I enjoyed my trip to Canada for a number of reasons, and while time with my family is certainly at the top of the list, I took the opportunity to enjoy some wines that I would have been unable to find in Australia. Obviously, many of them were Canadian, but Canada imports wines I don’t come across at wine merchants Down Under. Today’s wine is from the United States, Willamette Valley in Oregon to be more specific, and it’s the Trisaetum Trisae Pinot Noir 2009.
While the first vines in Oregon were planted in the 1840s, production was suspended in 1919 with Prohibition and commercial wine grape planting only resumed in the 1960s. Pinot Noir was an early favourite, paired with the cool climate and long growing season, and the 1970s saw an influx of winemakers from California as the industry grew. In a tasting reminiscent of the Judgement of Paris in 1976, an Oregon Pinot Noir from Eyrie Vineyards placed well in the Gault-Millau French Wine Olympiades of 1979, drawing international attention to the state.
Other than popping down to Portland to see bands, the entirety of my experience with Oregon consists of a drive from south to north through the western half of the state when I moved from San Francisco to Seattle. While I didn’t realize it at the time, over the course of two hours in August of 1997, I actually drove the entire length of the Willamette Valley, the area that drains into the Willamette River and which hosts a stretch of Interstate 5. It is essentially the area from slightly south of Eugene to Portland, bounded by the Oregon Coast Range to the west and the Cascade Mountains to the east.
It’s a large American Viticultural Area, established in 1984, though six sub-appellations have been carved out since. The area as a whole has a cool maritime climate, with the Valley’s western edge being roughly 60km from the Pacific Ocean, though sheltered somewhat by the mountains. Conditions are generally mild, with cool winters but warm summers, and most of the rainfall being confined to autumn and winter. The area is best understood as a series of hills and valleys, with many favourable instances of east and south facing slopes, rather than as a single uninterrupted valley between the mountain ranges. Soils are a mix of clay and loams, often with a reddish tinge from iron content. Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris are the champion grapes of the region, though there are plantings across a wide range of varieties including Chardonnay, Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
Trisaetum was founded in 2003 by Andrea and James Frey and takes its name from their two children, Tristen and Tatum. Their initial vineyard in the sub-appellation Yamhill-Carlton District AVA was planted in 2005 with Pinot Noir and Riesling by the couple on the site of a former cattle ranch, and has a volcanic component of basalt. Their second vineyard was planted a few years later, within the Ribbon Ridge AVA, also with Pinot Noir and Riesling.
Their winery was purpose-built at the Ribbon Ridge site, and features a mix of traditional and modern facilities. It has its own cold room for initially chilling grapes prior to destemming, an extensive fruit sorting facility which allows hand selection of not just bunches but individual berries, and multilevel winemaking which allows the barrel cellar to be gravity fed from the tanks above, reducing the amount of pumping required. The winery also contains a gallery featuring the work of James Frey, which ranges from abstract painting and photography to sculpture, and features on the labels of some Pinot Noir bottlings.
In the glass this wine is clear and bright with a medium minus ruby colour. On the nose it’s clean and developing with medium plus intensity and notes of sweet herbs, black cherries and dark chocolate. On the palate it’s dry with medium acidity, medium plus intensity, medium fine tannins, medium plus alcohol, medium body and medium plus length. There are notes of black cherries, dark chocolate, black pepper, and savoury herbs.
This is a very good wine. It has intensity throughout though is still well balanced. It has some complexity, though I would expect more with an additional year or two of cellaring. It’s certainly a New World style – very approachable at three years old and the cherry flavours have a fruit sweetness (not residual sugar) – but with the right amount of herbaceousness. I must admit that it was consumed under favourable circumstances – sharing a fine meal with good friends – but given a choice that’s how I would prefer to drink most wines.