An 18-year vertical of Abbey Ridge Pinot noir…..

From John, June 16th, 2023

We have been making Abbey Ridge Pinot noir for nearly 40 years. This 600-800 foot vineyard was planted in the Dundee Hills in 1976 by Bill and Julia Wayne, who became partners in Cameron when we established our winery in 1984.

Since the early days, a small number of Abbey Ridge bottles have been put aside and stored in our 57F underground cave with the purpose of tasting them at a later date. This January (2023), we excavated 18 magnums spanning the years 1993 to 2010 and stored them upright an additional 5 months so that sediment could settle around the punts. Magnums are of course the ultimate vessel for storing and aging Pinot noir.  On June 5th the vertical was unveiled to a small gathering of wine experts in 3 flights of 6 wines each, using big bowl burgundy glasses for the tasting.  Winemaker Tom Sivilli decanted each magnum before 1 ounce pours were distributed to the 44 people in attendance.

The first flight (1993-1998) was eye opening. Both the 1993 and 1994 were exceptional, with lively aromatics and lovely mouthfeel. Later that evening, when we revisited some of the wines, 1993 was still getting better! 1995 showed the effects of a significant botrytis infection (the result of warm rain just prior to harvest). I still remember the clouds of fungal spores wafting into the air as we carefully dumped the fruit bins for sorting, a somewhat futile task at that point. 1996 was also a rainy vintage but in this case cold rains came out of the Gulf of Alaska. The fruit was therefore sound but slightly diluted and needed a small chapitalization. The 1997 vintage was slightly earlier but very similar to 1995, with warm rain ushering in the harvest. But having learned in 1995 that transporting botrytisized fruit, even the short distance to the winery, rendered it impossible to sort, we got up early with the picking crew and sorted the fruit as it was brought in buckets out of the vineyard to the bins. Literally half the fruit was discarded in the vineyard but the difference in the two wines was astounding. The 1997, in spite of being 26 years old, was clean and lively with some years yet to go. The final wine from the first flight, 1998, was a vintage plagued by necrosis. As a result the crop was tiny (around 0.8 tons per acre, less than 10 hl per hectare). The wine was intense and brooding in its youth and largely still remained that way today.

The second flight (1999-2004) was probably the strongest. At the time, 1999 was considered one of the finest vintages ever to fall upon Oregon and while this wine was still quite good, it seemed to have reached its peak and was no better than when we tasted it 6 years ago. On the other hand 2000, 2001 and 2002 were all singing with 2001 perhaps showing the best  (though honestly no group consensus on which was the best of these three wines). All three vintages displayed balance with alcohols in all of them at 13.1-13.2%.  2003 was one of the most difficult vintages throughout the northern hemisphere in the last 30 years. It was a year characterized by intense heat starting the first of May leading to an early bloom and therefore an early warm harvest in September. But because Abbey Ridge is a relatively high elevation vineyard (the highest block there is 1000 feet), harvest is always somewhat later than at Clos Electrique. As a result, the weather had mellowed by the time we elected to pick and the resulting wine, even now 20 years later, was surprisingly good.  That left 2004, which at less than 1.5 tons/acre, was always one of my favorite vintages. It did not disappoint! Incredible flavors and aromatics still characterize this wine.

The final flight (2005-2010) was also a strong flight but with a couple of moderate disappointments. 2005 was a fairly mellow vintage without intense summer heat and with some rain around 10 days before harvest. Paradoxically rain at that point helped ease the crop into a perfect place with regard to sugar & acidity. With a small crop (1.2tons/acre) and perfect alcohol (12.5%) we always felt that 2005 had great potential. Early on the wine was characterized by plummy notes and was not terribly complex (especially following the 2004 vintage). But at this tasting the wine had come awake and was brilliantly complex, mouth filling and quite a wine.  2006 was an extremely hot vintage throughout July and August and continuing into September. Cooler weather just prior to harvest mitigated the effects somewhat but the sugars were still very and the resulting alcohol was the highest ever for Abbey Ridge Pinot coming in just under 14%. As a result the wine was a bit “hot” aromatically.  In comparison, 2007 was a late, cool vintage which generally bodes well for production of fine wines if the harvest weather is decent. Being Oregon, it was of course inconsistent with intermittent rains. Still we held high hopes for the wines which did not materialize until many years after bottling. But at this point the wine is finally breaking out with tender floral aromatics, wintergreen notes and a lovely mouth. 2008 was another vintage plagued by necrosis and therefore small crop (1.6 tons/acre). Like 1998, it was rather concentrated and intense and remains so. This is one not to rush! We think it could easily last for 40 years! And so we moved on to 2009, a vintage with intense summer heat and a fairly large crop, so not a year to garner great expectations.  And, truthfully, it has not evolved into a great wine…decent but not great.  We were very excited to try the magnum of 2010, honestly the first of these that we’ve opened. While the 750 ml rendition of this wine is presently soaring, the magnum is still waiting for its place in the sun. By the next day literally 24 hours after opening the bottle, it had turned into an outstanding wine! This is not a vintage to rush!

While magnums are considered the ultimate container for aging Pinot noir, the lessons from this vertical can still be applied to 750ml bottles, which should age slightly faster (see 2010).  It is gratifying that a 30 year-old vintage can age so gracefully. Though it should be noted that not all vintages are age-worthy (eg 1995), overall, given the strength of all of the wines from the second flight, it seems that Abbey Ridge Pinot noir can be held for 20 years or more!

Throughout the 18 years that these wines were made, have we had the pleasure of working with exceptional associates who offered their winemaking skills and ideas.  They include Jay Somers (founder of J. Christopher Wines and J.C. Somers), Duncan Forsyth (Mt. Edward, NZ), legendary brewmaster Matt Sage, Kyle Chaney (wine distribution), Tyson Crowley (Crowley Wines), Scott Frank (Bow and Arrow) and Tom Sivilli (Sivilli Wine Co).  Thank you to these individuals for helping make these wines possible!

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