When I was out in Willamette Valley a couple of years ago for the first time Erath Winery was one of my “must” stops. They were amongst the first handful of producers from the area that I drank regularly and helped me down the road of becoming a huge fan of Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. And while Erath plays a small role in my personal story with Oregon wines they play a huge role in the history of Oregon wine, specifically those made in the Dundee Hills. Dick Erath planted his first vines there some 40 years ago and made his first commercial vintage of wine in 1972. A couple of years later they were the first winery to build a facility in the Dundee Hills. They haven’t really looked back since; what they have done over the years is inspire many people to make excellent Pinot Noir in Oregon. Today I’ll look at two of their current releases. The first wine up today is the Erath 2006 Estate Selection Pinot Noir. It’s produced using fruit from five of their vineyards. At 62% Knight’s Gambit vineyard makes up the largest percentage of the fruit in this cuvée style offering. Barrel aging was accomplished over 13 months in all French oak; 40% was new. The suggested retail price for this Dundee Hills Pinot Noir is $36.
A lovely strawberry hue is the first thing that becomes apparent when this wine is poured. Taking a whiff the nose is filled with raspberry, vanilla and light, gentle hints of espresso. Rhubarb and wild strawberry are key parts of a palate that strikes me as the epitome of full flavored yet gentle and very much proportionate. Savory fruit notes kick in mid-palate along with touches of smoked meat. Earth, black pepper and mineral characteristics are key elements of the lingering finish. This wine has soft tannins and good acidity.
This Estate Pinot Noir is an excellent showcase not only for Willamette Valley in general but specifically for the distinct wines coming out of the Dundee Hills. For a retail of $37 you’ll also get a wine that can lay down with proper storage for more than five years.
Up next is the Erath 2006 Prince Hill Pinot Noir. All of the fruit for this wine comes from the Prince Hill estate vineyard in the Dundee Hills. Six clones make up the mix here with Pommard representing almost half. Oak aging for this single vineyard selection was accomplished over 14 months in French barrels; 45% of them were new. The suggested retail price for this wine is $45.
Pouring the Prince Hill Pinot its darker red/black cherry hue is immediately apparent. Fresh, ripe dark fruit notes waft invitingly out of the nose. Blackberry, cherry and plum are all apparent. Cherry, raspberry and copious spice notes are part of a palate that’s richer, fuller and more expressive than the Estate cuvee. Black tea and waves of mineral notes are joined by hints of smoke and toasty oak on a long, layered, lush and very memorable finish. Firm tannins and generous acidity frame this wine.
I really like the 2006 Prince Hill now but I think it’ll be significantly better in a couple of years. I’d expect it to drink well for the next decade. This distinct Pinot Noir has flavors that are intense but never over the top, oak that’s apparent at times but never distracting. Overall this is a beautiful wine from a specific spot.
Each of these wines from Erath is impressive in its own way. They share the ability to age and varietal correctness as common characteristics. They’re both good values in their respective categories as well. If you have yet to dive in to Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, Erath Winery is a good place to start. They have a long history of consistent winemaking and some selections that are widely available.