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The Eyrie Vineyards

History and Longevity - Wines of Wisdom from The Willamette Valley

Leonardo Da Vinci once wrote, “People of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.” David Lett, founder of Eyrie Vineyards in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, embodied this philosophy. Referred to by many as ‘pioneer’, ‘trailblazer’, or simply ‘Papa Pinot’, he arrived in Oregon in 1965—at a time when there was no wine commerce to speak of—with some vine cuttings and a firm belief that Pinot Noir and Chardonnay would find their New World home on the cool slopes of the Willamette Valley.

That same year, he planted the first Pinot Noir vines in Oregon on what would become the Eyrie Vineyard in the area now known as the Dundee Hills AVA. He also planted Chardonnay and the first Pinot Gris vines in the USA. Though his decision was met with derision by considered experts who thought the climate too marginal to ripen grapes effectively, his detractors were soon silenced when, in Paris in 1979, the Eyrie Pinot Noir ’75 came third in a blind tasting with some illustrious Burgundian competition—Oregon’s very own Judgement of Paris. The effects were immediate, placing Oregon, the Willamette Valley, and Eyrie in the gaze of the wine elite. Demand for the wines increased, along with domestic and foreign investment in the area. The Willamette Valley was placed well and truly on the map.

Though decades have passed, time at Eyrie has stood relatively still. After David Lett passed away in 2008, scion Jason, who’d returned to work full-time at the estate in 2005, assumed the mantle. Farming now considered cutting edge is, in fact, as it was 50 years ago: organic; no irrigation, insecticides, herbicides, systemic sprays or fertilisers; composting; cover crops; and a fifty-year history of no-till agriculture—a boast few, if any, can make. Jason explains: “The reason we do all these don’ts is to allow the vines to establish their own ecosystem rather than us being intrusive.” Their soils are ancient but agriculturally youthful and teeming with vitality and life.

"From the ‘grape-growing’ through the elevage, this is an artisanal, noninterventionist, unique operation that continues to turn out some of the most fascinating wines on the planet.” Robert Parker, The Wine Advocate

 

Eyrie Vineyards spans 26 hectares across five sites in the Dundee Hills AVA, which is nestled between the Coastal Range and the Chehalem Mountains, providing protection from the cool breezes of the Pacific and, consequently, slightly warmer conditions than elsewhere in the valley. The AVA is prized for its Jory soils, deposited as volcanic flow millions of years ago, which over time decomposed to red soil overlying a deep layer of basalt. These unique soils—Jory is the official soil of Oregon—are rich in iron and have excellent drainage and water retention, making them ideal for dry farming.

The five sites—The Eyrie, Daphne, Outcrop, Roland Green and Sisters—range from 67 metres (Sisters) to 260 metres (Daphne) above sea level. They are certified organic, and most of the vines are on their own roots. The vineyard work is done by hand, and the small crew of seven—with a combined experience of 180 years with the estate—visit each of the 50,000 vines 12 to 15 times throughout the year. As you go higher, it gets windier and colder and the soils get more volcanic, giving different expressions. In general, you can expect perfumed, elegant Pinot Noirs with savoury complexity and finesse to the fore.

The wines are produced in the original winery and, as in Jason’s father’s time, there’s little separation from the vineyard. He tries to do as little as possible to facilitate the fruit’s expression. Reds and whites are mostly destemmed, plunging is by hand and ferments are slow and natural—save for Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc, for which he uses the same pre-GMO yeasts his dad used. Fermentation vessels are small, all wines go through full malolactic conversion and extended time on lees, and the use of new wood is negligible. A portion of all the Eyrie wines is pressed in a 60-year-old Willmes basket press, and there are 250 barrels in the winery, over 40% of which are 20 years or older and less than 5% are new. In fact, Jason still has some barrels in use from the original 1970 vintage.

While acknowledging the significance of Eyrie’s history, Jason has one eye on the future. In recent years, he has taken steps to future-proof the estate. All future plantings will oriented east to west, now unequivocally the best solution for ripening in the AVA. The more recently planted Roland Green and Sisters vineyards serve a dual function as sites with experimental, phylloxera-resistant rootstocks and varietal diversity. He has also modernised the Eyrie Cellar program, developing a 21-step process to ensure each bottle in the Eyrie Museum stocks arrives to the consumer in the best possible condition. We encourage you to read more about this and other fascinating matters on their excellent website.

Eyrie’s importance cannot be overstated, and it’s fair to say its future is in very good hands.

 

Currently Available

The Eyrie Vineyards Trousseau 2019

The Eyrie Vineyards Trousseau 2019

Inspired by the great wines he had tasted from Montigny-les-Arsures in Jura, Jason Lett planted the Willamette Valley’s first Trousseau Noir in 2012 in the 20-acre Sisters Vineyard. This directly south-facing vineyard is the lowest site at 67 metres and the youngest in the Eyrie fold. It’s named after the Pinot Sisters (Noir, Gris and Blanc) and is planted to seven different varieties. Hand-picked fruit was destemmed and fermented naturally in small, open-top 11-hectolitre vessels. Ferments were hand-plunged twice daily before a light pressing. The wine was aged in old oak puncheons for 10 months. To preserve the purity and bright nature of the delicate Trousseau fruit, no new wood was used and the wine was bottled unfined and unfiltered with just moderate amounts of sulphur.

Wild, untamed aromatics swirl from the glass: red fruits, smoky reduction, freshly tilled earth and spice. It’s fresh and lithe on the palate, with savoury nuances aligned to red fruit and earthy flavours and juicy, supple textures with sappy acidity.

“Medium garnet, the 2019 Trousseau opens with wild, savory aromas of tobacco, leather, tar, briar fruit and nuances of Angostura bitters and underbrush. The light-bodied palate is chalky and refreshing with earth-laced fruit and an alluring, spicy finish.”
93 points, Erin Brooks, The Wine Advocate
The Eyrie Vineyards Trousseau 2019
The Eyrie Vineyards Pinot Blanc 2021

The Eyrie Vineyards Pinot Blanc 2021

David Lett thought he had planted Pinot Blanc in the original Eyrie Vineyard back in 1965. It turns out UC Davis made a mistake (not unusual at the time), and the vines they sent were, in fact, Melon de Bourgogne. So, it wasn’t until the early 1990s that the Letts received real clones of Pinot Blanc from Alsace and planted them across three blocks in their lowest site, Sisters Vineyard. Already home to Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, this addition completed the Pinot family plantings, hence the name Sisters. The fruit is handpicked, destemmed, pressed and sent to small stainless-steel tanks for fermentation and maturation. As with the Pinot Gris, Eyrie ages its Pinot Blanc for three to four times longer than most others in the region, and the wine undergoes full malolactic conversion. The wine was bottled after 11 months in barrel on lees. Jason Lett tells us the extended period on lees serves a dual purpose: pulling richness into the wine, while the fruity esters bound up in the yeast hulls get released back into the wine during the later summer months, adding bright, fresh fruit character back to the wine. So, you get a sense of fullness and freshness at relatively low alcohol levels. There’s a reason Eyrie’s Blanc is considered a New World benchmark.

“The 2021 Pinot Blanc, matured on the lees for 11 months, has pure scents of ripe peach, mushroom powder, jasmine, beeswax and flint. The light-bodied palate is textural and spicy with focused acidity and a long, mineral-driven finish.”
93 points, Erin Brooks, The Wine Advocate
The Eyrie Vineyards Pinot Blanc 2021
The Eyrie Vineyards Daphne Vineyard Pinot Noir 2019

The Eyrie Vineyards Daphne Vineyard Pinot Noir 2019

Daphne Vineyard is the Eyrie estate’s highest, located at the top of the hill and reaching 262 metres at its highest point. Planted in 1974 to the Pommard clone, it’s home to just 0.6 hectares of Pinot Noir vines and produces intensely favoured wines from low yields of tiny bunches. Its location at the crest of a hill means its soils are very shallow, averaging less than ten inches of topsoils above large stone boulders. Daphne Vineyard Pinot Noir is one of five identically produced wines from Eyrie’s vineyards. The collection represents a fascinating journey from 67 metres (Sisters Vineyard) to 260 metres’ (Daphne Vineyard) elevation in the Dundee hills, viewed through the Eyrie lens. Jason Lett describes the 2019 autumn as one of the most Burgundian he has ever seen in the Valley, meaning the rain and cooler days that usually occur in the winter arrived earlier and were more evenly spread. It was a moderate season with good acid retention across the board, something Eyrie values deeply. Handpicked fruit was destemmed and fermented naturally in small open-top, 11-hectolitre fermenters. Ferments were hand-plunged twice daily before being lightly pressed and aged in primarily old oak (12% new) barrique and foudre for 23 months.

“The 2019 Pinot Noir Daphne is juicy, highly aromatic and irresistible! Medium ruby, it has pure scents of raspberry and strawberry preserves, tangerine peel, Earl Grey tea leaves, star anise and tar. Light-bodied with powdery tannins and fireworks of fresh acidity, it features perfumed, crunchy red fruit and detailed floral and spice accents that fan across the finish.”
97 points, Erin Brooks, The Wine Advocate
The Eyrie Vineyards Daphne Vineyard Pinot Noir 2019
The Eyrie Vineyards Pinot Meunier 2019

The Eyrie Vineyards Pinot Meunier 2019

In another first for the Lett family, David Lett planted the original Willamette Valley Meunier vines. Plantings are spread across two of the five sites—Daphne and Sisters, the highest and the lowest on the property. Daphne Vineyard is on the crest of a hill and is one of the oldest and highest sites (260m) in the Dundee Hills AVA. The soils are shallow, averaging less than 10 inches on top of the volcanic bedrock. The site is windy and cool, and as a result, the vines are small and the fruit intense. Sisters Vineyard, planted in 1989, is the youngest of the five Eyrie sites. It sits at 67 metres, faces south and has more sedimentary soils. Jason Lett describes the 2019 autumn as one of the most Burgundian he has ever seen in the Valley, meaning the rain and cooler days that usually occur in the winter arrived earlier and were more evenly spread. The moderate conditions facilitated great retention of acidity across the board. Hand-picked fruit was destemmed and fermented naturally in small vessels, ranging from one-tonne bins to five-tonne wooden cuve. Ferments were hand-plunged twice daily before being lightly pressed and aged in primarily old oak (8% new) for 22 months.

“The 2019 Pinot Meunier is expressive and detailed. It has a medium ruby color and aromas of wild red and black berries, orange peel, pipe tobacco, iodine and leather. The medium-bodied palate features restrained, mineral-driven fruit, chalky tannins, mouthwatering acidity and a long, spicy finish that calls you in for another sip.”
96 points, Erin Brooks, The Wine Advocate
“Raspberry, a liquorice note and baked plum. Light body, sleek and savoury, red apple skin and rose water lift, great acidity with iodine and seaweed aftertaste. Bitter-salty finish, fine soft tannin. Just a measure of spice with a pinch lingering on the gums. A Meunier to sink your teeth into.”
94 points, Kasia Sobiesiak, The Wine Front
The Eyrie Vineyards Pinot Meunier 2019
The Eyrie Vineyards Chasselas Doré 2021

The Eyrie Vineyards Chasselas Doré 2021

Eyrie’s Sisters Vineyard is the lowest site of the estate and is home to seven varieties, including Chasselas. Jason Lett chose this site for his experimental plantings due to its low elevation: the higher you go in the Dundee Hills, the more variety takes a backseat to site expression. For instance, compared to the powerful 260-metre-high Daphne site, Sisters at 67 metres—with its slightly alluvial silt soils—is a gentle site, allowing the variety to shine brighter than place. The Chasselas was a happy accident. One rogue vine was included in a batch of Muscat plantings sent from UC Davis. It was only noticed when a friend of the family, who just happened to be a Swiss vine researcher, noticed the outlier when walking through the vineyard. “Oh, Chasselas!” he exclaimed. They took cuttings, planted a small block and spent many heartbreaking and frustrating years trying to figure out how to make it taste delicious. Jason finally cracked the code in 2013 when he picked it at 10% potential alcohol rather than 12%―at which the wine was continually underwhelming―and it turned out perfectly: fully ripe and bursting with flavour. The 2021 chimes in at a bright, elegant 11.5% alcohol, lacking for nothing in flavour, texture, weight or sheer enjoyment. This is Chasselas the Eyrie way.The grapes were handpicked from 12 rows of ungrafted vines and fermented in steel with full malolactic conversion and 11 months on lees.

“The 2021 Chasselas Doré has inviting aromas of apple pie, honeycomb, hay and mushroom. The light-bodied palate has a concentrated core of spicy fruit, a satiny texture, vibrant acidity and a long, pleasantly grippy finish. Pure and fresh, it will pair widely at the table. 264 cases were made.”
94 points, Erin Brooks, The Wine Advocate
“A silver straw hue, the 2021 Chasselas Dore is elegant, balanced, and savory with aromas of fresh green pear, citrus blooms, and chive. Medium-bodied, it’s silky and juicy on the palate, with a rounded feel, and has a fresh lift and saline on the finish. A beautiful and elegant wine with modest alcohol levels, it will be incredibly versatile at the table.”
92 points, jebdunnuck.com
The Eyrie Vineyards Chasselas Doré 2021
The Eyrie Vineyards The Eyrie Pinot Noir 2019

The Eyrie Vineyards The Eyrie Pinot Noir 2019

The Eyrie Vineyard is home to the original Pinot Noir vines planted in the Willamette Valley by Eyrie founder David Lett back in 1965. It is also home to the hawks that inspired the name of the estate—an eyrie is a bird of prey’s nest—and that grace the label of each wine. The seven-acre site is home to three clones (Wadenswil, Pommard and Upright) of own-rooted Pinot Noir vines, planted between 1965 and 1974. The sloping site faces south, rolling east to west and rising to 125 metres at its highest point. Like the other sites in the Eyrie stable, this vineyard is farmed organically and regeneratively to ensure a healthy network of soil organisms to support the wizened vines. The Eyrie Pinot Noir is one of five identically produced wines from Eyrie’s vineyards. The collection represents a fascinating journey from 67 metres (Sisters Vineyard) to 260 metres’ (Daphne Vineyard) elevation in the Dundee hills, viewed through the Eyrie lens. Jason Lett describes the 2019 autumn as one of the most Burgundian he has ever seen in the Valley, meaning the rain and cooler days that usually occur in the winter arrived earlier and were more evenly spread. It was a moderate season with good acid retention across the board, something Eyrie values deeply. Handpicked fruit was destemmed and fermented naturally in small open-top, 11-hectolitre fermenters. Ferments were hand-plunged twice daily before being lightly pressed and aged in primarily old oak (12% new) barrique and foudre for 23 months.

“The 2019 Pinot Noir The Eyrie, which includes fruit from 54-year-old vines, has alluring aromas of cranberries, blackberries, orange peel, mushroom powder and pipe tobacco with streaks of flint. The medium-bodied palate is soft and juicy yet loaded with detailed, concentrated fruit, and it finishes with a flourish of earthy, spicy accents.”
98 points, Erin Brooks, The Wine Advocate
The Eyrie Vineyards The Eyrie Pinot Noir 2019
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“A visit to the Eyrie Vineyards, where Jason Lett now presides, is like getting a history lesson in how wine used to be made, and some say, still should be made. From the ‘grape-growing’ through the elevage, this is an artisanal, noninterventionist, unique operation that continues to turn out some of the most fascinating wines on the planet.” Robert Parker, The Wine Advocate

“Eyrie wines are now made by Lett‘s son, Jason, who appears to have no quarrel with his father‘s aesthetic convictions. Eyrie wines have always been exemplars of finesse and nuance rather than inky-dark power, bullying fruitiness and heavy-handed oakiness. The Letts, father and son, have remained true to their school — and it‘s a fine, high-minded academy indeed” Matt Kramer, The Wine Spectator

“David Lett pioneered both Pinot noir and its white wine cousin, Pinot gris, the two grapes that define Oregon wine today. But just as important, he established the very tone of Oregon winegrowing: artisanal, individualistic, even idiosyncratic… You can look at Oregon’s 300-plus wineries and 17,400 acres of vines and trace it to Lett. But he left more than that. He bequeathed a uniquely Oregon ‘wine genome,’ one that others now seek to copy.” Matt Kramer, The Wine Spectator

Country

USA

Primary Region

Willamette Valley, Oregon

People

Winemaker: Jason Lett

Availability

National

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