Monday, March 10, 2014

Wine Country: Oregon - Elizabeth Chambers Cellar

Winemaking has been going on in Oregon since the mid-1800s.  The first winery popped up in 1847 and an Oregon wine won the blue ribbon at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904.  Prohibition killed winemaking in the Beaver State and didn't resume until thirty years after the ban was repealed.  California winemakers ventured into the state during the 1960s to take advantage of the cool-climate Willamette Valley for growing Pinot Noir grapes, and the rest is history.  Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris have come to represent Oregon wine.

Elizabeth Chambers - call her "Liz" - says, "It may be because I am a woman, but I am not interested in seeing who can make the wine with the biggest muscles.  I want to drink wines that have table manners, wines that can dance.  I want elegance and style in my wines."

Elizabeth Chambers Cellar is in McMinnville, Oregon, in the northern part of the Willamette Valley.  The boutique winery was founded only last year, and Chambers has just released her initial wines.  The winery and tasting room are located in the town's historic power plant, an electrifying locale to say the least.  Chambers is a third generation Oregonian whose family helped pioneer winemaking in the Willamette Valley.  Her mother loved butterflies, and that's why that blue one floats across the label of her Pinot Noir.

Also on the label, Chambers says, "We partner with local growers who use environmentally friendly farming techniques to grow grapes that reflect each site's distinctive terroir."  The Willamette Valley was Snooth's Region of the Year in 2013, so she seems to be in the right place at the right time for terroir.

The Elizabeth Chambers 2011 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Winemaker's Cuvée is a limited production blend, 100% Pinot Noir, utilizing grapes grown primarily in Freedom Hill Vineyard and selected blocks from the Lazy River Vineyard.  The wine has alcohol at 13.3% abv and sells for $32.

Winemaker Michael Stevenson does not believe in excessive manipulation, saying, "Ninety percent of what is in the bottle is determined by what we pick in the vineyard."  The wine is aged for ten months in predominantly used oak, in keeping with his minimal intervention program.

This Pinot Noir is rather lightly tinted and smells of raspberry, but the fruity aroma really has to elbow its way through a savory crowd of leather and mushrooms.  It conjures up a masculine image of tromping across a forest floor with a weathered leather vest, but on the palate a more feminine presence takes over.  It's an elegant sip, with restrained tannins, bright acidity and flavors of cola and tea.  Strawberry on the finish lingers like a soft kiss.

The wine is quite impressive and very distinctive.  Chambers and Stevenson can be proud of their first vintage.


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