Oregon: The Burgundy Connection
by William Kelley
With its Pinot Noir vines and marginal climate, Oregon has much in common with Burgundy. William Kelley explores the links between the two regions -and the common search for a sense of place.
Increasingly, however, these broad brush strokes are ceding ground to a minute geological pointillism. In some cases, intensive study and investment is doing the work of centuries of patient observation. That’s the case at Chapter 24, where jet-setting terroir consultant Pedro Parra is collaborating with Burgundian Liger-Belair to explore the soils of recently purchased Witness Tree Vineyard in the Eola-Amity Hills.
Thanks to 87 exploratory trenches and extensive geophysical surveys, the team now has a detailed understanding of the geology of the estate’s vineyards. Certainly, Chapter 24’s 2016 vintage, the first harvested in blocks defined by soil type and strikingly differentiated in the glass, suggests all that work may not be in vain.
Producers who have been in the Oregon region longer have been able to accumulate knowledge the old-fashioned way, by simply spending long days working in the vineyards; year in, year out.’! suppose if our wines can be called “Burgundian”,’ reflects Jason Lett, ‘it would be in the sense that we have adopted the work ethic of the Burgundians – which, even at the most famous domaines, is still a peasant philosophy.’
Oregon is still a young region. Willamette Valley’s very first Pinot Noir vines are still thriving in Lett’s South Block vineyard – despite the depredations of phylloxera -and the exploration of the region’s terroirs is really just beginning. But the last five decades are also testament to just how much has already been accomplished by muddy boots and hard work. Oregon is finding its sense of place.