International Pinot Noir Celebration Part III 4 min read


Willamette Valley’s serenity and beauty is tough to match.

I am a California girl at heart. I fell in love with the golden state. My love is complete, exuberant, and everlasting. I never get tired of rolling into the Napa Valley by way of The Grape Crusher statue by the entrance to the Valley. I love taking in the vastness of Santa Rita Hills with its plains and limestone cliffs. I revel in the lush magical forests of West Sonoma. Feel lucky each and every time I visit a California wine region.


Having made a deliberate decision to yank myself out of my California comfort zone, last week I found myself arriving in Oregon’s Willamette Valley for the 27th annual International Pinot Noir Celebration.


Oregon’s wine country is breathtaking. The vast, pristine views are humbling and inspirational. It’s easy to see why a record number of people visited the Willamette Valley this year.


My very first stop was at St. Innocent Winery to sample their well-regarded lineup of 2010/2011 pinot noirs. Mark Vlossak, the winemaker, formerly of Panther Creek, is known for producing some of Oregon’s most consistent Pinot Noirs, sticking to low yields, physiologically ripe fruit, minimal racking and continuously delivering ageworthy and value-driven wines to the consumer.


My next stop was Cristom Vineyards to sample Steve Doerner’s famed Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays.


While earning his enology degree at UC Davis, Doerner interned at Domaine Dujac followed by a 14 year stint at Calera Wine Company. He credits Burt Williams of Williams Selyem fame as great preparation for his partnership and winemaking role at Cristom.



Steve Doerner has crafted wine at his winery for over 20 years.

Doerner has been with the winery since its first vintage, in 1992. There are few brands that can boast that sort of continuity.  This history provides intimate knowledge of the vineyards and associated viticulture. Steve pioneered a unique leaf-thinning practice in Willamette valley that has been emulated by many of Oregon’s top producing vineyards.


I came to Oregon primarily to taste Pinot Noir and Steve’s various interpretations of this grape did not disappoint. Unexpectedly, I was blown away by his 2011 Estate Viognier which stood out for its bright acidity and unique flavor profile.


Steve graciously offered me the opportunity to taste a large number of single vineyard Pinot Noirs in a variety of vintages, which were universally nuanced and balanced. His lovely Syrah showed a deft hand in cellar and profound understanding of how to draw the best from this varietal. After a unique opportunity of tasting both 2001 and 2011 Chardonnays, 2011 was proved to be my favorite white wine of the day.  Fortunately, the winery has resisted the trend in Oregon to pull out chardonnay vines and replace them with pinot gris.


I would strongly recommend you check out Cristom’s offerings at


The trek continued to Bethel Heights.   This is a wonderful winery with sweeping panoramic valley views and an enticing portfolio of whites and reds. The winery is run by four siblings and is a true family affair. Don’t miss their expertly crafted single block bottlings of Pinot Noirs.   Their highly allocated 2009 Libertine Pinot Noir is especially noteworthy.


Next up was Soléna Estate.  Interestingly, Laurent Montalieu and Danielle Andrus created this winery as a wedding gift to each other. The vineyard was named Domaine Danielle Laurent. On their wedding gift registry? Six different clones of Pinot Noir vines. While their vines reached maturity, the proprietors sourced fruit elsewhere and sold the wine under the Soléna label (named after their daughter) which features Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel and Syrah.


Laurent’s background includes stints at Chateau La Tour Blanche, Mumm-Napa Valley and Bridgeview Vineyards. He then became WillaKenzie Estate’s partner and winemaker. He left in 2003 to pursue his own brand. He is also a founding partner in Northwest Wine Co, a custom crush facility in Dundee, Oregon. There, using minimalist intervention techniques, he produces Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris from his estate vineyard.


Those who seek a Napa Valleyesque experience, should stop by Sokol Blosser’s new tasting room.  Perched atop a hill, this amphitheatre of a tasting room with its luxurious wine bar features seven Pinot Noirs, a Rose, Pinot Gris, Muller Thurgau, a Muscat and a luscious White Riesling desert wine. They can host anything from an informal picnic on their lawn to a formal tasting. If you are planning a fabulous wine  event it’s a great bet; something for everyone with stunning views. Visit them at


By contrast, Argyle was cozy and informal. Their tasting area resembles a comfortable living room. They offer great flights, including a beautiful Riesling. Their famed sparkling wines and Pinots often make their way into the White House. Their sparkling 2010 Pinot Noir called “Black Brut” was a great personal discovery.


Visit them at


And there was the elegant Evening Land.  They feature wines from Sonoma Coast, (more on their Doc’s Vineyard bottling in my West of West festival coverage next week)  Oregon, and Burgundy. They offer a very extensive portfolio of high quality, refined wines.

Ilona Thompson

Ilona Thompson is Editor-in-Chief at PalateXposure, a destination site for oenophiles, gourmands and luxury travelers. She also recently launched #Wine, a site dedicated to wines and spirits reviews, and #Photography, a site devoted to high-quality wine, food, and travel related photography.

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