Willamette Valley – Beacon Hill Winery & Vineyard

Willamette Valley Wines – Sub AVA Tour – Soil
As we virtually tour the sub AVA’s of Willamette Valley, we’re finding that each of the AVAs shows a unique character. One of the variables is the soil common in that AVA, there being 3 main types in the Willamette Valley: volcanic, marine sedimentary, and windblown. Today we venture into the Yamhill-Carlton AVA.

(click on any photo for a full size slideshow)

Yamhill-Carlton AVA
The Yamhill-Carlton AVA boundaries outline a horseshoe shaped bowl between 200 and 1000 feet elevation to keep the AVA on the hillsides and away from the valley floor. The common character is marine sedimentary silt-loam soils unique to this area. Can one taste the difference between the soils in different AVA’s? Let’s give it a try.

Disclosure: the wines for this post were provided as samples. No other compensations was involved, all opinions expressed are mine.

Beacon Hill produces a number of Pinot Noirs, giving us a chance to compare two different soil types.

Beacon Hill Winery and Vineyard
Beacon Hill Vineyard was originally planted in the 1990’s by a well known name in Willamette Valley, Tony Soter. The property was acquired in 2011 by new owners George Hillberry and Carla Rodriguez. George and Carla are not newcomers, they are owners of several other vineyards in Willamette Valley and have been involved in winegrowing here for many years. Now under the Beacon Hill Winery and Vineyard label, they offer estate wines from a number of vineyards in the area.

Beacon Hill Winery and Vineyard commitment to sustainability is highlighted by their LIVE certification. LIVE certification covers all aspects of vineyard and winery operations with the intent of minimizing environmental impact from all farm operations.

Beacon Hill Winery, Beacon Hill vineyard 2018 Pinot Noir

Beacon Hill Pinot Noir Yamhill-Carlton AVA “Beacon Hill Vineyard” 2018 (sample, $45 SRP) 14.2%abv
Eye: Clear, pale ruby
Nose: Clean, medium intensity aromas of bright ripe cherries, strawberries, red plums. Notes of cinnamon, cedar and a touch of clean earth are present but subtle.
Mouth: Dry, medium+ intensity flavors of bright ripe red fruit, especially red cherries and strawberries with cinnamon and hints of cedar and earth. Medium+ acidity, medium fine-grained tannins, medium body, generous mouthfeel, and a nice medium+ fruit based finish. While the alcohol is officially high, the wine doesn’t seem hot or unbalanced.

Beacon Hill Winery, La Sierra vineyard 2018 Pinot Noir

Beacon Hill Pinot Noir Dundee Hills AVA “La Sierra Vineyard” 2018 (sample, $45 SRP) 12.9% abv
Eye: Clear, pale ruby
Nose: Clean, medium- intensity aromas of menthol, red and black cherries and blueberries. Notes of clean earth and fresh garden herbs are present in the background. This wine is more reserved in the aromas and more savory than the Beacon Hill Vineyard wine.
Mouth: Dry with medium intensity flavors of ripe red and blue fruits: cherries and blueberries with savory undertones of clean earth and cedar. Medium acidity, medium- fine grained tannins, medium body with a creamy texture, medium alcohol with a nice medium finish balanced between fruit and savory.

Taste the Soil?
There are many factors which contribute to the flavor profile of a wine: climate, geography, geology, clone, winemaking choices. Pinot Noir is known as a grape which is capable of showing something of where it is grown. That is, the weather for the year, the overall climate, the geography (slope, etc…) and geology.

When we try to taste the difference in vineyard sites, our goal is to eliminate as many of the other variables as possible. When we can source from a single winery/winemaker, the comparison is as close as we are likely to achieve. The Beacon Hill website lists details for their 2017 wines, I had 2018 samples, but we can still see similarities and differences:

  • Both wines are 100% Pinot Noir with similar but not identical clone choice.
  • Both wines featured 15% whole clusters fermented in macro bins.
  • Both wines were aged 10 months in 25% new French oak barrels, although from different coopers (barrelmakers).
  • Grape characteristics at harvest were similar, at least similar in approach.

The Willamette Valley Wines soils document gives us some clues to look for in our tasting notes. The Beacon Hill vineyard is in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA which is mostly marine sedimentary soils. The La Sierra vineyard is in the Dundee Hills, known for mostly volcanic/basaltic soils.

After reviewing the soils document, I’d say my notes didn’t exactly match the predictions. However, vineyard differences between these two wines were obvious. The Beacon Hill vineyard wine was more outgoing with bright red fruit out in front. The La Sierra vineyard wine was more reserved and showed a much more savory character. Both were very nice and I loved being able to taste them side by side! Hint: this would be a fun experiment to try.

Barbecue Pairing with Pinot Noir
Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t pair Pinot Noir with slow-smoked barbecued ribs. The barbecue sauce is usually sweet/spicy and with all those big flavors, the wine can be overwhelmed. My friends at Vindulge to the rescue! Mary and Sean published a cookbook this year, and one of their specialties is pairing barbecued foods with Oregon wines, especially Pinot Noir. The trick is to produce a barbecue sauce that is flavorful, but not so sweet and spicy and they succeeded. Their Pinot Noir Barbecue sauce recipe is available on their website, give it a try and if you like it, spring for their Fire and Wine cookbook!


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