Oregon Pinot Noir Update

My notes below focus on the '95 and '96 vintages-a weak year and an average year for Pinot Noir in Oregon. In 1995 the rains came early, forcing many growers to harvest before their fruit was completely ripe in order to avoid rot. Even those who were able to let their fruit hang on the vines were for the most part foiled by periodic rain and cool temperatures. The '95s are generally rather slight wines, with undefined structures, fairly light tannins and abbreviated finishes. Even so, several producers managed to make thoroughly drinkable and in some cases very good wines. Last year I singled out such sources as Archery Summit, Beaux-Freres and Domain Drouhin for their strong performance in this weak year. In recent weeks, I have also tasted highly successful '95s from the likes of Broadley Vineyards, Chehalem, Cristom Vineyards and Evesham Wood Winery, to name just a few exemplary producers.

Nineteen ninety-six was also marred by rain, but there was less of it than the previous year. And, learning from their experiences in '95, more growers took the precaution of spraying their Pinots against rot. Some growers were frightened by ominous weather forecasts into picking earlier than they would have liked, but many brought in ripe fruit with healthy sugars, average acidity levels and considerable tannins. These wines are generally much more substantial than the '95s, and I anticipate even better things to come as more of the serious '96 bottlings are released in the coming months.

Due to space constraints, I have included detailed notes only on wines that rated scores of 85 or higher. All other wines tasted are listed without comment; those that scored 83 or 84 are followed by asterisks.