30 Oregon Pinot noir

 

 

Shea Wine Cellars Pinot noirs

Shea Wine Cellars

Serious wine collectors, particularly those who follow American Pinot noir, are seeking out the winery of the owners of one of America's top vineyards, Shea Wine Cellars. Dick and Dierdre Shea's Shea Vineyard has received national recognition for the high quality of its fruit. Robert Parker's highest rating given to an Oregon Pinot noir is 96 points, given to a wine made from Shea's Wadenswil vines.

Shea Vineyard's Shea Wine Cellars winery was founded in the late 1990's, and for several years, the wines were good, but other wineries produced the top Pinots made from Shea Vineyard fruit in those vintages. With the 2004 vintage, the trend has shifted, and the Shea Wine Cellars 2004 Pinot noirs set a quality standard for Oregon Pinots. Made in very small amounts, the wines will be sold out long before reviews are published. The East Hill, Homer, and Wadenswil 2004's are still available from Avalon.

Shea Wine Cellars' 2004 vintage Pinot noirs have achieved a new level of excellence. Perhaps the exemplary quality experienced in all of the Shea 2004s is the result of  a combination of the maturity of the vineyard, a year that produced near perfect (if little) fruit, and winemaker Sam Tannahill’s several years of experience with the winery and its fruit.  With a total of only 2400 cases of five different Pinots produced, Shea’s 2004 wines are collectable, noteworthy, and wonderfully satisfying, promising rewarding experiences across their 10-12 year life.

New Clones Herald New Era

Shea has released their first Pinot noir made from its Dijon clone vines, their Shea Wine Cellars East Hill Pinot noir 04 $37.75/$41.95. Dijon clone Pinot noir grown in Shea Vineyard balances the fruity, forward qualities of the classic Pommard clone with the structured, blue fruit qualities of the Wadenswil clone, according to winery owner Dick Shea. Shea's East Hill wine release signals the successful replanting of much of the vineyard after a phyloxera outbreak in 1996, and offers a fascinating glimpse into the future of Oregon's best Pinot noirs.

The 2004 vintage was down about 30% from the previous year, with many top wineries, including Beaux Freres, producing tiny amounts of wine. While Shea Wine Cellars' crop was down about 30% in 2004, Dick Shea had planned to expand his offerings, so the winery produced about as much wine as in 2003. What's different at Shea Wine Cellars is the quality of the wines. Building on previous vintages, the 2004 wines show what years of hard work can produce.

Shea Wine Cellars' wines have been made since 1999, although the quantities made were miniscule until 2001. By 2002, the wines had a reputation for quality and richness. 2003 brought renewed recognition and high ratings, with the Shea Wine Cellars' "Homer" 2003 standing out as one of 2003's best Oregon Pinot noirs. The wines were made by Patricia Green in 2001, and by Sam Tannahill in 2002, 2003, and 2004, with the assistance of Chris Matzepink, who has now been promoted to winemaker for the 2005 vintage, with Sam continuing as consulting winemaker.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At left, bottling the 2004 vintage Shea Wines-
Click on image to read article

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shea Wine Cellars' winery moved from one location to another until the 2002 vintage, when Shea leased space at Adelsheim. The stability provided by a permanent facility made a difference. And settling down with Sam Tannahill as winemaker allowed someone to learn the grapes, working with the same blocks of fruit for several years. Wonderful fruit though the vineyard makes, it takes a few years for even the best winemaker (and Sam is certainly one of those) to draw all the potential out of a vineyard's grapes. The 2004 vintage Shea Wine Cellars Pinot noirs show what the winery can produce- and it's dang impressive.

 

What is a Clone
and Why do I care?

So we're carrying on about Clones like 777 and 115 and Pommard in this article. And why, for heck sake, should you care? Well, while it's certainly not necesary to the enjoyment of Shea's luscious wines, it's an interesting story, and adds to the experience.

A clone of a grapevine is made by taking a piece of vine, putting it in soil, and letting it turn into a plant. That plant, in turn, can be cut into pieces and grown into more and more plants, all genetically the same.

So the "Dijon Clone" grapes from which Shea's East Hill Pinot noir is made were produced by vines first existing in Burgundy. They were taken as cuttings in Morey St Denis by Robert Bernard, who spent many years and much research to determine which vines in Burgundy were suitable for the "new world". Genetically identical to the vine growing in France from which they were taken, the clonal material was certified free of disease before it was sold commercially.

