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Patton Valley Vineyard, Willamette Valley: Current Releases

patton_valley.jpgWhen it comes to wineries I generally know I'm in for something good when I drive down a long dirt road (unsure if I'm headed in the right direction) and finally come upon some vineyards and a couple of small aluminum barns with harvest bins stacked outside. For many small winery operations, the barrel storage, the lab, the office, and the tasting room are all under one corrugated roof.

It was raining lightly when we pulled up our rental car at the end of the lane on the broad shoulder of a hill that holds the tiny Patton Valley Vineyard facility. We were met by an elated Monte Pitt, who had gotten his fruit in over the previous several days, and who was urging the sky to let loose a little more now that he had nothing to worry about except the nourishment of his vines. We spent the next hour with Monte, briefly peeking into the bubbling fermentation tanks and taking the 20 second tour around the small patch of concrete that made for his crushpad, before tasting through his wines.

Patton Valley Vineyard is the love child, if you'll forgive the term, of Pitts and Dave Chen. While in business school together in Chicago, the two became friends and bonded over their love for Pinot Noir. While most of what you learn in Business School proves that it's generally not a lucrative move to start a winery when you graduate, that didn't deter these two, who were determined to take their passion for wine and put it to work in a very real way.

After searching through California and the Northwest throughout , the two settled on Oregon's Willamette Valley as the site for their foray into the world of winegrowing and winemaking in 1994. After a year of looking around for vineyard sites, eventually the two found a 72 acre patch of orchard land on a round hunchback of a hill above the town of Gaston.

With the help of vineyard consultants, they ripped out the remaining old prune and cherry trees out of 40 acres and planted rye grass to revitalize the soil for a couple of years. Then they planted a variety of Pinot Noir clones at high density on the southeast exposure and got ready to make wine when the vines were ready. Yields are kept extremely low (1.75 tons per acre).

Like a lot of small producers with land, Patton Valley sells some of its fruit to other wineries to help with cash flow, and produces a small amount of wine under their own label. In the case of Patton Valley, this ends up being only about 2500 cases per year. All their fruit is hand harvested, double sorted, and scrutinized carefully before it ends up in the fermentation tank. The wine ferments in small lots with "wild" yeasts only before being pressed into barrels. A combination of new and old French oak barrels are used and rotated over several years before being discarded, with the smaller quantity wines receiving a higher percentage of new oak. All the wines are bottled without fining or filtration of any kind.

I'm enthused to note that the winery is gradually moving to screwcap closures on all of its wines, increasing the percentage each year until cork is totally phased out.

Patton Valley doesn't quite qualify for garagiste status, since they've moved out of the garage, but for all intents and purposes, this is that sort of operation, and wonderful to behold. Wines such as theirs are a pleasure to drink as much for the knowledge that they are the creations of just a few dedicated folks as much as for their flavors, when they are good.


2004 Patton Valley Vineyard "Durant Vineyard" Chardonnay
Nearly colorless in the glass, with just the hint of a gold shine, this wine has a gorgeously floral nose of acacia blossom and cream. In the mouth it is lively, with decent acidity, a smooth texture and pleasant flavors of buttercream and honey, with hints of citrus and an underlying minerality on the finish. Not horribly complex, but a pleasure to drink, nonetheless, and with distinct personality. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $18.

2004 Patton Valley Vineyard Pinot Noir
Light garnet in the glass, this wine has an ethereal nose of pomegranate and mixed herbs. In the mouth it has lovely balance with great acidity that lifts flavors of cranberry, spices, and mixed herbs up over the palate to go singing down the back of the throat in silky slithers. The wine possesses lovely texture and weight in the mouth and hangs on for a nice finish. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $30. Where to Buy?

2002 Patton Valley Vineyard "Lorna Marie" Pinot Noir
Medium garnet in color, this wine has an explosively floral nose of shifting perfumes mixed with cranberry and rhubarb aromas. In the mouth it is sexy and satiny with flavors of raspberry, juicy plum, and pomegranate. Fantastic acidity and smooth tannins give the wine structure and lift, and the fantastic finish seals the deal. A stunning wine. Score: 9.5. Cost: $60. Where to buy?

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Required Reading for Wine Lovers

The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson Wine Grapes The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson to cork or not to cork by George Taber reading between the vines by Terry Theise adventures on the wine route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud