Dean Sandifer moved from Minneapolis to Oregon’s Willamette Valley in 1994 to purchase land and start a vineyard. The first hillside parcel of land was purchased in 1995 and planted to Pinot Noir in 1996. The first wine was produced in 1998 (and was awarded the Pinot Noir “Best of Class” medal at the San Diego National Wine Competition in 2000). Additional land was added and planted to Pinot Noir in 1998 and 1999. The vineyards currently produce approximately 1,500 cases of wine each year.
Burgundy remains the model for growing and making Pinot Noir at Domaine Coteau. The climates of Burgundy and the northern Willamette Valley are nearly identical (except for rainfall). Oregon enjoys “California like” weather during the summer months – sunny without much, if any, measurable rain. Because of this climate similarity many of the viticultural and winemaking practices used in Burgundy have been shown to also work well here in Oregon. Implementation of the Burgundy model (e.g., low yields per acre, high-density vineyards, etc.) has resulted in world-class wines.
At Domaine Coteau a vine density of 2,437 vines per acre (row spacing of 5.5 feet and in-row spacing of one meter) was selected (very high density vis-à-vis the traditional spacings of California and Oregon). The main determinates used in this spacing decision were soil fertility, soil depth, and rootstock vigor. All three determinates pointed to high-density plantings.
High density allows each Pinot Noir vine to carry less than two pounds of grapes and still carry two tons of fruit per acre (the target goal of the Domaine). The following cultural practices are normally invoked to achieve this target yield:
+ Winter pruning each vine (single
Guyot) to seven buds
At the crush-pad the grapes are completely de-stemmed (stems, unless very ripe, bring nothing to the wine) and cold-soaked for five to eight days prior to fermentation. The best color and aroma compounds are extracted early in this pre-fermentative environment. Fermentation follows this cold-soak period. Temperatures are allowed to rise to 32 degrees C. The cap of skins and seeds that is forced to the top of the fermentation vessel by carbon dioxide gas is punched down twice daily. The new wine is then inoculated with a malolactic culture to ensure a prompt malolactic fermentation and transferred to French oak barrels (a third of which are new). The wine spends from 12 to 16 months in barrel without racking (depending on the vintage) and is then transferred to the bottling tank. Only barrels that pass a taste test are transferred to this tank. The Domaine's wines are bottled unfiltered. Because of this the wine usually deposits a small amount of sediment after several years of bottle age.