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Oregon Gamay noir Part 1 – The Grape


Brick House Vineyard's Gamay noir grapes

Gamay noir is the secret grape of Oregon’s Thanksgiving dinners. Dwarfed by the popularity of Pinot noir, Gamay is made by just a few Oregon wineries. Our version  is a delicious, ready to drink red wine with hints of the flavors of Pinot noir and a juicy, fruity quality all its own. It is particularly well suited to pairing with the rich foods served on the day of the turkey.

Given how good Oregon Gamay can be, it should come as a surprise that it only represents a fraction of the acreage in Oregon that Pinot Noir does. But the world loves our Oregon Pinot noir, and vineyard owners plant what is most in demand. Until there is a shift in what is expected of Oregon, there are a whole slew of grapes that will remain largely unappreciated, Gamay most prominent among them.

at right, Gamay noir grapes at Brick House‘s vineyard

No discussion of the Gamay grape is complete without a little background of it’s home turf, the French region of Beaujolais. This cluster of ancient villages is nestled north of Lyon, between the northernmost part of the Rhone and southernmost part of Burgundy.

at right, the location of Beaujolais in France

Beaujolais location in FranceThe grape was hybridized using Pinot Noir and a white grape called Gouais, sometime in the mid 1300s. France at that time was just emerging from the scourge of the Black Plague, and Gamay, which ripened earlier than Pinot Noir and was less problematic to harvest, was a boon for farmers.

Since that time the grape has steadily grown in popularity, with it’s biggest burst coming in the 1980s when the French began shipping the Nouveau wines abroad for immediate consumption. It was these same sad, watery, industrial wines that came to all but define Gamay in the U.S. for more than two decades. It is only within the last ten years that savvy American wine consumers have  begun discovering the wines of Beaujolais’ Cru villages; expressions of the grape that can be profound, and the polar opposite of the Nouveau wines that still swarm like locusts in late November.

The discovery of Gamay’s Cru wines by American consumers understandably led to a wave of domestic plantings of the grape in the 1990s and early 2000s. More than any other place in the U.S., Oregon boasts a climate that is cool enough to ripen Gamay the way it does in Beaujolais. Our best versions display the signature bright red fruits and high levels of natural fruit acidity, tempered by spicy nuances and an earthiness that reminds some of Pinot Noir.

Next time – three must-have Gamays for Thanksgiving dinner…

Jean Yates

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