Seventy eight lots of barrel-selected 2016 Pinot Noir and three collaborative lots of Chardonnay were auctioned by the Willamette Valley Wineries Association on Saturday, April 7 at the Allison Inn & Spa in Newberg, Oregon. The event which is now in its third year raked in a total of $800,000, an amount that bested the 2017 take by more than half and exceeded expectations for both average lot ($9,099) and bottle price ($124).
The exceptional quality and range of style of the 2016 vintage was showcased at preliminary tastings held April 6th at Domaine Drouhin Oregon and Stoller Family Estate and the auction lot wines were poured for final consideration during the few hours preceding the live auction. 2018 auction chair Laurent Montalieu, owner and winemaker for Soléna Estate and Hyland Estates, said “We expect 2016 to go down in history as a benchmark year for Oregon.”
Returning auctioneer Fritz Hatton met little resistance from an enthusiastic crowd of national and international bidders almost half of whom were first-timers at the event. Antica Terra winemaker Maggie Harrison’s five-case lot from the Antica Terra Vineyard which she explained during the tasting was “topped up with rocks” to prevent sullying the barrel took top dollar with a bid of $33,000. The wine which is well on its way to becoming a unicorn bottling will only be available to consumers through retailer Unwined located in Alexandria, Virginia.
Rounding out the top five Pinot Noir lots were the Zena Crown Vineyard “Barrel and Foot” Pinot noir: $24,000; Alexana Estate Winery “By A Landslide” Pinot noir: $20,000; Bethel Heights “Vesper Bell” Pinot noir: $19,000; and 10 cases of Hyland Estates “The Perfect Pair” Pinot noir: $20,000. A five-case lot of “Nautical Dawn,” a collaborative Chardonnay produced by Bethel Heights and Walter Scott Wines, was the top-selling white at $12,000.
The Willamette Valley is home to rare vineyards of own-rooted, older Pinot Noir vines planted to a cross section of volcanic Basalt, Jory terra rossa and loess sedimentary soils. In addition to well-known Dijon and Pommard clones, the Swiss Wadenswil clone with its amplified tannin structure plays a role in many trifecta blends.
A survey of winemakers revealed they predominately rely on traditional Burgundian techniques preferring punch downs or pigéage to pump overs and the use of varying percentages of whole clusters in the tank. The 2016 vintage showed a wide range of styles with leaner, savory Dijon-dominate wines expressing more red fruit while black-fruited, robust Pommards with vanilla, graphite and dark spice were at the other end of the spectrum.
Auction proceeds are slated to fund marketing and education initiatives for the Willamette Valley Wineries Association which represents almost 250 members from Portland to Eugene. The 2019 Willamette: The Pinot Auction will be held April 6 and is open to licensed wine sellers.