A Diamond in Oregon Wine's "Gold Coast"
by Jean Yates
If there's a Gold Coast of Oregon wine, it's the cluster of vineyards bordering each side of Worden Hill Road, located in the heart of Oregon's North Willamette Valley, west of the town of Dundee. And right in the center sits Winderlea Vineyard, like a diamond in the center of a circlet of gold.
Oregon wine's Gold Coast is more formally called the Dundee Hills or the "Red Hills of Dundee". It is known for its red volcanic Jory soil and hosts over 50 vineyards, including Winderlea and many other top-rated vineyards.
Vineyards planted along Worden Hill Road produced the fruit for many of Oregon's top wines of the '70s, '80s, '90s, and the area includes some of the most valuable agricultural real estate in the Pacific Northwest. Winderlea (formerly Goldschmidt), Maresh, Arcus, Erath, Weber, Ana, Le Pavillon, Bergstrom, Cameron's Clos de Bess and Electrique - these are vineyards that contribute greatly to the reputation of Oregon wine. And Winderlea Vineyard sits smack in the center of the action.
Winderlea Vineyard was originally planted in 1974 by owners John and Sally Bauers, and today its 16.53 acres is home to some of the Dundee Hills AVA's original Pinot noir plantings from the early 1970s. The site contains several blocks of the oldest own-rooted Pinot noir vines in the Willamette Valley. The original plantings, in Blocks 3 and 4 (see vineyard map below) were originally planted to Pommard, Wädenswil, and the so-called Coury Clone of Pinot noir (the latter appears to be a "suitcase clone" brought into Oregon by Charles Coury in the early 1970s) - as well as a "mystery" clone of unconfirmed origins. The red dot in the middle of Block 4 marks the spot where Phylloxera has invaded the vineyard.
The earliest plantings at Winderlea also included Gamay, Chardonnay (Draper clone in blocks 1 and 3 obtained from Eyrie's David Lett), and even Cabernet. When ex-Oregon Governor Neil Goldschmidt purchased the vineyard in 1998, he had the Chardonnay in Blocks 1 and 3 regrafted to Pinot noir, as were the gamay and Cabernet vines. David Adelsheim (Adelsheim Vineyard), was hired to oversee the replanting of the rest of the vineyard, adding Blocks 6 through 13 to the site between 2000 and 2005. The newest blocks, 10 and 11, were planted in 2005.
Winderlea Vineyard and Winery:
New Owners, New Name, New Horizons
Winderlea Vineyard is owned by Donna Morris and Bill Sweat, Boston transplants who purchased the vineyard in November of 2006. They renamed the vineyard after a favorite rural location in Vermont, a farm founded many years ago by a Jewish/German family, to whom the name "Winderlea" meant "a valley protected from the wind". Their combination vineyard and Estate winery is named Winderlea Vineyard & Winery. Donna and Bill have hired Robert Brittan as their winemaker and Results Partners as their vineyard managers.
Winderlea Vineyards & Winery is planning to use all of the fruit from the site for the Winderlea wines. In describing their plans for the future, Bill and Donna recognize that the fine wines made from the site over the last twenty years have established Winderlea as one of Oregon's premiere vineyards:
"Long before we were given the opportunity to purchase the Goldschmidt vineyard we were fans of the site." says Donna.
"Many of our favorite winemakers, including Lynn Penner-Ash of Penner-Ash Wine Cellars and as winemakers for Dusky Goose, Patty Green of Patricia Green Cellars, Rob Stuart of R. Stuart & Co., and Dave Adelsheim and David Paige of Adelsheim Vineyard, have all made spectacular Pinot noir from our vineyard and in so doing, established its reputation as one of the best vineyards in Oregon. We feel a debt of gratitude to each of them for their years of work and for their assistance and guidance" she concludes.
The Winderlea Wines
Bill and Donna's vision of the Winderlea Vineyard & Winery Pinot noirs can be summed up as "sensuous, elegant, and feminine". The couple are dedicated to making wines that express the character of the Pinot noir grape and show the unique terroir of the site.
Winderlea's first wines have been released. Made by Robert Brittan with Bill's assistance, the 2006 Goldschmidt Vineyard Pinot noir, Inaugural Reserve Pinot noir, and Ana Vineyard Pinot noir were made in small amounts (575 cases total). Production will increase in 2007 as more of the vineyard's fruit becomes available.
In 2006, the Goldschmidt Vineyard was still owned by former governor Neil Goldschmidt, and this Pinot noir is made from blocks 8 and 9 of what is now Winderlea. The Pinot is comprised of entirely Dijon clone fruit from vines planted eight to ten years ago. The site abuts the Maresh Vineyard. The wine was aged in 30% new oak barrels, 70% used oak barrels that previously held Chardonnay.
A delightful scent of red berries, country hedgerow, rose petals, and a hint of soft toast greet the taster. It is wild rose season in the Willamette Valley now, and I was hiking through a thicket of bushes covered with tiny pink wild rose flowers last week. That characteristic delicate floral and spicy scent reminded me instantly of the scent of this wine.
The Winderlea Goldschmidt Pinot's flavors continue to charm the taster as layers and layers of fruit impress with black raspberry, black cherry, and dried cherry flavors. A touch of cocoa and cream show in the midpalate. Fleshy and elegant, a lilt of acidity and just discernable balanced tannins provide a sensuous finish.