The 777 clone from France has proven to be one of the most successful for propagation in Oregon. You'll see it used to make more of the top rated Pinot noirs from the best wineries as time goes on.

The Wines

The Shea Wine Cellars East Hill Pinot noir 2004 $37.76/$41.95 is a new offering from Blocks on the East Hill of the vineyard that were replanted after a Phylloxera outbreak in the mid-90's. The wine is about 85% Dijon clone Pinot, and about 15% Wadenswil. Last year, wines made from this fruit were a tad simple, but a year has made a huge difference.

Shea Wine Cellars produced five different Pinot noirs in 2004. Their Shea Wine Cellars Estate 2004 $34.20/$38.00 continues a tradition of making a wine that represents the totality of the vineyard for that vintage. The wine is made from several Blocks within the vineyard, blended to create a wine characteristic of the Shea style.

Shea's Shea Wine Cellars "Homer" Pinot noir 2004 $67.45/$74.95 is their annual "best of the best", made each year from the best barrels of Block 25 and the "Oak Block". This year, the wine is beautifully balanced, a sophisticated, concentrated, seamless wine. The difference this year is, there is a new Block Designate Pinot that matches the Homer, in my opinion, in quality and satisfaction - the 2004 "Wadenswil" designated Pinot.

The Shea Wine Cellars Wadenswil Pinot noir 2004 $43.16/$47.95 is potentially the longest lived Pinot of the Shea offerings, and is also to be released last of the five offerings. Wine made from Blocks 25, 28, and 32 has traditionally taken longer to "show", being somewhat closed and "young" tasting for longer than the Estate or Block 23 wines. It's a crowd pleaser.

 

In Depth- Shea Wine Cellars East Hill Pinot noir

 

The Shea Wine Cellars
East Hill Pinot noir 04 $37.75/$41.95
is a new wine for Shea Wine Cellars this year, made from blocks of vines on the East Hill of the vineyard ranging in age from four to seven years. The wine is a combination of 85% Dijon clone 777 and 115 fruit and about 15% Wadenswil clone. These vines are younger (replanted since the Phylloxera outbreak in the 90’s) and show the direction the vineyard is heading, with impressive results.

The backbone of the Shea East Hill Pinot is the 777 Dijon clone fruit from Block 5 of the East Hill. The 777 clone of Pinot noir is considered to be one of the top quality Pinot noirs available for planting. It is known for the strong and intense colors it brings to a Pinot, along with intense aromas and good balance, with rounded tannins and the potential for extended cellaring. The 777 clone produces a high quality Pinot with a high sugar content, low acidity, and with judicious thinning, a world class wine.

The source of the 777 Pinot noir clone is the region called Morey St Denis, in the Cote de Nuits, the northern portion of the Cote d' Or, in Burgundy. The Morey St Denis area is a block of vineyards surrounding the village of the same name, part of a 30 mile long horizontal stretch of limestone around the city of Beaune where many of the world's top Pinots are produced. While not quite as well known as the Gevrey-Chambertin vineyards to its north, and the Chambolle-Musigny vineyards to its south, Morey-St-Denis makes its share of world class wines, and the 777 clone appears to translate superbly to Oregon's climate and soils.

Dick Shea, owner and manager of Shea Vineyards and Shea Wine Cellars, says that the Dijon clones in his vineyard sit somewhere between the fruity and forward Pommard clone in style and the more structured, blue fruit dominated Wadenswil. The Dijon clones' characteristics differ from site to site, and it would be wrong to assume that the qualities the clones show in the Shea Vineyard are representative of any other vineyard. None the less, within the Shea Vineyard, the qualities of the different variations of Pinot that are planted there are beginning to show specific characteristics that help winemakers in planning the blends of their wines.

The East Hill Pinot fromn Shea is enhanced by the difficult to pull off practice of fermenting the wine in wooden fermenters rather than stainless steel tanks or plastic tubs. Fermentation in neutral wooden fermenters enhances the texture of the wine, adding a smooth, lush silky quality to the mouth feel of the East Hill Pinot.  A small percentage of whole clusters left in the grapes at fermentation brought out spicy clove and cinnamon notes in this Pinot.

