Belle Pente Wines
Here at Avalon Wine, Belle Pente wines hold a special place in our thoughts. Since owners Jill and Brian O'Donnell sold their first wines in 1996, we've enjoyed their combination of reasonably priced, carefully crafted Pinot noirs and white wines, made with Brian's unique vision. Now that their Estate vineyard (Belle Pente Vineyard) is producing great fruit, the wines are even more satisfying.
With little fanfare, Brian makes delicious and intricately nuanced, Burgundy inspired Pinot noirs. His white wines provide the clean, fresh scents and flavors of Alsacian and German wines. Each year, Belle Pente's reasonably priced wines get better, with increasing depth of scents and flavors.
Brian and Jill O'Donnell were Silicon Valley executives when the Loma Prieta Earthquake (1989) provoked a resolution to transition from high tech to wine. They moved to the Willamette Valley in 1992 and planted their vineyard in 1994. First wines were produced in 1996.
More About Belle Pente Wines
Belle Pente's 70 acre property is on one of the oldest farms in Yamhill County. The vineyard site rises from 240' to 500' with south, south-east, and south-west exposures. The first vineyard was planted in 1994, and now includes 16 acres of Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Chardonnay. They also lease seven acres of old vine Pinot Noir at Murto Vineyard (est. 1978) in the Red Hills of Dundee. A wine made from Wahle Vineyard fruit is also made.
"We're trying to make the best limited production, family-domaine scale wines in Oregon," explains Brian (pictured at right.) "We don't want to be big, we like being small. We're almost at our capacity, and now we're going to focus like crazy on quality."
The O'Donnells' inspiration is clearly Old World-down to the ambiance implicit in their name. "Since everyone who has ever visited our place comments on how beautiful it is, the 'Belle' part was easy," explains Brian. "We discovered 'Pente' during a visit to Alsace, where we found the word was often used to describe the steep slopes of some of the Grand Cru vineyards. Since parts of our hillside are quite steep, it seemed like a natural fit."
Brian started as a home
winemaker in the 1970s, and by the end of the 1980s had decided to elevate
his craft from hobby to vocation. In the early 1990s Brian had a job
opportunity in the Portland area, and after visiting the Willamette Valley
wine country and tasting the wines "we
said 'This is it!'"
Brian O'Donnell, harvest 2009
In 1994 Brian and Jill planted the first part of Belle Pente's estate vineyard with Pinot noir, Gamay noir, Pinot blanc, Pinot gris, and Chardonnay.
"I believe that what will distinguish Belle Pente
is the quality of our site," says Brian. "This site is very
special. In 1997 and 1998 we made small quantities of wine from the estate
vineyards and they were superb." The Belle Pente Estate Vineyard
reached marketable production levels with the 2000 vintage, and today makes about 3000-5000 cases of wine a year.
View from Belle Pente Vineyard down to winery at bottom of row
The winery's capacity is about 5,000 cases, which is just where
Brian wants to be-"We don't want to be big," he says
at right, Jill & Brian O'Donnell at IPNC, July 2003
One aspect that sets Belle Pente apart from the "Pinot pack" is
their enthusiasm and focus on white wines.
Belle Pente makes Chardonnay, Pinot gris, and Riesling, as well as a new rosé. "With our whites," says Brian, "we're looking to squeeze all the intensity we can; we want them to be big and rich, but with good acidity. Alsace is the stylistic model for our white wines."
For their Chardonnay, Brian approaches things differently than the Pinot noir. "I find the white wines require more intervention," he says. "Stylistically, we're looking for fairly big, rich, and ripe fruit-the best of California-style and Burgundy-style."
at right, "Peanut" the winery dog/house elf
at right, Belle Pente is very much a working farm - raising Highland Cattle along with sheep, chickens, geese, and goats
Belle Pente's Riesling is made in small quantities from 15-year
old vines. "I
love to make it, I love to drink it, and I love to sell it," enthuses
Brian. "Riesling is a noble grape, and Oregon has a lot of it planted,
but much of it goes into $6 supermarket wines-We're trying to make a higher quality, serious Oregon wine.