Winderlea Vineyard Ana Vineyard Pinot noir 06
Anna Vineyard lies south and east of Winderlea (see map above), and Ana Vineyard owner Andy Humphrey managed Winderlea's vines (then Goldschmidt) for many years. The Winderlea Ana Vineyard designate Pinot is made from a combination of 80% Pommard and 20% DIjon clone fruit, and was aged in 30% new oak, 70% one and two year old Chardonnay barrels.
Of the three 2006 Winderlea offerings, this charming Pinot most strongly shows the owners' goal of producing feminine and elegant wines. The lightest in color of the 2006 Winderlea Pinots, its transparency belies its intense scents and flavors. A bounteous bouquet of red cherry, dried black cherry, anise and a hint of spice announce the wine. Flavors of sweet red cherry and raspberry join with hints of dried seed spices and minerals to expand in the mouth. The Ana is wonderfully defined, showing a pure Pinot noir varietal character. Delicate and complex, it has a lovely freshness and vitality. The tannins are light and lacy,
The Winderlea "Inaugural" Rerserve Pinot noir is their reserve offering. A combination of fruit from Ana Vineyard and Weber Vineyard, it's a big, rounded Pinot that is reminiscent of Dusky Goose's Pinot noir from this site. A blend of the best barrels made, it is 100% Pommard clone fruit.
The same spicy wild rose character present in the Winderlea Ana Vineyard 06 is present here, accompanied by scents of black cherry, pie spice, and a hint of citrus that lifts the wine. Sweet red fruit, red cherry, bing cherry, red plum, and dried cherry flavors combine in this supple and velvety smooth wine. It is a wine that is immediately likeable, showing the best of the Pommard clone's sweet cherry character. The finish features well integrated, fine tannins, more cherry fruit, sweet pie spice, and a hint of roses. Balanced acidity levels maintain freshness in a hot vintage and refreshes the palate with each sip.
Robert Brittan, winemaker for Winderlea Vineyard & Winery, brings a focus on terroir to the winery. An expert on the use of varietals to creat site-specific wines, Robert made Pinot noir in California before returning to his Oregon roots in 2004. A graduate of Oregon State University, Robert continued his education at UC Davis, studying Enology there before working at California's St Andrew and Far Niente Wineries. Robert moved to Stags Leap Winery as winemaker and Estate Manager in 1988 and continued there for 16 years. In 2004 he purchased 128 acres of farmland south of Winderlea Vineyard & Winery in the coastal range near McMinnville and founded his Brittan Vineyards Winery. He has planted 20 acres of Pinot noir there and makes several wines under the Brittan Vineyards label.
Robert brings definite preferences in winemaking to Winderlea. He wants his clients very involved in the winemaking process, and Winderlea owner Bill Sweat is taking courses in winemaking and soil & plant nutrition so he can take on many of the day to day responsibilites at the winery. He says he knows "just enough to be dangerous", but the 2006 wines show that his learning curve is rapid and promising.
Robert's choice of barrels for the Winderlea wines is unique in Oregon. The 2006 Winderlea wines were aged in 30% new oak, the barrels sourced from a variety of cooperages. The 70% of the wine aged in previously used oak barrels comes from California wineries Kistler and Far Niente, where they were used to age Chardonnay. Winderlea is probably the only winery in Oregon to use Chardonnay barrels for its Pinot noir, and is certainly the only one (with the exception of winemaker Robert Brittan's own Brittan Winery) to use barrels from Far Niente and Kistler.
Robert believes that wine ages best in bottle- he bottles early and does not release wines until five or six months later. To attain the elegant, feminine, true to the varietal character that Winderlea owners Bill and Donna prefer, he limits maceration time, uses cool fermentations (even below 90 degrees) and does not do much post fermentation maceration. He avoids the array of techniques often used in Oregon today to concentrate and intensify Pinot noir, striving for wines with layered, subtle flavors that show as much of the terroir of the WInderlea site as is possible.
Winderlea Vineyard Blocks
Vineyard Management and Biodynamics
Bill and Donna recently have chosen to manage their Winderlea Vineyard using biodynamic methods. They hired Results Partners, known for their expertise in biodynamics, to make the changes. Results Partners owner Kevin Chambers' Resonance Vineyard is managed biodynamically and received Demeter certification last year.
Results Partners president Matt Novak says: "I don't imagine the transfer to biodynamic methods to be a difficult process. We'll take it in incremental steps." Whether Bill and Donna decide to go for full Demeter certification is still undecided. "We don't know yet - if Bill and Donna want to, we'll go that way."
Results Partners, founded in 1980, manages over 900 acres of vineyards in Oregon, with the average vineyard size about 19 acres. Ken Wright's Abbott's Claim, Carabella, and Revana are some of the vineyards they manage. Schindler, Resonance,
Matt Novak has a good site to work with. With a southerly slope ranging in elevation from 440-ft to 560-ft., the exposure and Jory soils combine to make it one of the earliest maturing vineyards in the area.
Winderlea Vineyard looking southeast- Arcus Vineyard in distance
Winderlea Vineyard South View towards Maresh Vineyard