A few of our favorite Oregon winemakers and their fabulous Oregon wines
May ushers in warmer days, beautiful foliage, the beginning of summer, and most importantly, Oregon Wine Month! While Oregon wines are certainly enjoyed and appreciated all year long, the month of May is the perfect time to get to know and understand what makes Oregon wines some of the best in the world. Known in large part for incredibly complex, silky-textured, medium-bodied Pinot Noir, Oregon winemakers also produce some of the most incredible white wines, rosé, and sparkling wines available today. So, in celebration of Oregon Wine Month, let’s get to know some Oregon winemakers and AVAs where Oregon wine is produced, along with the techniques used in creating these delightful wines from the Pacific Northwest!
Oregon, and more specifically the Willamette Valley AVA, often draws comparisons to that of the famous French wine region of Burgundy due to their similar climates, topography, geology, and soil types. For the sparkling Oregon winemakers at Lytle-Barnett, that is not where the similarities with French wine-making end. After convincing renowned sparkling winemaker, Andrew Davis to join the team, Lytle-Barnett also brought on one of South Africa’s leading experts in sparkling wine, Pieter Ferriera to also come on board. Together this duo produces exquisite sparkling wines including Blanc de Blanc, Blanc de Noir, and Brut Rosé utilizing the méthode champenoise, or the exact specifications used to produce vintage Champagne. Davis, being the leading expert in sparkling wine in the Willamette Valley, not only believes in the production practices necessary to be considered Champagne, but also believes that the Willamette Valley of Oregon has the necessary terroir, and potential to be considered the New World version of the famed region in France.
Isabella Meunier is a native of Quebec, Canada, and studied winemaking and viticulture at the University of Dijon in Burgundy, France as well as Lincoln University in New Zealand. After years of esteemed tutelage in Burgundy, New Zealand, and Domaine des Comtes Lafon, Meunier moved to the Willamette Valley to begin her journey as an Oregon winemaker and became involved in several wine projects. One of those projects has led her to become head winemaker at Aubaine, a high-end boutique wine project with single vineyard and estate productions of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. This project allows Isabella to utilize her years spent in France working with these iconic grape varietals and embodies all that is great about Oregon wine production in utilizing what the terroir of the Willamette Valley and surrounding areas have to offer. The Willamette Valley has many similar distinctions as Burgundy, which is why Aubaine produces some of the most incredible Burgundian wines in the world, and yes, that includes Burgundy itself.
Project M is owned and operated by Jerry Murray and his wife Meg. Jerry grew up in an agricultural community in Ohio, and after graduating from Ohio University, he began his professional career as an academic instructor at his alma mater. Before long, Murray realized that academia was not his path. Fe moved to New Orleans where he quickly realized that his passion lay in the kitchen and began working as a cook. After bouncing around, as most chefs tend to do, Jerry began developing an interest that turned into obsession while working in a kitchen in Tucson, AZ. Eventually, when Murray found himself in Portland, OR walking in vineyards and meeting winemakers, he realized that he had found his calling. Now, Jerry produces a variety of wines from Riesling to rosé, but it is Pinot Noir that tells the story of this winemaking project. Project M specializes in single-vineyard Pinot Noirs, and sources only the finest grapes from trusted farmers all over the Willamette Valley. This process results in exciting wines that, while produced from the same type of grape, could not be more different. The Pinot Noirs created at Project M tell a story about the incredible diversity of the AVAs found in the Willamette Valley, and how the differences in terroir from each can have an incredible impact on the wines.
After working in wine production in Virginia, and nearly a decade of winemaking in the Willamette Valley, Nate Wall became the head winemaker at Troon Vineyard. Wall has an educational background that consists of a Bachelor’s degree in molecular microbiology, followed by a Master’s in environmental engineering, which makes a lot of sense since he became a winemaker creating wines that are certified organic and biodynamic. Nestled high in the Siskiyou Mountains in the Applegate Valley, Nate takes a minimalist approach to winemaking at Troon Vineyard. This helps place the emphasis back on the terroir and farmers that produced their grapes. Once in the production process, winemakers use only native yeast with no other additives during fermentation, and the wines are then aged in new oak barrels. This hands-off approach allows the grapes, and the methods in which they were grown and cared for to speak for themselves.
Great wine comes from struggle and hardship, which is why winemakers often say that wine production is a labor of love. However, that labor is not only done by the farmers, growers, pickers, and winemakers themselves. In fact, most of the struggle is done by the vines. Andrew Brown is the head winemaker at Watermill Winery in the Rocks District Milton-Freewater AVA of the Walla Walla Valley, and Brown understands and appreciates the fact that the roots of the vines must struggle to wind their way past the basalt cobblestone left by the Walla Walla River in search of water and the fruit on those vines must retain heat to labor through cold frosts. The Brown family has been farming the Walla Walla Valley for decades growing apples, and in 2005 started Watermill Winery to follow their love of wine and the local terroir. Now in their second generation of Oregon winemakers, Andrew Brown is carrying on the family legacy of producing high-quality wines using sustainable and wild-life safe farming practices.
Laurent Montalieu grew up on the island of Guadeloupe, and in Bordeaux, France but had little to no interest in winemaking. As a student at the Institute of Oenology, Laurent studied agricultural engineering, but it wasn’t until he became friends with other students who were studying winemaking and viticulture that is interest was piqued. It was while helping his friends in the vineyards that he found his new love. Montalieu is now the owner and executive winemaker at Hyland Estates which planted its first vines in 1971 and now sits on over 200 acres of land, 185 acres of which are covered in vines, making it one of the oldest and largest vineyards in Oregon. Located in the McMinnville AVA, Hyland Estates vines enjoy cooler summers, and mild winters allowing for longer and more consistent ripening. In addition to an ideal climate, Hyland Estates also sits atop volcanic soil, the combination results in some of the most poetic Pinot Noirs available today.
Learn more about each of our Oregon winemakers and shop their wines today.
Learn more about Oregon wines
10 things we love about Oregon wine country
We’re enjoying Oregon sparkling wine
Oregon Chardonnay’s engaging styles
Guide to cool climate viticulture
Let them drink Oregon Pinot Noir!
Delight is in the details – Northern Oregon terroir
Delight is in the details – Southern Oregon terroir