Cristom Vineyards: 2007 Pinot Noir, New Releases, and Library Wines

Cristom corkThe International Wine Review recently tasted Cristom Vineyard’s 2007 Pinot Noirs and a selection of library wines from 1994 to 2002. Our goal was to evaluate how the 2007 Pinots were evolving in the bottle and to gain some insight into the aging potential of Cristom’s Pinot Noirs. We also tasted Cristom’s new Pinot Gris and Syrah. Our tasting notes and ratings of these wines are presented below. Readers interested in learning more about Oregon Pinot Noir should consult the International Wine Review’s Report #16 Oregon Pinot Noir.

Steve DoernerCristom is one of Oregon’s finest producers of Pinot Noir. Over the past two decades, it has earned a well-deserved reputation for producing world-class vineyard-designated wines that rival the best wines of Burgundy and New Zealand. Established in 1992 by Paul Geary, a Pennsylvania businessman, Cristom wines have from the very beginning been crafted by the talented winemaker Steve Doerner (pictured right) who Paul Gerrie recruited shortly after purchasing the winery. A biochemist trained at the University of California, Davis, Steve Doerner was hired away from Josh Jensen’s Calera Wine Company and has been Cristom’s only winemaker.

Cristom today comprises 65 acres of eight distinct vineyards in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA. The original estate of 8 acres was known as Mirassou Cellars and was planted in the 1980s by a cousin of the San Jose-based Mirassou family. This estate, which was later renamed the Marjorie Vineyard, is planted with widely spaced low yielding Pinot Noir vines (less than 2 tons per acre) of the Pommard, Wadensvil and Dijon clones. The other newer Pinot Noir vineyards named Louise (9.5 acres), Jessie (11.5 acres) and Eileen (15.25 acres) were planted beginning in 1993, 1994 and 1997, respectively, and are between 250 and 700 ft elevation. They are vertically trellised, dry farmed, densely planted and include both UCD and Dijon clones. Cristom’s other vineyards are Germaine (.5 acres) planted with Chardonnay, Emilia (5 acres) planted with Pinot Gris, and two smaller ones planted with Viognier and Syrah. Cristom’s vineyards have been managed by Mark Feltz, who like Steve Doerner, has been at Cristom from the beginning.

Pinot Noir winemaking at Cristom follows Burgundian methods with minimal handling. Steve Doerner uses small open top fermenters (1-7 tons) and 40-50% whole clusters. Fermentation usually starts naturally with resident yeast. The wines are aged for 17 to18 months in Burgundian barrels, up to 60% new, and then lightly fined and bottled unfiltered. The 2007 vintage was a challenging one due to the rains which fell during harvest. Many of the wines appeared less ripe than normal with lots of acidity and lacking flavor concentration—especially compared to the ripe and lush 2006 vintage. Nonetheless, some winemakers like Steve Doerner made the most of the 2007 vintage, which our notes show was a successful one for Cristom.

Cristom Vineyards: Telephone (503) 375-3068 Website: www.cristomwines.com

Mt. Jefferson CuvéeNew Pinot Noir Releases:

Cristom 2008 Pinot Noir
Mt. Jefferson Cuvée Willamette Valley ($30) 87

The Mt. Jefferson Cuvée is Cristom’s entry level Pinot Noir. Sourced from estate and purchased fruit, it reveals moderate cherry aromas and toasted spice notes on the nose. On the palate, it has good freshness and acidity, but shows considerable tannic grip and a dry finish.

Cristom 2007 Pinot Noir Sommers Reserve Willamette Valley ($41) 90

Transparent with a medium ruby hue, the Sommers Reserve displays light dried cherry fruit aromas and flavors. It is medium weight and elegant on the palate, showing good balance, medium-high acidity and moderate tannic grip. The Reserve is a blend of different lots from the estate and purchased fruit. The 2006 vintage showed very well when we tasted it, and this one is evolving nicely as well.

Cristom 2007 Pinot Noir Louise Vineyard Willamette Valley ($50) 90

The 2007 Louise is a light and delicate wine exhibiting fresh black cherry aromas with good purity and focus. It is light and velvet-like on the palate, revealing red berry fruit and toast notes with good acidity and freshness. The 2006 Louise was a bigger and more textured wine, but we thought this one had more elegance. Situated on the estate’s lower slopes, the Louise often ripens earlier than the other Cristom vineyards.

