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Oregon wine country, part 7
Bethel Heights

Bethel heights is another family-run operation, owned by identical twin brothers Terry and Ted Casteel and their respective wives, Marilyn Webb and Pat Dudley, as well as Patís sister Barbara Dudley. 'That's one of the reasons we are so committed to sustainability', says Pat Casteel, who I met with (below), 'because we live here'. Terry and Marilyn have a home on one side of the property; Ted and Pat have a home on the other. A spring feeding a stream running through the property means that there's water for both homes; it also creates a nice habitat for beneficial insects.

The vineyard is on the site of an abandoned walnut orchard that was destroyed in the Columbus day storms of 1961. This had already been identified as a great place to grow vines when the Casteels purchased it. The first vineyard was planted in 1977, and another vineyard (Justice) was planted in 1999. The estate is located in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA in the Willamette Valley. They now grow 80% of the grapes they use, buying the remainder in.

We sat on the veranda, tasting wine and discussing sustainability, which is a big story in Oregon wine. Indeed, the whole reason that sustainability is becoming an issue is that 'consumers give a rip these days', says Pat.

But for consumers, the various brands of sustainability have become a bit confusing. Oregon farmers have a scheme called 'Salmon Safe', which has been adopted by some vineyards. Then there is the LIVE certification (Low Input Viticulture and Enology, established in 1999, which Ted Casteel was instrumental in establishing), which incorporated all the Salmon Safe requirements. And on top of that there's organics and biodynamics. In response to all this, the Oregon winegrowers are now launching an umbrella-type certification known as OCS (Oregon Certified Sustainable).

'It's been an interesting journey', says Pat. 'Oregon vineyards are all trying to be sustainable, but everyone has their own take. We talked about what we all have in common and decided we should develop a certifying mark for anyone who is LIVE, organic or biodynamic'. The Oregon wine board is the owner of this program, and has to decide whether other certifying programs meet this standard. 'Now 30% of vineyards in Oregon are certified and it's growing rapidly', says Pat.   

That Oregon winegrowers are showing such a commitment to sustainability is an extra reason why I'm so enthusiastic about this region. But first and foremost, it's because the wines are excellent, and the Bethel Heights wines are really good, including a fantastic Chardonnay. Of course, Pinot Noir remains the main focus, but Oregon Chardonnay can also be excellent.

Bethel Heights Pinot Blanc 2007 Estate Grown, Oregon
From 4 acres of vines. Really nicely textured with a slightly creamy, fresh, fruity character. Lovely stuff, with a bit of honeyed sweetness. Stylish. 90/100

Bethel Heights Pinot Gris 2007 Oregon
Some bought-in fruit here. 2300 cases made. Lovely fresh fruity style with some spicy complexity and a nice texture. Quite fresh with a touch of herbiness and some subtle smokiness. Lovely. 90/100

Bethel Heights Chardonnay Estate Grown 2005 Eola Amity Hills, Oregon
Rich, toasty nose with vivid, herby tropical fruit and nutty oak notes. The palate is dense and expressive with lovely toasty complexity and intense fruit. A serious effort, finishing minerally. 94/100

Bethel Heights Chardonnay Estate Grown 2006 Eola Amity Hills, Oregon
Ripe, mealy, toasty nose with a bit of citrussy freshness as well as a hint of oak. The palate is smoothly textured , ripe and attractive, but still retains good balance. 91/100

Bethel Heights Pinot Noir Eola-Amity Hills Cuvee 2006 Oregon
Bought-in fruit. Ripe, fresh, well defined nose with fresh cherries and ripe plum notes. The palate is deliciously fresh with a nice cherry character and admirable purity. Stylish. 92/100

Bethel Heights Pinot Noir Jesse James Vineyard 2006 Oregon
From a 4 acre vineyard planted in 1982. Very sweet vivid cherry and berry fruit nose with some spiciness. Really aromatic and vivid. The palate is dense and concentrated but still has lots of finesse and structure. Finishes long and spicy. A fantastic effort that belies its 14.8% alcohol. 94/100

Bethel Heights Pinot Noir Casteel Reserve 2006 Oregon
Sweet, vivid, dense nose with some spicy oak notes as well as plummy red fruits. Sweet and aromatic. The palate has lovely pure fruit with great intensity, focus and spicy structure. Lovely wine with a long future ahead of it. 92/100

See also:

Wines tasted 07/08  
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