An innocent life
Part 10 of a 2006 Oregon travelogue
by Thor Iverson
St. Innocent – It’s a little surprising that one of Oregon’s most acclaimed wineries is hidden in a bleak commercial backlot of Salem, surrounded by chains and warehouses. If you go, bring good directions…and a better map.
The quality and ageability of St. Innocent’s pinots has been an open secret for some time now, but recent critical acclaim has left the winery’s tasting room a little underwined. Well, I’m happy for them, though it makes our visit a short one. Almost everything is vineyard-designated (the sole exception being an unremarkable sparkling wine), which makes any comprehensive tasting an exercise in terroir identification. Other winemakers may have their doubts about the individuality (or, perhaps more accurately, maturity) of the Willamette Valley’s vineyard sites, but there seems to be nothing but enthusiasm for the concept here.
St. Innocent 2004 Chardonnay Freedom Hill (Willamette Valley) – Green apple and celery; crisp and intense, with balanced acidity but a dominant simplicity.
St. Innocent 2004 Chardonnay Anden (Willamette Valley) – Grapefruit and limestone with a drying, structured finish. Very long. This shows more complexity and character than the Freedom Hill, though it’s less pleasurable to drink in its callow youth.
St. Innocent 2004 Pinot Noir Temperance Hill (Willamette Valley) – Dusty strawberry is the only element of interest in an otherwise odd, off-putting nose. The palate shows growth, with dried seeds and leaves both green and dry. Not particularly enticing, and showing rather striking desiccation.
St. Innocent 2004 Pinot Noir White Rose (Willamette Valley) – Red fruit and white flowers on a gravel bed, turning soft on the palate but then finishing crisp and spicy, with lovely balance. It neither strives for nor reaches the summit, but it’s a very good pinot nonetheless.
Bella Vida 2002 Pinot Noir “Ryan Harms” (Dundee Hills) – Shy on the nose, though the palate is redolent of dark chocolate and black cassis liqueur. It’s heavy and strong, perhaps even a bit hot, though a bit of age might resolve things. Harms is the Rex Hill winemaker.
Bella Vida 2004 Pinot Noir “Jacques Tardy” (Dundee Hills) – Much lighter in color than the Harms bottling, with dust on the nose and a red cherry/licorice palate. As with the previous bottling, there’s noticeable heat on the finish, turning the cherries to kirsch. Tardy is the Torii Mor winemaker.
Bella Vida 2004 Pinot Noir “Brian O’Donnell” (Dundee Hills) – Aromatic, showing strawberry and raspberry plus gentle earth. More agile than either of the two previous bottlings, with the nicest, prettiest fruit and by far the best balance. Brian O’Donnell is the Belle Pente winemaker.
Bella Vida 2004 Pinot Noir “J. Christopher” (Dundee Hills) – Mixed cherries and mint with rosemary. A bit spirituous, with a long, hot finish. The second best of the cuvées. Jay Christopher Somers is the J. Christopher winemaker.
Other than a tendency towards heat, it’s not easy to see a terroir signature in these wines. However, the winemaking style is immediately obvious, and it’s interesting to see how different winemakers treat this fruit. If this experiment is still ongoing when the vines (and the winemakers) are more mature, the results could be exciting. But it must be said that, from a qualitative standpoint, this collection of wines does not make a compelling case for the excellence of the site.
Copyright ©2006 Thor Iverson.