Finally, we are back in Oregon. We have always loved the people and the grapes of Oregon, but finding the right vineyard was impossible. Our problem was Oregon is full of small, low yielding Pinot Noir vineyards. There were a few larger vineyards, but the quality was not up to our standards. Many small growers were willing sell us grapes, but the Willamette Valley is over 800 miles, so the price of shipping is extreme. In 2018 we got a call from a highly regarded, larger vineyard in the Eola-Amity Hills, the premier spot for Pinot Noir in the Willamette Valley. We were offered a full truck load for the next few years. This is the first release in this new series of wines.
The first Oregon Pinot Noir under the Au Bon Climat label was in 1985. This legendary wine was made by the traveling fermentation technique. The grapes were picked and crushed in Oregon and ended up in small fermenters in the back of a pickup truck. Every time the truck stopped, the grapes were punched down. The trip to Santa Maria took a couple of days. The wine turned out great, but we never used this technique ever again. Montinore Vineyards had extra grapes in both 1998 and 1999. Au Bon Climat released a few hundred cases and the wine was well received. We changed, and so did the farming at the vineyard. We chose not to make wine from Montinore in the following vintages.
The 2018 harvest in Oregon was very good. The summer was warm, with a cool fall. This “cooling off” at the right time, retained more acid in the fully ripe Pinot Noir. We included some whole clusters in the fermentation. If the grapes ripen slowly, the stems are not bright green but have evolved to “browning off”. Then we include some whole clusters in the tank. These lignified stems add more complexity and substance to the wine.
Our first Oregon Pinot Noir release in 19 years had to be good. Our 2018 Oregon Pinot Noir is immensely drinkable at this stage. This young Pinot is complete, supple and delicious now, but will continue to improve for at least 10 years. It is loaded with aromas of ripe berries, both blackberries and strawberries. The underlying power and complexity are “under the surface” currently, but will be apparent soon. The 25% of stem inclusion gives the wine a nice spice note, not seen in Oregon Pinots. The spice complements the barrel component to make a seamless, rich, mouth-watering wine. A natural pairing of salmon and Oregon Pinot is easy. But, for a real treat go for duck.
Robert Parker's Wine Advocate
Score: 93 "I first made Oregon wine under the Au Bon Climat label in 1984," says Jim Clendenen. "This is from the first plantings at Larry Stone's new place with Dominique Lafon, Lingua Franca." Pale ruby-purple, the 2018 Pinot Noir Oregon offers a nose with concentrated aromas of liquid licorice, warm blackberries, star anise and exotic spices with touches of rosewater coming through—so layered! In the mouth, it's medium-bodied with slowly opening perfumed fruits in a chalky, super fresh frame, and it finishes layered and nuanced. Give it another year or two in bottle. 790 cases produced.
Antonio Galloni's Vinous
Score: 92 The 2018 Pinot Noir Oregon is a rich, heady wine. Rose petal, crushed flowers, dried herbs and anise open first. The stems (33%) are going to require a number of years to fully assimilate. That should not be an issue in time. The 2018 is a bit edgy today. The Oregon Pinot is sourced from Larry Stone's Lingua Franca vineyard, but because it is made and bottled in California, it must carry the generic 'Oregon' appellation.
Wine and Spirits Magazine
Score: 90 "After a long history in the ‘80s and ‘90s, this is Au Bon Climat’s first Oregon release since 1999. From an undisclosed vineyard in the Eola–Amity Hills, this wine is dark and spicy, clearly displaying a long elevage in its dark-plum character. Everything’s in place; it is in a reductive state at the moment but should rouse with some cellar time." —P.J.C. (790 cases)