Soter Vineyards

Terry Soter built a deservedly fine reputation as a winemaker in California's Napa Valley over three decades or so, working as a consultant winemaker at such luminary properties as Araujo, Niebaum-Coppola, Dalla Valle, Moraga, Spottswoode, and Viader and establishing his own successful pinot noir label, Études, which he has since sold to Beringer Blass. But there came a time when this winemaker, steeped in the heritage of Napa Valley, wanted to set himself a new challenge and in 1997 he and his wife Michelle decamped to Oregon to fulfil Terry's long-held dream of owning his own vineyard and becoming something akin to a Burgundian vigneron, making wine from his own grapes on his own land.

He chose the Mineral Springs vineyard near Carlton in the Willamette Valley for its soils, aspects and low elevation (for more certain ripening in the cooler Oregon climate) and there he and Michelle have been able to put into practice their cherished beliefs about sustainability – doing away with herbicides and pesticides and being as environmentally friendly as possible. As far as the Soters are concerned, such care is absolutely vital.

His vineyards consist of carefully chosen clones planted to a high density, on low-vigour rootstocks, pruned rigorously. Yields are kept very low. His fascination with Oregon and its potential for producing excellent pinot noir led him here because he is certain that it offers him the chance to make a very different style from the California pinots he and others have made, and he feels that he has the tools to produce wines of greater balance, more structured and ageworthy and closer to a Burgundian benchmark.

This is in part thanks to the climate and the longer season during which the grapes can achieve a greater degree of physiological maturity alongside the normal marker of ripenes in the form of sugar levels. These factors, he believes, offer more complex flavours, colour and tannic structure in the wine without achieving high alcohol levels. For him this allows him to make more 'muscular' pinots, less plush but more intriguing than their California counterparts.

He doesn't believe in 'low-intervention' winemaking but feels that winemakers should allow the terroir and vintage conditions to tell them what to and then do it, but that the hand of the winemaker should never lay a shadow over those primal elements. This highly experienced and committed winemaker now makes a range of fine pinot noirs, sparkling wine and cabernet franc from his own property and from bought in fruit from trusted sites. They are wines to watch.