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-6-Yoshiji SatoYoshiji became a freelance wine writer in December 2018, after working as the editor of the wine section in the alcohol industry publication Shuhan News for over 20 years. He also oversaw the Australia and New Zealand section of the Japanese Sommelier Association textbook, and was a member of the steering committee for the Pinot Noir Celebration Japan. The 2015 event included a seminar with Jason Lett, and he formed a close relationship with The Eyrie vineyards. During his stay at Eyrie, he made 2 barrels of Pinot Noir under Jason’s supervision.◆ Rare to maintain the same style over two generationsI first visited Willamette Valley in Oregon in 1999, to cover the IPNC (International Pinot Noir Celebration) which is held there every summer. David Lett, the owner and winemaker at The Eyrie Vineyards who is known as “Papa Pinot” for planting the first Pinot Noir in Willamette Valley, was still alive at the time. His Pinot Noir was very elegant and impressed on me that it was possible to make a wonderfully expressive ‘Burgundian’ Pinot Noir in Oregon. I was surprised again when his son Jason Lett took over starting with the 2005 vintage, which was made in exactly the same style but with even more precise expression in the wines than those made by David. Generation change in U.S. wineries is very difficult, and examples of excellent wines made in the same style by the second generation of a family are rare. If a winery becomes famous it is usually bought by a large wine company, and is finished in one generation. How is it possible to keep creating such delicate and elegant wines in Oregon over two generations? My stay in Eyrie was a wonderful opportunity to see Eyrie’s winemaking for myself. But before diving into my harvest experience, let me explain a little about The Eyrie Vineyards’ back story.◆ The origins of Oregon wineAs a young man David Lett came to California from Utah to study dentistry. One day, he visited a small winery where they were cleaning barrels, and seeing his interest they invited him in for a tasting. He later said, “It was the first time in my life I tasted ‘delicious.’” Inspired, he won over his parents’ disapproval to enrol in the University of California Davis Viticulture and Enology course. While at Davis, he became fascinated by the wines of Burgundy and decided he would make Pinot Noir if he could. His professor said it wasn’t possible to make a good Pinot Noir in California, but eight months spent in European wine regions after he graduated, including time in Burgundy, convinced him Pinot Noir needs a cool climate.After researching in Europe and the United States, in 1965 he thought the climate in Oregon was perfect for Bourgogne grape varieties and rented a temporary nursery plot in Southern Willamette Valley where he prepared 3000 vinifera cuttings including Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris. However, he was still looking for a location with the right soil type to plant them. He was 25 years old.◇When David started exploring the Dundee Hills area he was living in a tent and looking for suitable land, before settling on a plot where he established ‘The Eyrie Vineyards’ in 1966. The vineyards were named for a hawk’s nest in a pine tree in the highest fields (Eyrie = high nest), and the pine and the hawk became the symbol of Eyrie, and are found on their wine labels. Coincidentally in 1966, Robert Mondavi established his Napa Valley winery, and the beginning of Napa’s rise to prominence that led to the ‘Paris Wine Tasting of 1976’ which triggered the rise to fame of Napa Cabernet.In the same way, in 1979 the Eyrie South Block Reserve Pinot Noir 1975 won a top prize at the Wine Olympiad hosted by the French food-and wine magazine Gault-Millau, where the judges included Professor Libero-Gaillon of the University of Bordeaux and Georges Duboeuf. However, the Burgundy wines in the tasting weren’t all top flight. Fascinated by the results, the leading Burgundy negociant Robert Drouhin of Maison Joseph Drouhin, proposed a rematch including some of his own wines. Held in Beaune in 1980, Drouhin’s Chambolle-Musigny 1959 was ranked first, with The Eyrie Vineyards South Block Reserve a close second, a wine David Lett had been making from young vines. Surprised by the high quality, Robert Drouhin invited David Lett to visit Beaune in 1981. This established Eyrie’s and Oregon’s reputation, and it wasn’t too long before Drouhin invested in Oregon, further accelerating the development of the Oregon wine industry.◆ Grapes from five different vineyardsCurrently Eyrie has five different vineyards of varying altitude and soil types in the Dundee Hills AVA ‒ going from low altitude to high they are Sisters, Outcrop, Eyrie, Roland Green and Daphne. I could clearly see the difference when walking the vineyards, and taste the difference in each vineyard in the Pinot Noir ‘Single Vineyard’ range.To me, Eyrie and Daphne are, so to speak, ‘Grand Cru’ quality. I feel the wine’s overwhelming power, elegance and complexity. For me Eyrie vineyard is the king with dignity, Daphne is the princess with finesse and grace. Eyrie is the first vineyard that David Lett planted. The other three vineyards are ‘Premier Cru’ quality. Outcrop stands out for its dark fruit and spice. Roland Green is masculine, muscular and precise. Sisters is redolent of fragrant red fruit, charming and soft. Though the five vineyards have similar red volcanic soils derived from weathered basalt, I was surprised by the vivid differences in flavour and character.Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris are planted in all five vineyards, with Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Blanc, Chasselas and Trousseau planted in some. Currently Eyrie is a Domaine-style winery that does not buy grapes from other growers. The viticulture is all organic, and the majority of the vines are on their own roots. Even the largest cuvee by volume, the Estate Pinot Noir, is a blend of wines from all the different vineyards. This is the reason it sits in the price range it does, as it is made from grapes of the same quality grown with the same care, and vinified in the same small containers as the top single vineyard wines.◆ Jason leads a family of Mexican wine workersIn winemaking, what sets Eyrie apart for me is the vineyard and winemaking staff. They are all Mexican and from one extended family and their relatives, with many of them having worked at Eyrie since David’s time, including some who are second generation. At harvest time their wives and children all work together, and I joined them in the vineyard and the winery. The common language is Spanish.The harvest starts at 6:30 in the morning and winery operation from 8:30. Through interviews and events over several years I formed a special friendship with The Eyrie Vineyards’ owner/winemaker Jason Lett, which led to an invitation to join the harvest and winemaking at Eyrie in late September through to late October last year. Through being on-site and joining in the work, I came to better understand how special Eyrie’s wine is. Working the vintage was a very personal experience I would like to share with you. (Wine writer, Yoshiji Sato)“My winemaking stagiaire experience at The Eyrie Vineyards helped me understand the three essential elements of its ‘life force.’”The Eyrie Vineyards (Willamette Valley, Oregon)Local Report

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