In the two previous postings on wine adventures into the 9,000-square-mile Willamette Valley, Oregon’s largest American Viticultural Area (AVA), we covered the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay clones used to make their best Pinot Noir (Dijon clones) and Chardonnay wines,  then delved into the winemaking magic happening in Dundee Hills and Chehalem Mountain and Ribbon Ridge. The following covers Yamhill-Carlton and the Eola-Amity Hills areas and the top 15 to 20 percent of wines we tasted.


This AVA has some 30 wineries, 60 vineyards and 1,500 acres of grapes. Historically, the area was known for its orchards, nurseries and livestock. The first commercial winery, Elk Cove Vineyards, was founded in 1974 to take advantage of the microclimate.  Oregon wine historians note that the area is protected by high elevation areas to the west (Coast Range), north (Chehalem Mountains) and east (Dundee Hills).  It receives less rain than surrounding areas and enjoys less radical swings in temperatures to the benefit of grape development.

The pioneers settled on Pinot Noir as the best grape for the area because of the weather and the soils, which have similar composition to the soils of some areas of Burgundy:  ancient marine sedimentary soils, with sandstone and siltstone.  According to the Oregon winegrower organization, the predominant varieties are Pinot Noir, 78 percent; Pinot Gris, 8 percent; and Chardonnay, 6 percent.

Tasting at Soter Vineyards


Soter Vineyards

×          Soter, 2009, Pinot Noir, North Valley, $30. The non-estate wine, 11 months in wood, with less than 20 percent new. Sharp mid-garnet; berries cherries in the nose; balanced; good fruit and finish (food friendly).

×          Soter, 2007, Pinot Noir, Mineral Springs Ranch (estate, library wine). Mid-dark garnet; big stemmy varietal nose; ripe grapes; big, round, ripe on the palate; good tannins. Long life ahead.

×          Soter, 2008, Pinot Noir, Mineral Springs (white label, without the “ranch” in the name), $85.  Block-designated harvesting all from heirloom clones on a three-acre plot. Mid-dark garnet; bright fruity nose, semi-gamey, animal nose in the Burgundian tradition; intense fruit extract; big, tannic, long finish; needs several years of aging.

Carlton Hill Tasting Barn


Carlton Hill 

×          Carlton Hill, 2009, Estate Pinot Noir, Yamhill-Carlton, $38.  Made from estate grapes grown on east-facing vineyards (same as Grand Cru vineyards in Burgundy, such as Romanee Conti). Wines typically barrel fermented 11 months, 50 percent whole clusters, 25 percent new oak.  Mid-garnet; smoky young Pinot Noir nose; hints of spice, wood, stemminess; mid-body; decent tannins; big at first but not hard; long finish (food friendly).

×          Carlton Hill, 2007, Reserve Pinot Noir, Yamhill-Carlton, $47. Our favorite.  Mid-brick color; stemmy, varietal nose with hints of wood, vanilla; good structure; elegant, smooth finish.

×          Carlton Hill, 2008, Reserve Pinot Noir, Yamhill-Carlton, $47. Mid-dark garnet; light stemmy nose; flowery; spicy; berries; mid-body, light oak on the palate. Needs a little time.

WillaKenzie Estate (excellent clone tasting covered here)

×          WillaKenzie, 2009, Pinot Noir, Pierre Leon (blend of multiple clones), $42.  Mid-garnet; mid-big body; distinct Pinot Noir nose; berries, stemmy; some minerality, earthiness; mid-big body; long finish. 

×          WillaKenzie, 2009, Pinot Noir, Triple Black Slopes (steepest slopes), $65. Mid-brick; berry nose, light stemminess, wood; big, tannic, harder than their other wines; big fruit extract; needs time. 

Eola-Amity Hills

As with the Yamhill AVA, Eola-Amity Hills was discovered by pioneering winemakers in the mid-1970s. They planted many varieties before settling on the cool-climate varietals, most notably Pinot Noir.  The AVA now his some 30 wineries with 2,000 acres of vineyards, the largest planted acreage among the AVAs in the Willamette Valley AVA.

The region enjoys cooler summers than some areas because of a geological influence called the Van Duzer Corridor, which allows air to flow through from the Pacific Ocean. The afternoon drop in temperatures is credited with helping the acid structure of the wines – an important factor in classic Pinot Noir wines.


×          Cristom, 2009, Pinot Noir, Marjorie Vineyard, $65. Cristom favors using a high percent of whole clusters in the winemaking process. This was our favorite of the day. Sixty-five percent whole clusters; almost sweet, flowery nose; aromatic; light stemminess; smooth, elegant finish (food wine, with finer sauces).

×          Cristom, 2008, Pinot Noir, Sommers Reserve, $41. Lighter mid-garnet color; elegant nose; Pinot Noir and wood; balanced; soft, smooth finish.

×          Cristom, 2009, Pinot Noir, Eileen Vineyard (single vineyard), $50. Stemmy, tar, varietal nose, earthy, oaky (40 percent new wood); cherries; mid-body; balanced to big; long finish. 

Cristom Estate Vineyards