Marjorie VineyardCristom 2007 Pinot Noir
Marjorie Vineyard Willamette Valley ($50) 92

The 2007 Marjorie is one of Cristom’s strongest wines of the vintage, exhibiting excellent ripeness with pure red cherry fruit aromas and flavors. It is nicely concentrated on the palate with silky elegance and a touch of spice. It is beautifully balanced with good acidity and freshness and moderate tannic grip on the finish.

Cristom 2007 Pinot Noir Jessie Vineyard Willamette Valley ($50) 91

The 2007 Jessie has a dark ruby hue and offers ripe dark cherry fruit aromas and flavors with light smoke and leather notes. It boasts highly concentrated fruit flavors on the palate with elegance and excellent acidity. This wine reminded us of our tasting of Jessie’s 2006, vintage which showed dark fruit flavors, concentration, and firm tannins. Jessie is the steepest vineyard with the most varied soils.

Cristom 2007 Pinot Noir Eileen Vineyard Willamette Valley ($50) 92

The 2007 Eileen is Cristom’s finest Pinot Noir of the 2007 vintage. It combines perfect ripeness of red cherry and raspberry on the nose and reveals excellent concentration and flavor on the palate. It has a silky texture, round and polished tannins and is long lasting on the finish. Eileen is Cristom’s highest vineyard (it starts at about 700 feet) and is primarily of volcanic soil. It also is the first to be farmed entirely by organic methods. Eileen is also the slowest ripening vineyard and generally produces ripe and elegant wines that are long lasting on the finish.

Cristom’s Older Vintages

The four older Cristom vintages we tasted were a big surprise. We had simply not anticipated just how well preserved they would be 8 to 16 years after the vintage. Yet, as our tasting confirmed, Cristom wines can age gracefully and offer a great deal of pleasure as they get older. Indeed, we felt that the older they got, the better they were in term of complexity and nuance, not unlike high quality Burgundies with their delicate red fruit, earthy aromas and fresh acidity. So, if you’re holding on to Cristom’s vineyard designated wines, you are in for a treat.

Cristom 2002 Pinot Noir Jessie Vineyard Willamette Valley

The 2002 Jessie exhibits a ruby garnet color with dark cherry and smoky oak notes on the nose. It is lush and creamy on the palate with dark cherry flavors and a touch of vanilla crème. It has a very long finish, concentrated and pure with some tannins still very much in place.

Cristom 2000 Pinot Noir Eileen Vineyard Willamette Valley

The 2000 Eileen offers bright cherry along with notes of forest floor on the nose. It is very fully flavored on the palate with layers of dried cherries, dark chocolate, and earth. It also reveals bright acidity and good length on the finish, with the red cherry fruit notes shining through.

Cristom 1999 Pinot Noir Louise Vineyard Willamette Valley

The Louise is medium dark garnet fading to orange at the rim. It is spicy and earthy in character showing dried cherry, forest floor and leather aromas. It has a dry attack with dried cherry, earth and herbs on the mid-palate and the finish.

Cristom 1994 Pinot Noir Marjorie Vineyard Willamette Valley

This was the first release of the Marjorie vineyard, and is still very much alive. It has a dark ruby red hue turning to garnet on the rim. It offers notes of balsamic, cola and earth with dark chocolate. It is soft on the attack and shows amazing acidity and freshness on the palate with forest floor notes. The wine finishes long and flavorful without oxidation.

Pinot Gris and Syrah

Cristom 2008 Pinot Gris Estate Eola-Amity Hills ( $17) 87+

The 2008 Pinot Gris is fermented in stainless steel and reveals lovely floral aromas with flavors of apple, melon and citrus. On the palate it offers fresh and vibrant flavors of honeydew melon and lime. It is clean and crisp with good acidity and has a pleasant finish.

Cristom 2006 Syrah Estate Eola-Amity Hills ($30) 88

This opaque ruby Syrah is sourced from a warm 2.5 acre vineyard that is on the warmest site at Cristom. It offers spicy red plum and violet aromas and flavors and red and blue fruit with spicy peppery notes. It is silky and elegant on the palate with ripe fruit flavors, good balance, and a fruit rich finish. It spends 22 months in Burgundian barrels, 30% new.

Mike Potashnik and Donald Winkler