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Meeting with winemakers, I learn something new every single time. But when I sat down with Scott Flora of Native Flora in the Willamette Valley in Oregon, some of the things he spoke about seemed to contradict what I had generally heard from others or studied in books. I was fascinated by his contrarian approach. But Scott is not a contrarian just for the sake of it. Through logic and empirical research he has drawn conclusions for the practices he has chosen and the resulting wines speak for themselves. I wrote about Scott Flora's approach in the Napa Valley Register, which you can read here. Every winemaker has their own way of doing things. Most winemakers when asked where a vineyard should be planted will tell you south-facing. But not Scott Flora. Ask a winemaker if a warm-climate grape such as Malbec can be planted in a region known for Pinot Noir, and they will likely say no. But not Scott Flora. In fact, if you tell Scott Flora that it cannot be done, or should not be done, he will likely try it and prove you wrong. And despite being contrary, he seems to be doing everything right.
I have the good fortune of meeting lots of winemakers. I have met some of the icons in the industry, people who helped establish their regions and set trends. But, when I was in the Willamette Valley as part of the Wine Writers Educational Tour, we attended a seminar with the Willamette Valley wine pioneers. This was not just a discussion of the people or a tasting of their wines but they, the original wine pioneers of the Willamette Valley, were there. It was not lost on me how legendary this panel was. These are the people who built the Willamette Valley and they shared their stories which I wrote about in the Napa Valley Register and you can read here. “It takes a village to raise a child. This is my village and I am the kid,” declared Jason Lett as he welcomed a group of wine writers to the Willamette Valley in Oregon. Jason’s father, David Lett, first saw the potential of Pinot Noir in Oregon.
A Utah native, David Lett moved to San Francisco for dental school in 1963 and was introduced to Napa Valley. He decided instead to study viticulture at UC Davis and after graduating, he moved to Oregon. According to Willamette Valley Wine, Pinot Noir was the first post-Prohibition vitis vinifera variety planted in the north Willamette Valley and the reason Lett came to Oregon. After studying the geography and climate of western Oregon, he had an idea of what would do well in the cool climate. Lett planted his vines in the Dundee Hills, establishing the Eyrie Vineyard, and produced his first wine in 1970.
As Jason spoke about his father, he sat alongside Richard and Nancy Ponzi, David Adelsheim, Harry Peterson-Nedry and Susan Sokol-Blosser.