Cristom Vineyards makes a very small production of Oregon Pinot noir and Chardonnay with a sterling reputation among wine collectors, Sommeliers, and wine writers. Experienced winemaker Steve Doerner blends contemporary technology with age-old winemaking traditions. Native yeasts transform the juice into wine. Gravity guides it from tank to barrel. The rich, new wine is allowed to mature slowly in cool, subterranean cellars. The wines are unfiltered. Only the finest barrels are blended into finished wines.
at right, Steve Doerner
You could say that Cristom's story goes back to 1992 when Paul Gerrie purchased a piece of land west of Salem in the Eola-Amity Hills. But, to get a complete picture you need to go back fourteen years earlier. At that point Steve Doerner had just graduated from UC Davis with a degree in biochemistry and was in his first year as winemaker for the Calera Wine Company in Hollister, California. Paul was at that time an engineer running a consulting business in Pittsburgh. Though he dreamed of owning a winery, he was not sure exactly where.
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The subsequent fourteen years for Paul, as he grew his business, and for Steve, as he came to love making Pinot Noir, were instrumental for what lie ahead. When Paul attended the International Pinot Noir Celebration in 1991, he knew immediately that Oregon was the place where he wanted to pursue his dream. When he was introduced to Steve shortly after that visit, and the two discussed their mutual love of Pinot Noir, the deal was all but sealed. Early the next year he purchased a gorgeous 89-acre east-facing site and hired vineyard manager Mark Feltz to round out the team. Paul and his wife Eileen moved their family to Oregon that year and Cristom quickly came to life.
The label soon began garnering glowing reviews from national critics. This included a 93 point score for their 1994 Marjorie Vineyard Pinot Noir from The Wine Spectator. After that, the list of accolades has continued to grow; each wine establishing it's own adoring fan club both locally, nationally and internationally.
Twenty years after Paul purchased the land that would become Cristom, you could argue that not much has changed at Cristom – Paul still steers the ship and Steve is assisted in his winemaking duties by his first employee, Andy Zorzi. Mark continues to tend the vineyards and In 2005 they hired John D'Anna as their National Sales Manager, With John's help, they've had their most successful years to date. Perhaps most notably, though, is the addition of Paul and Eileen's adult children (and winery namesakes), Tom and Christine, to the management team. With the family ownership now coming full circle, the strength of another generation joined the circle this fall when Steve and his wife Irene welcomed a baby boy.
If one was to sum up what sets Steve's wines apart, you'd have to mention elegance, depth, balance and consistency above all else. Even when his wines are powerful, they possess power in proportion, giving the elements context and telling an always compelling story. This particular story is as strong as it ever has been at Cristom – one of family, stewardship and commitment to wines of character and purity.
Avalon Wine did some very informal polling of Oregon Sommeliers and Wine Buyers recently and found a surprising amount of agreement among them. In fact, they ranked Cristom as their hands down local favorite. These are people, mind you, who taste hundreds if not thousands of wines each year.
Cristom's expression of Oregon's terroir is fascinating, and the wines are carefully crafted. These are food wines, in a more French than California style, with great aging potential. At this family-owned estate west of Salem, all of the Pinot Noir vineyards are named after the matriarchs in the family: Jessie, Eileen, Louise and Marjorie.