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Of course when you think about the Willamette Valley in Oregon, you likely think of it as a land of Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir definitely reigns in the region and as a likely partner, Chardonnay is also planted and well-regarded in the Willamette Valley. But, the Willamette Valley is far more diverse than you might think it is and there are a number of producers who are working with other grape varieties and these grapes are well-suited to the region. I explored some of these grapes in my column in the Napa Valley Register, which you can read here.
Say ‘Napa’ and people think Cabernet Sauvignon. Say ‘Burgundy’ and people think Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Say ‘Piedmont’ and people think Nebbiolo. Say ‘Oregon’ and people think Pinot Noir.
It is easy to think of the Willamette Valley in Oregon as one large Pinot Noir-producing region. After all, of the 24,436 acres* of vineyards, 16,536 acres* are planted to Pinot Noir. At the same time Pinot Noir was planted in the 1970s, Chardonnay was also planted. The Willamette Valley shares the same latitude as Burgundy, so it makes sense that if Pinot Noir is suited for the Willamette Valley, so is Chardonnay. However, there are only 1,941 acres* planted to Chardonnay.
This story originally appeared in the Napa Valley Register. Perhaps diversity is not the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about Napa Valley. Especially for people who live outside of Napa, if asked what wine comes from Napa, they will always say “Cabernet Sauvignon.” But, no matter how good the Cabernet is, Napa offers so much more. According to the Napa Valley Vintners, there are 45,000 acres under cultivation in Napa Valley. There are more than 34 different wine grape varieties grown in Napa County, and 23 percent of the vineyards are planted to white wine grapes and 77 percento red wine grapes. Forty-seven percent of the grapes planted are Cabernet Sauvignon, with Chardonnay, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel making up another 41 percent of the total grape production. That leaves 12 percent of the grapes planted to other grapes and here are six of the grapes to look out for. Semillon - Fine Disregard 2016 Milhouse Semillon, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley ($25) In 2016, there were 724 tons of Semillon in the Napa Valley and Fine Disregard produces 218 cases of their Semillon. A personal project by winemaker Mike Schieffer, assistant winemaker at Truly, and Kate Maraden, a viticulturist and plant pathologist, the Semillon comes from a half-acre block planted on the eastern edge of Oak Knoll District in 1994. The resulting wine is clear and bright with notes of lemon curd, citrus zest, tree fruits and minerality and a lovely mouthfeel that is both round and delicate with racy acidity.
Think Napa Valley and you probably think Cabernet Sauvignon. But, this past week, I spent three days at the first annual Wine Writers Educational Tour, taking a deep dive into Napa Valley. Of course, I tasted a lot of very good Cabernet Sauvignon and learned about the more than 100 soil variations in Napa and more. But we tasting many more wines than Cabernet Sauvignon and one wine that stood out over the week was a Riesling! The Smith Madrone Riesling is the Please The Palate pick of the week. Smith Madrone Winery was started by brothers Stuart and Charles Smith in the fall of 1970. They purchased their property, an abandoned vineyard, on Spring Mountain. A densely forested property, they logged the land and with the idea to make great wine, planted Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir. The Pinot Noir was later grafted over to Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. When Stu Smith was asked why he planted Johannesburg Riesling, he explained that in 1970 and 1971, all of the grapes sold for the same amount of money. A white wine boon came in the mid-1970s but then the red wine boon followed and much of the Riesling in Napa began to be pulled out.