East Hill 2004 - Tasting Notes

 

The Shea East Hill Pinot noir 04 experience starts in the nose with aromatic scents of toasted coffee bean, toasty oak, cedar, and Five Spice blend notes. Flavors begin with a hint of barnyard, wonderfully soft and buttery mellow spice notes, and fruit flavors of tart cherry pie, black cherry, blackberry, and just a hint of blueberry. The finish echoes more spice and black berries, with ripe fruit re-emerging as this wine shows its excellent balance of fruit, acidity, and tannic structure.

With decanting, the wine expands and expands, showing transparent layers of red, blue, and black fruit and berries, cinnamon, cardamon, clove, and anise, minerals, smoke, toast, and hints of violets throughout the flavor experience. We heartily recommend decanting this wine if you plan to drink it within the next few years- as the wine breathes, the flavors change, a most delightful experience to share with friends.

Last year, these grapes made a simpler wine, pleasant, with all of its fruit and flavors upfront, low acid and tannins. The 2004 shows a dramatic evolution (oh what a difference a year makes!) with perfectly ripe fruit flavors supported by lively acidity and fine grained tannins. Layers of flavor, additional complexity, and delicately nuanced floral notes mark the wine as one to collect - an addition to the ranks of world class Oregon Pinot noirs.

 


In Depth- Shea Wine Cellars Wadenswil Pinot noir 2004

 

Shea Wine Cellars Wadenswil Pinot noir 04 $43.16/$47.95 is new, and it's an exciting change in Shea Wine Cellars' lineup this year. Blocks 25 and 28, previously purchased by California’s Sin Qua Non Winery, have been used by Sam Tannahill to make Shea Wine Cellars’ “Wadenswil” 2004. And the grapes from Block 32, previously made into their own Block designate wine, are combined into this Wadenswil designate in 2004.

The grapes from these blocks were made into some of the highest rated Oregon Pinot noirs ever, with the 2002 Sin Qua Non Shea receiving 96 points from Wine Advocate! It’s so exciting to offer this wine- well, really, it’s even more exciting to get to take some home for my cellar.

This wine is potentially the longest lived Shea Pinot noir this year, and will not be released until May 2006. The winemaker, in conjunction with owner Dick Shea and his distributors, have decided that the wine needs more time in bottle before release. This wine is also potentially “THE” wine of Shea’s 2004 releases, with high hopes and lots of buzz among industry members who’ve had a chance to try it.

 

The wine has an intense nose. Scents of mellow pie spice, toasted coffee bean, brown sugar and molasses are entwined with a note of fresh turned earth and lots of blueberry fruit in the nose. The nose is BIG – very appealing and quite interesting.

In the mouth, a creamy quality pervades flavors of classic Wadenswil blueberry fruit, but no one-note wine here- blue plum,  red plum, blackberry, and black currant meld into an exotic mélange of Pinot noir, with polished and silky tannins finishing off the long finish.

The Shea Wine Cellars Wadenswil Pinot noir 04 is a heck of a memorable wine – and I have to admit, I was skeptical. The Wadenswil Clone has shown up as the primary or exclusive clone of Pinot noir in a number of wines in the past, and frankly, they have not been my favorites. They tend to “sing one note” – blueberries- and that’s about it. Somewhat harsh and tannic blueberries, as a matter of fact.

So when I tasted this Pinot, I was already somewhat prejudiced – until it hit my mouth. This is just about the most satisfying Pinot noir I’ve ever had. It has such a range of scents and flavors, different and yet totally true to the essence of what Pinot noir is. I can see how the Sin Qua Non wines made from these grapes got such high ratings (96 points from Parker). Yow. I’m starting a vertical of this wine in my cellar, and hope that Shea continues to make a Block designate from these grapes as the years go on. 300 cases made, and it’s really too young to drink now,  I believe Dick is planning to release this wine in September 2006, when it will still be a baby.


In Depth- Shea Wine Cellars "Homer"

 

Shea Wine Cellars’ “Homer” Pinot noir is an homage to baseball (hitting a home run with this wine each year). Homer, each year, is Shea’s blend of their very best grapes from Blocks 25 and the Oak Block.  While Homer has always been the favorite of Shea Wine Cellars’ Pinots with our customers, the East Hill, Wadenswil, and Block 23 2004 Pinots give it a run for its money in 2004. Don’t get me wrong, the Homer is as exciting as ever, but the wines of Shea, overall, have risen in quality and consistency to the point where one can no longer call the Homer their “best”. It’s an enviable situation for the winery.


Winemaker Chris Matzepink in the Cellar

 

Part of each vintage of the Homer Pinot noir is fermented in oak rather than stainless steel, a practice of Sam Tannahill that he first used at Archery Summit, where he made wine with Gary Andrus. Fermenting in oak adds a richness to the wine, according to owner Dick Shea. Several other Shea wines are partially fermented in oak.

The Shea Homer 04 was fermented with about 12% whole clusters, the rest destemmed, with a high percentage of whole berries.  The wine was aged in 60% new French oak (Francois Freres) and 40% previously used Burgundian barrels.

 

Homer 04

The 2004 Shea Wine Cellars Homer Pinot noir $67.45/$74.95 shows a restrained nose (tasted it in barrel, just before bottling in August, 2005). The scent of rose petals commingles with cranberry and red cherry notes as the wine opens in the glass. Hints of minerals, violets, Chinese Five Spice, and vanilla intermingle with the dominant scent of red fruit.

The 2004 Homer is a bit more structured than the intensely sweet and ripe flavors of 2003. That hot year created a wine easy to drink young, while the 2004 is a wine with a multiplicity of layered, nuanced flavors, balanced acidity and tannins, and the potential for aging 10-12 years.  While the 2003 was multilayered and incredibly deep and rich, the 2004 adds a maturity of structure – the wine has a seamless integration of fruit, tannin, and acidity through which an array of taste sensations can be perceived. If you enjoy Pinots noirs with an intricate and extraordinary range of flavors, you’ll find flint, fresh turned earth, violets, roses, jasmine, smoke, an array of berry notes – blueberries, huckleberries, blackberries, loganberry, black raspberry, red raspberry, black cherry, tart pie cherry, and spices including cinnamon, clove, Five Spice Blend, white pepper, minerals, and that unusual note of molasses. The wine is sappier and more concentrated than many Pinots, with an exquisitely drawn out, complex and seamless finish.

Homer  03

 

Homer 2003 Winery notes: Homer is our finest Pinot noir blend. The fruit came from our oldest, own-rooted vines with a small amount of our new Dijon Clone 115 grapes to add structure. This wine is a huge Pinot that is dark colored and quite intense. Dark berry flavors are balanced by violets, mushroom and earthy tones. A wonderfully complex wine that should be our longest lived wine of the vintage.

2003 Shea Wine Cellars, Shea Vineyard, Homer
Pinot Report 94 points

Medium-deep ruby purple color; slightly closed but there's definitely evidence of complex black cherry, spice and earthy aromas; very deep and rich, lots of black cherry flavors, complex spicy/earthy notes, sweet oak; great structure and balance; long finish. Incredibly deep and rich, this Pinot has a ways to go to continue to develop fully.
 
Shea WIne Cellars Homer 03 Wine Spectator 91
“Firm in texture, generous in flavor, this lush mouthful of currant and spice lingers enticingly, picking up a violet note as it stays on the palate. Needs time to soften. Best from 2007 through 2013.”  -H.S.

Homer 2002

Review from Avalon: The Shea "Homer" 2002 $60, is nothing short of remarkable. A dark black purple garnet color is coupled with a nose full of black cherry, jammy blackberry, cassis, Asian spices, complex spice and floral notes, violet, rose, a long, textured finish with creaminess and body. Opulent, yet with good acidity for cellaring, and the constantly changing, highly pleasant sensation of different scents and flavors that lingers in the finish. Yow! Just a wonderful wine.

Shea Wine Cellars Homer 2002 - Wine Spectator rating 91 points:
“Smooth in texture, lively and generous with its cinnamon-scented cherry and tobacco flavors, finishing open and impressively persistent. Has grace and style. Drink now through 2009. 145 cases made.” (HS)

Winery notes: Super saturated purple from center to the rim. Crafted from the best of the cellar, this wine is the quintessence of Shea Vineyard. Intense and exceptionally complex aromatics of ripe black raspberry, cherry, crystallized violets, flint, minerals and cassis fill the glass. With aeration sweet earth, smoke, blueberry and huckleberry aromatics all make an appearance. The attack is sweet and expands rapidly to fill the mouth. Large scaled and rich, the mid-palate leads to an unbelievably long finish. This wine has the structure, depth and intensity to push it to be the best wine from Shea Wine Cellars in a superlative year. The 2002 Homer sill certainly deepen and complex into a tremendous wine over the next fifteen years. 143 cases made.

Homer 01

Shea Wine Cellars Homer 2001 -- Wine Spectator 92 points: 
Firm in texture, with brilliant blackberry, currant and black pepper flavors, fine but hard-edged tannins and a juiciness that just won't quit. Best from 2004 through 2010. 140 cases made. (HS)

 


 

In Depth - Shea Wine Cellars Estate Pinot noir

 

The Shea Wine Cellars Estate Pinot noir $34.20/$38 is a blend of Pommard, Wadenswil, Dijon 115, 117, and 828 clones, drawn from Shea Vineyard blocks 5, 19, 21, 22, 23, 25, 32, and Oak Block. Each year, this wine expresses the terroir of Shea Vineyard, its overall character, including the violet, spice, and mineral qualities found in many wines made from Shea fruit.

Estate 04

Starting with the scent of toasted cocoa and coffee beans, this wine explodes with aromas of classic red cherry and black cherry, red raspberry, blueberry, and a most pleasant echo of the scent of a well maintained wine cellar full of barrels of fine Pinot noir. It actually smells remarkably like the actual Shea Wine Cellars cellar at Adelsheim, where Shea ages his wines. Most pleasant and quite nostalgic, thinking back to tasting this wine last summer from the barrel.

Estate 03

 

Avalon notes for 2003 Estate: This Pinot is made from grapes carefully selected from throughout Shea Vineyard. It is already quite accessable and showing layers of flavor normally not revealed until our wines have another full year of bottle age.

Winery notes for 2003 Estate: Aroma of Bing Cherries, purple floral notes and fresh tilled earth. Flavors of black raspberries, minerals and roasted spices.

Estate 02
Avalon notes for 2002 Estate: The Shea Estate Pinot noir 02 is a supple and elegant wine, with deep hints of smoke and toast on the nose, and mocha/char notes in the flavors of blackberry, black plum, dark cherry, and minerals. A long finish is ripe and appealing.

 


In Depth- Shea Wine Cellars Chardonnay

 

Shea Wine Cellars Chardonnay 04 $32
The Shea Chardonnay plantings are a combination of Dijon 76 and 548 clones (548 is called the “Backpack Clone” as it is rumored to have first arrived in Oregon in someone’s backpack, home from a visit to France. Only 8 barrels were made.

The nose is expansively floral, with passionfruit, mango and pineapple present as well. There’s a hint of toasty oak from the DAMY barrels. The initial impression upon tasting is of crisp, almost Chablis style Chardonnay. There’s that almost chalky Chablis characteristic. Following the crispness, the wine unfolds to show flavors of lovely fruit, repeating the passionfruit and pineapple of the nose, along with crisp apple and pear. Aged in 15% new oak, the wine shows a lovely firm tannic structure that will support aging, but does not interdere with immediate enjoyment.  This is a remarkable wine to be made from new vines (third leaf). One can only wait impatiently for future vintages of Chardonnay from this vineyard.

Shea Wine Cellars Chardonnay 03

 

Winery notes: We are particularly proud of this Chardonnay. We used just enough new French oak to provide some structure for the wonderful fruit flavors coming from this cool climate Chardonnay. There is lots of underlying acid in this wine and it's great for matching with food.

Shea Wine Cellars Chardonnay 02

Avalon notes: The Shea Chardonnay 02 $28.00 shows Sam's abilities extend well beyond Pinot noir. This classic Chardonnay has the acid balance to support its rich flavors. Its intense flavors and scents of tropical fruits are supported by a graceful structure and ripe acidity. This wine shows how good Chardonnay can be, when balance is not sacrificed to please the palate that does not want acidity. Ageable, this wine could benefit from 3-6 years of cellaring and will reward the patient with a unique taste experience.


 

If you'd like to read about the bottling of the 2004 Shea Wine Cellars wines, try

Shea Wine Cellars- Bottling the 2004 Vintage, From Barrel to Bottle to You

or take a tour of Shea Vineyards:

"A Tour of Shea Vineyards"