I operate with the belief that the best way to determine the improving quality of Texas wines is to drink wines from other states and countries. Thus, I jumped at the opportunity offered to Texas Wine Lover to taste the Pinot Noirs from Oregon’s Willamette Valley when “Pinot in the City” was held at Minute Maid Park on February 4.
I have been most familiar with two Pinot Noirs from the Willamette Valley through three visits to that area. My wife Phyllis and I were the first couple to taste the wines from both barrel and bottle of J Wrigley Vineyards, the western-most winery in the Willamette Valley, and we have long enjoyed the wines of Alexana Winery, which is owned by our Humble cardiologist Dr. Madaiah Revana.
While only eight Texas vineyards grow Pinot Noir according to records maintained by Texas Wine Lover and fewer than 30 Texas wineries claim to sell bottles of Pinot Noir (origin not specified) according to the Kazzit winery guide, Texans do like to drink Pinot Noir. Or at least that is the opinion of the Willamette Valley Wineries Association. That association brought Willamette Valley wineries to Dallas and Austin in 2017. Since a Houston stop in 2017 was not possible due to the Super Bowl being hosted there, Houston was scheduled as the only Texas stop in 2019. The Houston show included a Trade and Media event, as well as a VIP Tasting and a General Admission Tasting.
My experiences with J Wrigley and Alexana wines had introduced me to the wines from two of the seven “nested” AVAs in the encompassing Willamette Valley AVA. That 100-mile long, 60-mile wide AVA is home to 592 wineries, more than the 385 Texas Wine Lover identifies as currently operating in Texas. Thus, to broaden my awareness and taste buds, I first attended a “Pinot Noir of the Willamette Valley” master class led by renowned wine educator and writer Elaine Chukan Brown.
Ms. Brown explained that the Willamette Valley AVA comprises the Willamette River watershed from south of Eugene to north of Portland up to an elevation of 1,000 feet on all sides. The seven “nested” AVAs within the Willamette Valley AVA represent specific soil types and land formations that particularly shape the tannins of the wines grown in the specific AVA.
That two-hour seated session included tasting one wine from each of the seven “nested” AVAs and one from the broader Willamette Valley AVA. Those wines and AVAs were:
- Brittan Vineyards 2015 Basalt Block – McMinnville AVA
- Angela Estate 2015 – Yamhill-Carlton AVA
- Adelsheim 2016 Ribbon Springs – Ribbon Ridge AVA
- Elk Cove Vineyards 2017 Clay Court Vineyard – Chehalem Mountains AVA
- Christopher Wines 2016 Volcanique – Dundee Hills AVA
- Evening Land Vineyards 2017 Seven Spring Vineyard – Eola-Amity Hills AVA
- Left Coast Estate 2017 Cali’s Cuvee – Van Duzer Corridor AVA
- Antica Terra 2017 Botanica – Willamette Valley AVA
Having practiced the “SSCS” (Smell, Sip, Chew, and Spit) method during the master class, I was ready to visit the 64 Willamette Valley wineries in attendance that were represented by owners, winemakers, assistant winemakers, and/or sales representatives. Each winery provided three or four different wines to be tasted. Participants in the three events received a 72-page ring-bound booklet that listed the wines and suggested retail price for the wines being poured, included contact information, and the Texas distributor for each winery.
I was pleased to find that in addition to the expected Pinot Noir bottlings, there were bottles of Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Müller-Thurgau, Riesling, Rosé of Pinot Noir, Melon de Bourgogne, Gamay Noir, White Pinot Noir, Grüner Veltliner, Pinot Blanc, and Brut Rosé for tasting.
Having to travel back to my home in Humble in Houston’s infamous rush-hour traffic, I was careful to use the “SSCS” process in sampling wines from the following wineries:
- Alexana Winery
- Archery Summit
- Coleman Vineyard
- Penner-Ash Wine Cellars
- ROCO Winery
- Saffron Fields Vineyard
- Shea Wine Cellars
I was pleased to also learn from a Willamette Valley Wineries Association staff member, in addition to the Texas connection that I already knew existed with Dr. Revana’s ownership of Alexana Winery, there were two other wineries at the event that had Texas owners. Saffron Fields Vineyard is owned by Sanjeev Lahoti, a chemical engineer from Houston, and ROCO Winery is owned by Rollin Soles, a Fort Worth native and Texas A&M graduate who also makes the wines for that winery. My visits with both those gentlemen were informative and their wines were quite enjoyable.
My takeaway from tasting wines not grown in Texas was that the elegance of Willamette Valley Pinot Noirs provides a great pairing with Pacific Ocean salmon, but the improving quality of Texas Tempranillo, Tannat, and Sangiovese provides great pairings with heartier Texas dishes.
I urge you to occasionally sample wines from other regions, like the Willamette Valley, and compare them with the quality of the different wines being produced by Texas grape growers and wineries. I believe you will find it to be a win-win situation!