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Oregon wine country, part 11
Patton Valley Vineyards

Website: www.pattonvalley.com

One of the themes to my Oregon trip was the important issue of sustainable winemaking, something that is being taken seriously in this corner of the world. Patton Valley Vineyards are LIVE certified sustainable, and grow all their own grapes. The vineyards don’t fall into any of the new AVAs, and the soils are mostly wind-blown loams. ‘We’re more or less organic’, explains winemaker Jerry Murray (above), ‘but we don’t want to take the option of using chemicals off the table’.

We walked around ’10 acre’, a vineyard purchased in 1995 and planted in 1997 on the site of an old prune and cherry orchard. It has irrigation, but this was shut off in 1999. Everything planted after this has done fine, and is not susceptible to drought stress: it turns out that irrigation wasn’t needed after all. 

In terms of mechanization, a crawler is used instead of  a tractor to avoid compaction of the soils. ‘The living soil is an important aspect of wine quality’, says Jerry, ‘but there are other ways of doing this than biodynamics. We don’t use herbicides and we manage cover crops so there is always organic material being added. We sometimes bring compost in, and we make our own.’ His goal is to maintain adequate nutrients for soil microbes.

One cover crop that is used is dicone radish, whose tap roots break up compacted soils. Brassicas are used for their anti-nematode properties. Cereals, legumes and clover (which fixes atmospheric nitrogen) are employed. Different cover crops are planted each year, and as an experiment Jerry is sowing some perennial cover crops. The cost? Seeding is just US$60 per acre per year, plus the time taken to sow. 

Flowering plants are a big part of the LIVE program. ‘They want 15 different flowering plants in the vineyard’, says Jerry, ‘but we have closer to 30’. He claims that sustainability is more a result of quality, rather than the other way round. ‘Most growers in Oregon focus on quality and then take a few extra steps to go sustainable. We didn’t have to do anything extra, just some paperwork’.

Jerry is also keen on mycorrhizae, the fungi that grow in association with many plant roots and which expand the root surface area by a factor of 10. ‘Mycorrhizae are critical’, he maintains, ‘but tillage breaks up the mychorrizal fungi’.

‘Oregon is great for growing grapes because of the lack of pests’, Jerry comments. ‘But as vineyards are planted, the closer they become in proximity to their neighbours, and then pests will become more of a risk. We don’t want a huge monoculture. This is where LIVE should come into its own. A lot of forethought was shown: we wanted to prevent problems before they happened’.  

At this stage, Jerry’s Boston Terrier, Lucy, appears with a small mammal in her mouth. She’s  very attached to it, and it remains there for some time.

In the winery things are done quite simply. No enzymes or additives are used apart from SO2. There is no yeast inoculation, and punchdown is by hand without temperature control. Very little whole bunch is done. Some chaptalization might be used, and occasionally a little water is added to bring alcohol levels down (maximum is 4%). ‘Some Californian guys add 15% water’, says Jerry. ‘We embrace the vintage. If we get lighter years or riper years we embrace that, but only to a certain extent. We won’t let nature run the show’.  The 2006 Pinot Noir would have been 15% alcohol had it not been watered a bit. He’s not keen on dealcoholization. ‘It’s a level of manipulation I’m not comfortable with. In 2007 [rainy year] if we had a vacuum concentrator I would have used it, but in hindsight I’m glad we didn’t.’

Patton Valley Vineyards Pinot Noir 2006
Lovely fresh aromatics: cherryish with bright fruit and a hint of sappy greenness. The palate is fresh and a bit spicy with pure sappy fruit. Really aromatic and bright, with plummy fruit and nice freshness. 90/100

We tried some 2007 Pinots from barrels. One was clone 777 and showed lovely vibrancy and fresh spicy structure. The second, a Pommard clone, was vibrantly spicy with good structure. A third was picked a week later with zippy acidity and good concentration. Finally, we looked at a 2007 Syrah from Red Mountain in Washington: this was sweet and vivid with great density and structure. Really good definition – a lovely wine.

See also:

Wines tasted 07/08  
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