The 5th annual Willamette Pinot Noir auction 2020 goes live from today (August 11-13) focussing on the ‘Goldilocks’ 2018 vintage. Like most world events it is being held online, although the other major change this year has come about because of the social unrest in Oregon following the death of George Floyd. For this reason the Willamette Valley Wineries Association is working with the James Beard Foundation to benefit Black and Indigenous Peoples of North America. L.M. Archer reports on the changes this year, a virtual seminar moderated by David Adelsheim on August 6 and previews some of the exciting lots that are up for grabs in the trade auction.
“There’s a more acidic drive to 2018 that I don’t think 2012 retained. 2018 is showing really nicely right now, but I do see it ageing really nicely, too – because of that acid retention,” says Katie Santora of Chehalem Winery.
The fifth annual goes virtual in 2020. This exclusive trade auction by (WVWA) entertains bids online August 11-13. Showcasing the 2018 vintage, it features 93 exclusive lots from 88 participating wineries. In addition, the auction adds charitable partner , part of the .
“We felt that in this year’s auction, it made some sense to recognise the unique world that COVID has imposed on all of us,” says Auction Steering Committee past chair and current member David Adelsheim of . “It’s a great opportunity for this auction to be not only funding the amazing work that the Willamette Valley Wineries Association has done in the past, but also, as bids go beyond the opening bids, for that money, in fact, to go to the James Beard Foundation Black and Indigenous Peoples of North America special fund.”
Also new, the traditional Friday pre-auction walk-around tasting turns technical. Participating Willamette Valley winemakers and winery principals join moderating Auction Steering Committee members for 15 different one-hour sessions with trade and media, showcasing these unique wines.
One of these virtual seminars was held on August 6, moderated by David Adelsheim and featured winemaker Spencer Spetnagel of , winemaker Katie Santora of a Stoller Wine Group brand, winemaker Matt Wengel of , Shirley Brooks from , and winemaker Tim Jones of . (Panelist comments have been edited for clarity.)
Panelists uniformly praise the 2018 vintage as exceptional. “I’ve been making wine in Oregon since 2015,” says Matt Wengel of Lemelson Vineyards.”Coming in on some of the warmest vintages on record – 2014, 2015, 2016, then 2019 super cold and rainy. So I feel like 2018 is what I’m calling the ‘Goldilocks’ vintage. It’s my favorite vintage of the past five.”
For winemaker Spencer Spetnagel of Durant Vineyards, 2018 proved a personal watermark, too. “2018 was the first vintage in our new winery on the property, and it was a great vintage to ease into new grapes for me, and the winery,” he says. “The vintage really brought a balance of structure and density and grace, which I think is a perfect trifecta for Pinot Noir.”
When asked by moderator Adelsheim if the 2018 vintage resembled any other past vintages in Willamette Valley, most winemakers agreed upon 2012. “2012 definitely had the intensity and density of the wine that I think 2018 is showing,” says Katie Santora of Chehalem. “But there’s also a more acidic drive to 2018 that I don’t think 2012 retained. 2018 is showing really nicely right now, but I do see it ageing really nicely, too – because of that acid retention, which was a result of cold nights.”
Shirley Brooks, representing Adam Campbell of Elk Cove Vineyards, concurs. “Oregon does acid,” she says. “That’s what keeps these wines alive and vibrant.”
Brooks, a 20-year veteran at Elk Cove, and valley pioneer Adelsheim, also likens the 2018 vintage to 1999. “There’s some differences – the crop was a little bit higher, it was a little bit warmer, but still – the combination of the cool ripening at the end, and not having to worry about hitting the exact hour of picking, meant that not only you had a choice,” says Adelsheim, “But it meant that a lot of the wines that other people were making, you were not worrying about whether you should open them or recommend them, because they weren’t making mistakes either.”
Unlike the 2018 ‘Goldilocks’ vintage up for bid, 2020 proves a problem child beyond the vineyard. Hospitality, food, and wine struggle with crises imposed by COVID and US tariffs, while social unrest adds another layer of complexity. “This year’s auction, being virtual, is very different from the in-person auctions that we’ve done for the past four years for some obvious reasons, and one not-so-obvious reason,” says Adelsheim.
“We felt that this year was special because so many people have been effected by COVID,” he says. “Not just in having to do Zoom, but restaurants have been literally forced to suspend operation, and the net effect has been the loss of business, and many restaurants that may never re-open.”
WVWA chose to work with the James Beard Foundation (JBF) this year after learning about the newly established fund benefitting Black and Indigenous Peoples of North America. “Obviously, not just the COVID issue,” Adelsheim says, “but also what’s happened after George Floyd, and recognition that the James Beard Foundation, and by derivation, Willamette Valley wineries, are giving to the special problems that exist among people who have not been widely supported in the past.”
Typically, proceeds earned from the auction lot opening bids support marketing, branding and education outreach by the Willamette Valley Wineries Association. This year, all monies raised on lots exceeding opening bids, plus paddle raise pledges, benefit the JBF special investment fund.
