When 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.
I had the pleasure of winding my way down just such a road on a rainy Autumn day three years ago to arrive at the little operation that is Patton Valley Vineyard. I spent a thoroughly delightful hour with owner Monte Pitt and his wines, which I have followed carefully since, along with the thoughtful sporadic musings of his winemaker Jerry Murray. Jerry comes to Patton Valley via winemaking gigs at Erath, Panther Creek and J.K. Carrierre in Oregon, as well as some time spent at New Zealand’s Highfield Estates, and Germany’s Selbach-Oster.
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.
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.
Yields are kept extremely low (1.75 tons per acre), and 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 native yeasts only, before being pressed into barrels. Winemaker Murray uses a combination of new and old French oak barrels that are rotated over several years before being discarded. The single vineyard wines and top cuvees receive a higher percentage of new oak. All the wines are bottled without fining or filtration of any kind.
Quite interestingly, over the past few years the winery has been moving to screwcap closures on all of its wines, and as of the 2007 vintage it has phased out cork entirely, even on its most expensive, ageworthy Pinot Noirs.
Patton Valley doesn’t quite qualify for garagiste status, since they’ve moved out of the garage into their little sheet metal outbuilding, 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. And the wines of Patton Valley Vineyard are good — excellent, in fact. They are one of my benchmarks for Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, and are definitely worth seeking out.
Full disclosure: I received these wines as press samples.
2007 Patton Valley Vineyards Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon
A gorgeous light garnet in color, this wine has a nose of wet green wood, forest floor, and plummy fruit aromas. In the mouth it is lean and bright and stony in flavor, with plum and dark cranberry fruit that have a cool crystalline quality to them. Perfectly balanced with great acidity, these flavors linger in a very nice finish. Score: around 9. Cost: $35. Where to buy?
2007 Patton Valley Vineyards “West Block” Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of wet dirt, pomegranate, and cranberry aromas. In the mouth it is silky and darkly juicy, with light sandpapery tannins that wrap around flavors of cherry, cranberry, and wet earth that linger into a nice finish that has a hint of rosehip tang to it. Score: around 9. Cost: $60
2007 Patton Valley Vineyards “10 Acre” Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Light garnet in color, this wine smells of floral, plum, and cherry aromas tinged with a darker earthier quality that is quite compelling. In the mouth the wine is incredibly juicy, with a bright cherry, raspberry fruit core that is surrounded by wet redwood bark and forest floor notes. The finish is airy and sustained, hovering like a perfume cloud in the back of the throat. Lovely. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $60
2007 Patton Valley Vineyards “Cuvee Lorna Marie” Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Light garnet in color, this wine has a perfumed nose that smells of rich forest floor, exotic spices, raspberries and plum aromas. In the mouth it is somewhat ethereal in quality, with a gorgeous texture and a weightlessness as it moves across the palate that is wonderful. Perfectly balanced with great acidity, the wine’s primary flavors are of mulberry and raspberry, with aromatic secondary flavors of cedar, forest duff, and finally a darker earthier note that underlies everything and holds through the finish. Excellent. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $75.
Patton valley also makes a stellar rosé which is worth trying.