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 five 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.
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 technically 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.
The estate just had a change in winemakers, and this release is the last made by outgoing winemaker Jerry Murray. Incoming winemaker Derek Einberger will be responsible for the 2010 vintage and onwards.
This particular wine is made in very small quantities and doesn’t get far before folks snap it up, and for good reason. Made from some of the estate’s younger Pinot Noir vines, it is one of the best rosé wines made in America, and I don’t offer such praise lightly.
Full disclosure: I received this wine as a press sample.
Palest pink in color, this wine smells of watermelon and strawberries and wet rocks. In the mouth it has the tiniest bit of electric effervescence on the tongue, and tart flavors of rosehip, strawberry, and raspberry. Wonderfully composed and balanced, this wine is delicate and drinkable. Perfectly dry, juicy as hell, and incredibly tasty. Slurp! 12.5% alcohol.
This wine will match almost anything. Salads, veggies, fish, you name it. I’d love to drink it with some fresh grilled fish with lemon.
Overall Score: between 9 and 9.5
How Much?: $16
This wine is available for purchase on the Internet.