“This is kind of a spectacular opportunity, in some ways a very sad opportunity,” concludes Adelsheim, “Because we aren’t all in the room, tasting each other’s wines together, and getting to taste the expanse of what this vintage is giving us in terms of these auction wines. These are wines that are amazingly scrumptious today, and yet will be around 20 and 30 years from now.”
Exclusive preview of some of the many exciting wines on show
Lot 66: Durant Vineyards: Synergy| Dundee Hills AVA
“Synergy is the synergy of 67% Pommard from our oldest vines from Bishop’s Block, planted in 1973 – which are typically most complex and elegant, and 33% Pommard from one of our youngest blocks, Olivia Grace planted in 2007 – to bring more structure and excitement.” – Winemaker Spencer Spetnagle
Alcohol: 14.08% abv
Robe: Clear ruby robe.
Nose: Cherry, raspberry, baking spice aromas.
Palate: Light body, well-balanced acids and tannins, solid structure.
Bright redcurrant attack; aromatic cherry/raspberry mid-palate blends to a lingering, sous bois finish.
Lot 67: Chehalem Winery: ‘Valley of Flowers’ | Chehalem Mountains
‘Valley of Flowers’ is the name of our blend, and that is two-fold. One, ‘Chehalem’ means ‘valley of flowers.’ It’s an homage to the Native American Calapooia tribe who named it centuries ago, and also Corral Creek vineyard has those perfumed, floral characteristics.
Corral Creek is in Chehalem Mountain’s newest sub-AVA, Laurelwood AVA. Block 9 at the top of the vineyard has Pommardand Wädenswil clones planted to loess (Laurelwood) soil.” – Winemaker Katie Santora.
Alcohol: 13.9% abv
Robe: Clear garnet robe.
Nose: Bright red fruit, baking spice, cherry, floral aromas; slight hint of evergreen.
Palate: Light body, perfectly poised structure, lithe tannins. Aromas carry through on the palate, with an unexpected savoury component on the attack, and an energetic core that carries through on from start to finish.
Lot 69: Lemelson Vineyards: ‘Gravity Flows’ | Willamette Valley AVA
“Eric Lemelson founded Lemelson Vineyards in 1995 when he planted his first vineyard in Chehalem Mountain. He built a state of the art gravity flow winemaking facility in 1999 – four tiers of gravity flow. And it’s because of this unique focus on gravity that we named our wine Gravity Flows.
It’s a blend of Meyer Vineyard on Dundee Hills Dijon 777 clones, and Wädenswil from our Yamhill–Carlton property, Stermer Vineyard. The Meyer Vineyard contributes red fruit and elegance while the Stermer Vineyard provides richness, spice and earth ” – Winemaker Matt Wengel.
Alcohol 13.9% abv
Robe: Clear garnet robe.
Nose: Dark cherry, black tea, earthy (peaty, brown) aromas.
Palate: Light body. Solid structure, rich texture, tightly-wrapped core. Earthy, black tea and dark cherry attack; crab apple mid-palate; discrete finish.
Lot 71: Elk Cove Vineyards: ‘Rock Opera’ | Willamette Valley AVA
“Sourced from Clay Court Vineyard, one of our newer sites, which is in the Chehalem Mountains, on top of Parrett Mountain in the Chehalem Mountains. It’s our only vineyard that we own on Jory soils, blended that with our La Bohème vineyard, which is on the winery estate, old vine, high elevation, from the Yamhill-Carlton AVA.
So this tiny, 5-case lot is this really beautiful melding of red and blue fruit. It’s the first time ever that we’ve put two vineyards together in this really tiny blend. “ – Shirley Brooks
Alcohol 14 % abv
Robe: Dark ruby robe.
Nose: Blue fruit (blueberry, dark plum), dark cherry, violets, dark earth aromas.
Palate: Cinnamon, allspice attack; earthy red fruit mid-palate, aromatic, evergreen finish.
Lot 73: The Four Graces: ‘Grace and Harmony’| Yamhill-Carlton AVA
“Doe Ridge Estate Vineyard, Block 18, in Yamhill-Carlton is where this wine comes from. The interesting thing about block 18 is that all of our other vineyards are separated – we’ve got different rootstocks, different clones.
This block at the top of the hill is a blend of all the clones (667, 777, 115, Pommard) and rootstocks. It looks a little funky, because there’s different growing habits and things like that, but it achieves its own balance.
The idea with ‘Grace and Harmony’ is “Grace” is kind of the ode to the Four Graces, to the brand, and then ‘Harmony’ is the idea that harmony exists on its own, you can’t really create it. And this vineyard block creates its own balance.”– Winemaker Tim Jones
Alcohol 14.2% abv
Robe: Deep ruby robe.
Nose: Dark red fruit, perfume, dark soil, spice aromas.
Palate: Light body, pronounced acids, supple tannins, silky finish. Blackberry, raspberry, and bramble berry notes predominate from attack to finish.
So how do I get involved?
Online Auction catalogue:
Register to bid (for trade):
James Beard Open For Good Fund: