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Wine of the Week: 2008 Stoller Family Estate, Helen’s Estate Pinot Noir, Dayton, Oregon

One by one, Pinot Noir after Pinot Noir, you start getting a bit tired after a few days in Oregon of tasting the state’s famed grape at restaurants and Willamette Valley tasting rooms. Notes of earth, hints of sage brush, deep fruit flavors, rich jammy qualities, all come to mind, yet start blurring out the palate over time.

Don’t start discarding Pinot Noir at this point. There is a reason Pinot Noir is the varietal that often brings poets to tears and can lead to life-changing epiphanies, such as the commonly cited cinematic example from the Santa Barbara region- based film “Sideways.”

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It’s history and soul might be in Burgundy. But today in 2012, the heart of Pinot Noir’s brilliant expressions is in the gently rolling green hills of the Willamette Valley. Here, nearly every tasting room boasts world class Pinot Noir it seems that soon terrific Pinot Noir starts tasting like satisfactory Pinot Noir.

Fortunately, looking past palate fatigue, you comprehend the power of these wines.One of the most powerful Pinot Noirs I’ve ever encountered I sampled last spring at Penner-Ash, with its tour de force, the mysterious “Pas de Nom.” Equally as regal, I discovered a most majestic Pinot Noir, amongst several excellent and differing versions of the grape at Stoller Family Estates, just off of Route 99W (the area’s main thoroughfare), just outside Dundee. It’s actually one of the more accessible wineries in the region.

The new tasting room is sleek and spacious, without the commercial feel creeping into the industry these days. The winery is completely green certified, from the sustainable farming practices collecting water run-off in an on property reservoir to the tasting room complete with solar panels on the roof. The lengthy, winding driveway through Stoller’s 373 acres, the largest in the Dundee Hills AVA, leads you to stunning views of Mount Hood on the rare clear, sunny day.

61% of those 373 acres at Stoller grow, you guessed it, Pinot Noir. Bill Stoller, the vice chairman of Express Employment Services, and his late wife Cathy,  bought the property in 1993 from a cousin. The property was the family’s former turkey farm. With the decline of the turkey industry and the rise of a certain aged grape juice industry in the region, along with the precious Jory soil on property that is perfect for growing Pinot Noir, Stoller  planted vines, many of whose grapes now are sold to the likes of Boedecker and Argyle.

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The turkey history echoes in the Turkey Hill Red Blend, though it’s no turkey of a wine. It’s a winner, with a smoky, racy combination of Tempranillo, Pinot Noir, and Syrah, which has to be one of the best $19 wines you’ll find anywhere, period. Tempranillo shines through the most, providing the spice to the Syrah’s smoke, that shows the fortitude of a perfectly balanced Mezcal cocktail.

Whites are less moving, with a faithful, not too sweet 2011 Dry Riesling from a single acre on the estate. The 2010 Reserve Chardonnay fermented in 80% neutral oak presents pleasant fruit and the right amount of oak, but doesn’t have terrific depth.

It’s the, yes shockingly, Pinot Noir that steals the show at the old turkey farm. The 2010 JV Pinot Noir is indeed the Junior Varsity to the SV Pinot Noir’s Senior Varsity. The JV doesn’t hide its lack of maturity. At the same time, the raw energy drives home its unique clay and marjoram notes with less jam than the typical Pinot Noir. The SV, Stoller’s stalwart flagship year in and year out, is everything you ask for in Oregon Pinot Noir. It’s poised and flawlessly well-rounded, with that perfect mix of fruit and earth, and a full body that seldomly Pinot Noir achieves.

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However, it was a special offering that left the most lasting mark on my Pinot Noir palate. Not much is left these days of the 2008 Helen’s Estate Pinot Noir, but scramble to find it. Bill Stoller names his special estate wines after the important women in his life. Just like their namesakes, these wines are worth honoring.

2008 was considered a banner year for Oregon Pinot Noir, providing a spectacular year of consistent moisture and cool temperatures. The harvest was longer than usual and started later than usual, leading to riper, deeper wines. Sip the Helen’s Estate and you’ll know why this was such a precious vintage. Smoke hits the nose, followed by a touch of citrus. The forest floor immediately comes to mind at the start, but the finish sings of quince and raspberry jam. Everything is tied together so effortlessly, awe-inspiring like that view of Mount Hood you have while enjoying the Helen’s Estate.

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