One of the things I’ve been wrestling with lately with my studies of Champagne is how to detect and discuss terrior of the villages across the region, and how this comes through in the wines. As I’ve explored this topic, I’ve looked a lot at flavors, but I’ve found the bigger piece of the puzzle is texture. How grapes grown in clay, chalk, limestone, and more differ from each other is more apparent in how the wines feel rather than how they taste. Its easy to forget that our mouths are useful for feeling as well as tasting.
Interestingly, the quest to understand Champagne and terrior, has taken a detour through my backyard. I’m lucky to live so close to the Willamette Valley and have so much access to these wines, and the people that make them. Lately, I’ve tasted a lot of Willamette Valley wines, and I’m starting to build a new framework for how I think about them. For a long time the discussion of terrior in the Willamette Valley has been focused on dark vs. red fruit flavors, different spice notes, etc. I’m beginning to see that much of the texture/terrior dynamic I’ve been chasing in Champagne is also present in Oregon. I think the flavor discussions are useful, but I think a focus on texture could be more useful.
Recently I went on a field trip to the Eola Amity Hills and met with many of the producers and growers there. I tasted many of their wines, and started to recognize a common thread. Higher acid was a big piece, as was the side of my tongue tingling I found in many of the wines grown in basalt soils. These traits appeared not only in the Pinot, but also in Riesling and Chardonnay. If anything it was easier to pick up the basalt notes in the whites, and then I began to notice it in the reds.
These components are helping me grasp the differences between how the wines grown in the basalt soils of the Eola Amity Hills feel different than those grown in jory soils of the Dundee hills, and so on. I feel like the Willamette Valley is maturing into a place where we can talk about texture in addition to flavors. I’m really excited about this because I think this could really help the Willamette Valley continue to distinguish itself from other Pinot areas of the world and create a more compelling story for everyone involved. It’s been years since I’ve been really excited about Oregon wines, and with this new perspective, I’m eager to taste and enjoy a lot more wine from my backyard.
Plus its nice to have another region to think about in similar ways to Champagne and mapping terrior and its impact on the wines.