July 14, 2020

Eola-Amity Hills continues its rise with Pinot Noir

Great Northwest Wine Logoby Eric Degerman

A recent tasting of pinot noir we conducted for Wine Press Northwest magazine once again showcased the brilliance found in Oregon’s Eola-Amity Hills.

“Visitors from Portland do not often make it to the southern end of the north Willamette Valley.Those whose touring takes them a few minutes northwest of Salem will be rewarded as a growing number of elite producers elsewhere in the Willamette Valley are investing in vineyards, buying grapes and producing stellar wines from Eola-Amity Hills.

The federal government established the Eola-Amity Hills American Viticultural Area in 2006, which was part of an effort by some of Oregon’s most famous producers to help further define the growing regions of the north Willamette Valley. It was a five-year process that resulted in six new AVAs.

In a display of unity, all six petitions were sent to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau together. Russell Raney of Evesham Wood Vineyard and Ted Casteel of Bethel Heights Vineyard teamed up to lead the Eola-Amity Hills petition.

At the time, there were 12 wineries within the boundaries. There now are 25 on the Eola-Amity Hills Winegrowers website, a list that also includes buzz-worthy producers such as Björnson, Brooks, Lingua Franca and Walter Scott. Chemeketa Cellars, the winemaking program at Chemeketa Community College, also has an 8-acre vineyard in the AVA.

In some ways, the consistent elegance of wines from Eola-Amity Hills is reminiscent of Washington’s Horse Heaven Hills, another region that can get overlooked by critics beyond the Pacific Northwest. In both areas, land is not quite as expensive as in more famous grape-growing areas.

Perhaps the key feature to Eola-Amity Hills are the cool winds that come through the Van Duzer Corridor, a gap in the Coast Range that provides a direct shot to the Pacific Ocean about 30 miles to the west.

Soil types help define the AVAs of the north Willamette Valley, and Eola-Amity Hills features volcanic soil known as Nekia, which is shallower than the red Jory soils of Dundee Hills. Nekia typically produces grapes with darker fruit flavors.

Below are a few of the top examples that received a rating of ‘Outstanding!’ – the equivalent to a gold medal – from the Wine Press Northwest panel. Each were produced using grapes from Eola-Amity Hills.

For the complete list of winners, visit winepressnw.com, or pick up a copy of the Summer 2020 issue. Look for these bottles at your favorite wine merchant, or contact the winery directly. For more information on this region, visit the alliance’s website at eolaamityhills.com.

2017 Argyle Reserve Pinot Noir
Minnesota product Nate Klostermann focuses on Lone Star Vineyard, a tip of the hat to founding winemaker and Texas native Rollin Soles, for this pinot noir project that’s named for the winery’s previous life as a hazelnut warehouse.

Baking spice is viewed as a hallmark of Eola-Amity Hills by Argyle, and allspice and clove lead the discussion of this wine that brings a red juicy nose. Ripe flavors of Marionberry and Bing cherry make for a pleasant drink that is framed in the finish by juicy flavors of Craisin and cherry pie.