Oakland California native Dick Erath is one of the genuine wine pioneers of Oregon. His story could fill a book and as a matter of fact it does (The Boys up North - Dick Erath and the early Oregon Winemakers by Paul Pintarich, published by The Wyatt Group).
the 1960s, while traveling up and down the west coast in search of an ideal place to grow Pinot Noir, he finally settled in 1967 in the then unproven northern Willamette Valley, where two years later he planted his first vines in the Chehalem Hills. His 1972 vintage consisted of 216 cases of Pinot Noir, Riesling and Gewürztraminer which were sold under the Erath label.
The 1972 Pinot Noir and Riesling both won Gold Medals
at the Seattle Enologoical Society wine judging. Also in 1972, Dick planted
a vineyard in the iron-rich red soils of the landmark Dundee Hills for
his then new business partner, Cal Knudsen. The winery became known as
Knudsen Erath in 1975 but reverted to Erath again after Dick purchased
Today, Erath farms 115 acres, purchases from another 130 and produces around 35,000 cases of wine per year, two thirds of which is Pinot Noir. Other wines produced in descending volume are: Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Chardonnay, Late Harvest Gewürztraminer and Dolcetto.
Four distinct styles of Pinot Noir are produced. The largest volume, least expensive and first bottled and released is the 'Vintage'. It tends to be light in color and body, straighforwardly fruity, and is low in tannins for right now drinking. Next up is the 'Vintage Select,' with fruit selected from vineyards which display more complex character and ageworthiness. 'Reserve' is blended from some of the finest barrels, showing plenty of stuffing albeit, with great finesse, balance and complexity. Unfortunately, they are not bottled every year. At the top are the single Vineyards, Juliard, Leland, Niederberger and Prince Hill. These reserve quality wines, produced in extremely limited quanities of 100 to 500 cases each, rank with the finest Pinot Noirs in the world. They are only bottled when they display the hallmarks of their pedigree and "terroir".
Erath's Pinot Gris is wild yeast fermented in stainless steel at a very cool temperature and is bottled early to highlight its delicious fruit. The style is opulent and spicy with excellent balancing acidity. The Pinot Blanc is handled much like the Gris yet shows softer and more creamy, spicy on the palate. Both white Pinots see a couple of weeks in old French oak to round out their texture.
Erath has cut back on general Chardonnay production in order to emphasize the Single Vineyard Reserves. These benchmark New World Chardonnays are made entirely from Dijon (Burgundy) clones. Unlike most Oregon Chardonnays, Erath's do not undergo malolatic fermentation and they see little to no new oak. The Niederberger is a gloriously rich, full-bodied and complex wine which displays an amazing resemblance to a great Côte de Beaune Grand Cru. Not to be overlooked is Erath's Vintage Select Riesling which, despite its designation, contains only 5% residual sugar. Like a German Spätlese, its high acidity (low pH) lands it in a crisp and vibrant off-dry style. It is amazingly food friendly with a broad array of seafoods, poultry, pork dishes, spicy foods, and fruit with cheese.
In 1994, Dick hired Rob Stuart as winemaker.
Rob's winery experience spans the west coast from Hanns Kornell in the
Napa Valley, Valley View in southern Oregon to Staton Hills in the Yakima
Valley of Washington. At Erath Vineyards Winery, Rob is enjoying an opportunity
of a lifetime working with some of the finest winegrapes anywhere in an
unrestriced environment, where he can craft them into outstanding bottles.
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