Oregon is dwarfed by its neighbors when it comes to wine production.
Nationally, Oregon produced the fourth most wine in the U.S. in 2018, at 10.938 million gallons. But compared to Washington at over 35 million gallons, or monolithic leader California at 684 million gallons, Oregon is but a blip on the national radar. Even New York, at 28.5 million gallons, makes more wine than Oregon.
But what it lacks in quantity, it more than makes up for in quality with its world-class pinot noir labels, a burgeoning chardonnay scene and a hidden gem in pinot gris. At Stoller, pinot noir and chardonnay have been produced since 1993 on a property the Stoller family has owned since 1943. It’s the largest contiguous winery in the Dundee Hills, and has thrived under the guidance of winemaker Melissa Burr.
“Oregon is such a small region,” Burr said. “We account for 1% of wine made domestically. We’re but a drop in the bucket on the global scale.”
It’s an impressive drop, as the Stoller Dundee Hills Chardonnay is the best value buy on the market. It over delivers in flavor and mouthfeel and appeals to fans of oaked and unoaked chardonnay.
Location matters, and for Burr, Stoller’s 60 acres of chardonnay are among the best in Oregon.
“It’s the vineyard,” said Burr, who made the Stoller Dundee Hills Chardonnay 2019 ($25) with flavors of fresh Michigan peach, peeled ginger and baking spices. “It’s one of the best in the state for chardonnay. Dundee Hills is a great tried and true AVA with warmer nighttime temperatures. We are insulated from extreme temperatures because of the foothills and mountains. We are one contiguous vineyard, a sweeping hillside all between 200 and 700 feet.
“We have all volcanic soils that really speak to the wines,” she said. “Chardonnay flourishes in that soil. It lends a lot of beautiful stone fruit and great aromatics. Chardonnay isn’t necessarily aromatic, but that site gives a sweet, key lime smell a lot of years. As the vines have matured, there’s a lot more complexity in the chardonnay. It’s remarkable to be part of it for so long and see the progression of quality.”
While a specific style of Oregon chardonnay isn’t set in stone, its plantings are on the rise. Burr’s husband has a vineyard management company and chardonnay was a top seller.
“Cool-climate chardonnay is resonating with consumers,” Burr said. “There’s more stone fruit and natural acidity. But stylistically, the jury is still out. There’s not one Oregon style being produced.”
In Oregon, pinot noir makes up almost 70% of wine grapes grown. The reputation for Oregon pinot is that of a terroir-driven wine, where the fruit flavors are nuanced and have a tense pairing with earth-driven flavors. The Stoller Dundee Hills Pinot Noir 2018 ($35) has flavors of cherry, cinnamon stick, cloves and wet leaves. It’s brooding and feral in nature and a bargain price for quality pinot noir.
Yet as the climate has warmed, harvests have come earlier and the resulting flavors have become more fruit-driven. So, how does Oregon maintain the identity it has built as a cool-climate growing region?
For Burr, the vineyards will tell that story.
“The beauty of pinot is that it’s reflective of where it’s grown,” Burr said. “That’s the art. You don’t have to invent that.”
This year has seemed like a typical growing season. In early August, color change had just started in the vineyard and she thought harvest could come in late September or the first week of October. After a couple of years where Oregon winemakers had early harvests like their California colleagues, Burr will welcome what appears to be a traditional harvest.
“It’s been an ode to a classic Oregon growing season,” Burr said. “If there is such a thing anymore. It helps us to space out the work though. We aren’t used to that early harvest. It steals your summertime. Harvest is like the Super Bowl, you’ve got a lot to prep for and anything can happen.”
• James Nokes has been tasting, touring and collecting in the wine world for several years. Email him at email@example.com.