Least Known, Most Sought After Oregon Pinot noir
by Jean Yates
The 400 or so cases of Thomas Pinot noir made each year are some of Oregon's least known and most sought after.
John Thomas has never hosted a public event and rarely admits visitors. In 25 years of production (he first planted the vineyard by himself in 1984), he has made wine exclusively from his tiny estate vineyard.
If you've been to Burgundy, you'd think you were back in France when you visit Thomas. Everything is simple, functional, and carefully thought through. It's all business, on a charming and a bit idiosyncratic scale.
The winery, built into the vineyard hillside, is covered by a dense layer of sod and wild flowers. An odd, very European looking plaster covers the outside walls in a shell-like pattern.
Inside the cavelike winery, the entire production - bottled wine in case boxes and barrels of unreleased vintages - sits on a cool pebble floor in dim lighting. Slipping through farm equipment, boxes, glassware, winemaking tools, and barrels in the near dark, the world drops away and the wine becomes all.
Thomas's Winery and the Vineyard Beyond
The Thomas Vineyard
Visiting with John in early July, the vines of his estate vineyard are showing clusters of tiny green grapes, and boxes of new vines are under a tree to be planted where some of last year's replanting died from frost. The vineyard is picture perfect at dawn, about 15 acres, sloping from the top of a hillside down to a dense hedgerow of blackberries and wild roses following a creek.
Phylloxera has effected the vineyard, and swaths of smaller vines show where John has replanted. Several rows of vines are two years old, and a new section holds vines that were planted last summer.
Heading to the vineyard with new vines to plant
John stands among his newest vines, replanted in 2007 and 2008
John's vineyard is the product of his own hard work. The vineyard and winery are essentially a one man show. He's in the process of replanting vines, filling in where young vines died last winter, and adding new vines in areas where phylloxera has destroyed 25 year old plants.
Demonstrating how to plant a grape vine, he showed me how the process goes, planting a new vine. The sun beat down in 90 degree heat as John drilled each hole, planted the new vine, attached the trellis, and then did it again. "Do that 3000 times, and you have an acre of vineyard", he says.
Planting and maintaining a vineyard is backbreaking work. John thought a lot about his vineyard's design before planting.
Back in 1984, he says, "I was most influenced by the vineyard practices in France - and they trellis low." Since he would be planting the vineyard alone, he thought about how low he could go, and stuck a piece of tape about 18 inches above the ground on the side of his refrigerator. Each time he passed, he'd reach down, checking to see how it felt to do what he'd be repeating tens of thousands of times in the vineyard.
"I decided that the French style was a bit lower than I wanted..." he commented with a chuckle.
At right, John ready to drill holes for new vines.
Thomas's Acme Wineworks
We get emails and calls all year long for Thomas Winery Pinot noir. John Thomas's small vineyard produces a few hundred cases of Pinot a year, allocated among a lucky few. His great value Acme Wineworks label Pinot noir - made only every 4-6 years - is even harder to get.
John Thomas makes his Acme second label from declassified estate grown Pinot noir. A blend of wine from 2006 and 2007, the Acme Pinot is a steal. By blending 2006 and 2007 pinot noirs together, John pulls off a wine that incorporates the best of both vintages at a great price.
Tasting the Acme Pinot noir NV yesterday during a break in Marcus's move to his new house, we wrote this note: "Beautiful red fruit perfume and dried rose petal with incense, white pepper, toast and sweet earth. Red currant, cherry, raspberry, on a seamless, creamy frame. Both lush and bright, this has the complexity of a Pinot twice its price."
The Thomas Acme Wineworks Rosé is my must-have summer wine. I'm thinking of long summer evenings on the front porch, watching the sunset over the mountains, the scent of evening blooming honeysuckle, and best of all, the Thomas Acme Rosé sliding down my gullet.
The scent is strawberry, raspberry, and melon. Flavors are sweet red raspberry, wild strawberry, a hint of creamy kiwi, and there's a long finish with more berries and a hint of just-right citrus. It is partially fermented in oak, adding texture and depth.
JT made 100 cases of this exquisite Rosé - applying the same skill that makes his Pinots cult favorites. We HIGHLY recommend this wine for summer.
Thomas Winery Pinot noirs
The 2007 Thomas Pinot is still in barrels, blended and about to be bottled, with release tentatively planned for November. The 2007 vintage is, even by Thomas standards, miniscule - only a handful of barrels.
The 2007, says John, is "his favorite style of Pinot". Elegant and graceful, the 2007 is at the same time rich and concentrated. This wine does an exceptional job of pairing richness with subtlety. An intense scent of red berries and roses combines with red raspberry, red cherry, red plum, and currant flavors to offer exceptional purity and balance. Subtle, classic notes of spice and sweet tannins form a backbone for aging. Perhaps most striking, though, is the texture of the 2007. Fine, silky, and lacelike on the upper palate, the texture is marvelous.
The 2008 barrels stand in a row next to the 2007, drinking beautifully already. Thomas Pinot noirs are known for having that little something extra - that "moreishness" that raises the wine above the norm. Tasting the 2008 Thomas in barrel, it has moreishness in abundance.
The 2008 in barrel has a mélange of fresh fruit and plenty of it, seasoned with flavors of roses, violets, white pepper, truffle, and spice. The balance is perfect - and the texture is thrilling - shot silk on the upper palate and crushed velvet in the finish. The wine will not be released for at least 18 months - mark your calendars.
More Images of Thomas Winery and Vineyard
Heading to the vineyard
John with a basket press that's been passed among local wineries for 20 years
John stands among his newest vines, replanted in 2007 and 2008
Thomas Vineyard View
Planting in the Vineyard