Lifestyle

The Heights of Oregon Pinot Noir


Bethel Heights Vineyard in the Willamette Valley has been producing Oregon pinot noir at its best for more than four decades

"That's what we have here. It's just a magic little paradise where everything comes together and points to the possibility of great pinot noir." If you want to understand the success Oregon winemakers have had with their pinot noir in just one generation, you need do no more than talk to the eloquent and passionate Pat Dudley of Bethel Heights Vineyards. Forsaking careers in academia, she, her husband Ted Casteel, his brother Terry, and Terry's partner Marilyn Webb sold their houses in Seattle and staked all by buying land in the Eola Hills area of the Willamette Valley in 1977. They had had a nascent interest in wine for several years and eventually decided to take the plunge. "We started hearing about these pinot noir pioneers in Oregon, and we were already enamored of pinot," she remembers. "So we came up here and found exactly what we were looking for. The farmers had given up on these hillside farms because they had become completely unprofitable. In fact, our land was slated to become a trailer park, because it was considered secondary land not suitable for farming, so they were selling off the land really cheap, and it was the perfect vineyard site. Shallow, well-drained soil, south-facing slope, between 300 feet and 600 feet above sea level, and here we are today." Today they have 50 acres under vines, many of them more than 30 years old, and are making fabulous wine, including this week's Wine of the Week, the Bethel Heights Estate Grown Pinot Noir 2008 ($30). It's all fresh strawberries on opening, but with a little time it begins to show additional hints of darker fruits. Then there's a pure, crisp acidity that's almost unheard of in New World pinots. As Pat observes, "That's what you're looking for in an Oregon pinot noir—bright acidity, incredibly complex, full flavor development, and perfectly balanced wine." These qualities are on fine display in the Estate Pinot Noir, but if you are lucky enough to encounter any of their limited production single vineyard bottlings—West Block, Flat Block, South East Block Reserve, and more—grab them because they demonstrate the same characteristics, just more so—Oregon pinot noir at its best. So hearty cheers for Pat Dudley and her fellow pioneers for taking the gamble they did three decades ago and the success they have achieved. When to Drink: Now and for the next couple of years Breathing/Decanting: Half an hour's breathing helps Food Pairing: Pork, veal, lighter pasta, hard cheeses Grapes: 100 percent pinot noir. Appellation: Eola-Amity Hills Region: Oregon Country: USA Price: $30 Availability: Moderate Web Site: www.bethelheights.com

Nick Passmore is an independent wine writer and consultant based in New York. For five years he contributed a widely read monthly wine column to Forbes.com, in addition to which his work has appeared in such publications as Forbes, Discover, Town Country, the Robb Report, the Wine Enthusiast, Saveur, Sky, and Golf Connoisseur. He is currently Artisanal Editor for Four Seasons magazine and contributes the Nick Passmore: Wine of the Week column to Businessweek.com. He is also a judge at the widely respected annual Critics' Challenge wine competition.

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