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Jonathan Ziemba
February 16, 2016 | Jonathan Ziemba

The Chehalem Mountains AVA - Soils and Wines

Running twenty miles southeast from Forest Grove to the Willamette River, the Chehalem Mountains represent a large and diverse growing region for Valley wine-producers. Their high point, Bald Peak (1629ft), stands over the Ribbon Ridge and Yamhill-Carlton AVAs to the south, and offers panoramic views of Cascade volcanoes. At lower elevations, the mountains reveal an array of soil types that make it difficult to name a single characteristic of the AVA’s wines. The (150) vineyards that call the mountains home are, on average, less than 15 acres in size, and are found throughout the 100 square mile formation. Our Spring 2016 Wine Club selections dig into the Chehalem Mountains with three vineyard-designated wines displaying three distinct soil types found in the area.

On the south slope of the Chehalem Mountains, vineyards rise in elevation from low-lying North Valley Road up to nearly 1000ft,  approaching the crest of the mountains at Mountain Top Road. The south slope contains a dense concentration of vineyards. Of the three areas Raptor Ridge is representing for Wine Club members this March, this slope is marked by the oldest soil, with a predominance of uplifted marine sediment. These vineyards reveal the geological uplift that sculpted Oregon’s Coast Range approximately 30 million years ago - the same forces responsible for much of the Yamhill-Carlton AVA. Olenik, a 29 acre, 300ft elevation vineyard planted to Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, is the vineyard selected to represent this region in this club release. The vineyard combines old and new vines, from which we source mainly Pommard, as well as a block of Dijon Clone 115. Olenik is a perennially warm site, whose grapes are often among the first to arrive in the winery during harvest. The vineyard is notable for possessing unusually rocky topsoil, most likely a remnant of a landslide that sculpted the precipitous topography of the southern flank of the mountains. Raptor Ridge’s 2014 Olenik Vineyard reveals lifted aromas of red fruit and dried flowers, and the palate offers hints of sun dried tomato and fig. This is a lively wine that reflects the warmth of this pocket of the Chehalem Mountains.

Parrett Mountain is a unique feature in the Chehalem Mountains AVA. It rises at the southern tip of the area, and is noted for a predominance of volcanic soil (Jory, Nekia) in its vineyards. In this way, Parrett Mountain bears a resemblance to the famous Dundee Hills to its south. In both cases, these uplifted sections received generous deposits of volcanic debris during the Miocene period (25-5mya), which over time has weathered to the silty, clay loam found in the vineyards today. Black Hole Vineyard, which is the proprietary vineyard of Le Cadeau winery, occupies 10.5 acres at relatively high elevation on the south face of Parrett Mountain. For the 2014 vintage of our Black Hole Vineyard Pinot Noir, we have sourced 777 and and Pommard grapes. The wine was matured nine months in a low percentage of new oak, and today displays rich black and dark red fruit, with savory notes of black olive and dried herb. The palate is surprisingly broad and inviting despite the wine’s youth, but the wine should age well for years to come.

Finally, we include our 2014 Raptor Ridge Tuscowallame Estate Vineyard. Our 18-acre estate sits between 500 and 250 feet elevation on the north slopes of the Chehalem Mountains. While the vineyard contains an underlayment of volcanic Jory soil, it is Laurelwood loess, the soil series typical of the north face of the Chehalem Mountains, that forms its topsoil. Of the three soil types represented in this Wine Club shipment, Laurelwood is the youngest, a vestige of the glacial history of the Pacific Northwest. Glacial erosion left fine-grained, sand-like rocks in its wake, which has consequently drifted up the gently undulating hillsides of our side of the mountains. This is well-draining soil that is known to produce wines with subtle red fruit flavors, cherry, pomegranate and even hints of orange peel. Kevin Johnson of fellow Laurelwood-based Dion Vineyard describes the region's aromatic profile as an "octave higher" than wines grown on Jory soils, providing red fruits and, frequently, white pepper, while winemaker Luisa Ponzi, of Ponzi Vineyards, adds a distinction she finds between old and young vines on the north side of the Chehalem Mountains: "I see vast differences in young vines (15-20 years) inhabiting the top soil and those older vines that have accessed the basalt layers...the younger Pinot Noir vines show vibrant red fruit, baking spice, fairly soft tannins, while the older vines become much darker, blueberry, brambly, plum with aromatics of white pepper, anise, cola and tobacco with bigger denser tannins.  Vine age plays a big role in defining the wines from this soil."

Scott began planting our estate in 2001, and today it includes a variety of Pinot Noir clones as well as Gruner Veltliner. The 2014 Estate Vineyard confirms the red fruit profile of Laurelwood-grown grapes - strawberry compote is revealed on the nose and palate. The wine also provides elements of mandarin orange, sandalwood and tea leaf. Of the three wines offered in this Club Shipment, the Estate bottling contains the most tannin structure, and is suitable for long-term ageing. 

                     Our Estate Vineyard

We hope this exploration of the Chehalem Mountains AVA by its vineyards and sub-zones has been helpful. Of course, should you need further information about our estate and vineyard-designate wines, please visit our store or contact us.

sources: ; ; Orr, Elizabeth L & William N Oregon Geology : Sixth Edition Oregon State Univeristy Press, 2012


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