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Oregon’s pinot gris has been making quite a name for itself and Elk Cove have some great vineyards in the Willamette Valley. Their softly fruity 2017 offers an intense spiced-pear and peach perfume before a crisp, fresh and long-flavoured palate of considerable class.
Product Code: US8201
While California produces some 90% of the wine made in North America, Oregon deserves a mention. Oregon wines are still rare in the UK, but their reputation - for pinot noir, especially - is excellent. Cooler than California, Oregon pinots are more Burgundian than new world in style and the state has attracted a fair amount of foreign investment, not least from some Burgundy producers.The climate in Oregon is generally damper and more humid than California to the south. The Pacific is once again key, but in this case the offshore currents are warm and as the clouds generated on the coast stream through valleys in the Central Range it results in rain, rather than the soothing fogs of California. The main wine-producing area of Oregon is the 150-mile-long Willamette Valley south of the state capital, Portland. First commercially planted in the early 1960s Oregon got off to a later start than its southern neighbour but is now most definitely in full swing as a producer of high-quality wines. Willamette pinot noir, particularly in the north of the valley, has shown itself to be the king where the climate would not suit later ripening varieties such as cabernet sauvignon, and aromatic white varieties such as pinot gris are making a name for themselves . After a somewhat disappointing start in Oregon, top class vibrant chardonnay is now being made as rootstocks are more carefully chosen and awareness of the importance of clonal selection increases. Also, despite the variable climate many Oregon producers have embraced sustainable, organic and even biodynamic principles.Getting the grapes to ripen fully and choosing the right moment to pick before the predictable autumn rains take hold are important factors for all growers. The further south you go in the Willamette Valley the warmer things get and grape varieties like cabernet sauvignon, merlot and even syrah are then able to ripen. While rain can be relied upon to turn up on cue in the autumn, drought can actually be a problem in the summer months, and as a result more recent plantings have been established with a means of irrigating the vines. This can come as a bit of a surprise to those who have experienced the unpredictable weather in the state.Washington State is the USA’s second-most important wine region after California in terms of volume. Its focus is firmly on premium wines, produced in a near-viticultural paradise for noble varieties. Cabernet, merlot and syrah predominate, and the best of these have excellent ageing potential, developing full, ripe flavour profiles over the long summers but retaining a seam of freshness reflective of the cooler nights, more northerly latitude and volcanic soils. Riesling, syrah, pinot gris and chardonnay are also all grown with great success. The complex nature of the terroirs and microclimates here have produced 13 recognised American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), which are becoming more specialised as the region matures.To reach the best vineyards from the moist climate of coastal Seattle and the Puget Sound requires a journey over the beautiful Cascade Mountains to reach the semi-desert agricultural areas around Yakima and the Columbia Valley. The vast majority of the vineyards are here, on latitudes somewhere between those of Burgundy and Bordeaux. Many other varieties have been planted, from mourvédre to tempranillo, and are producing small quantities of promising wine.In most of Washington east of the Cascades summers are long, warm and dry while winters are extremely cold. Irrigation during the summer is what makes this a viable wine growing region, and the cool desert nights make for vividly flavourful wines with freshness, balance and fragrance. The sandy, free draining volcanic soils and bitterly cold winters have also played a major role in keeping the dangerous phylloxera louse at bay and many vines are planted on their own rootstocks.Some vineyards are planted on high slopes, particularly further east around Walla Walla, which straddles the border with Oregon, and here daytime temperature, even in summer, can drop surprisingly low allowing growers to avoid the irrigation so necessary elsewhere.The majority of wine-producing areas are now regulated by a local appellation system called AVAs or American Viticultural Areas. These AVAs are not as stringent in their controls on vine growing and wine production as those of the European Union, specifying only the geographical location of the area in question and requiring that any wines labelled as AVA must be made using 85% of grapes from that area. No limitations are imposed on the grape varieties grown, the yields produced, or how they are made into wine. To qualify for AVA status petitioners must show that the area under consideration is well known, that there are distinct climatic and geographical features that set it apart and that the boundaries have a historical basis. This is clearly no appellation controlée system as they have in France but it is a beginning.
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