Taste the Terroir: A Vertical Tasting of Youngberg Hill Pinot Noirs
I recently had the opportunity to join several other Pacific Northwest-based wine writers at the beautiful Youngberg Hill Vineyards and Inn for a stellar vertical wine tasting. From 2006 to 2010 vintages of their Jordan Block Pinot Noir, we were able to taste the terroir.
Youngberg Hill Vineyards and Inn, a 50 acre estate with 16 acres of Pinot Noir and 5 acres of Pinot Gris, is located in the McMinnville AVA (American Viticulture Area), a sub AVA of Oregon’s extremely beautiful and climatically diverse Willamette Valley. Situated further west than any other AVA in Oregon, the McMinnville AVA is geologically very different than any designated viticulture area in the Willamette Valley. With soils that are the oldest and most complex of any AVA in Oregon, consisting of both basalt (volcanic) soils and marine sedimentary soils, each of the Youngberg Hill Pinot Noirs that we tried, regardless of vintage, displayed several common pronounced qualities: bold tannins, solid acidic backbones and explosive fruit with added earthy and spicy undertones.
Sitting in the Inn’s dining room, a room with stunning views of the vineyards and coastal range, owner Wayne Bailey didn’t begin the tasting with the youngest vintage first, which is typical in a vertical tasting; instead, he started with the oldest vintage: the 2006 Jordan Block Pinot Noir. Reason being, the 2006 vintage is the third vintage released since Youngberg Hill started farming organically, so anything that was on the property that was inorganic, like herbicides and pesticides, had been bleached out by 2006.
“What we start to see in 2006 is truly what the earth, ground and soil is here on Youngberg Hill.” Wayne continued, “As we go from ’06 to ’07, ’08 and so on, is really somewhat a demonstration of our farming practices as we move more and more towards holisitic farming – towards Biodynamic farming and everything else, and seeing how the wines are also evolving as we’re going in that direction. So, that’s why I chose to go from oldest to newest.”
Each of the estate Pinots in the vertical tasting came from one specific vineyard block: Jordan Block – named after one of Wayne and his wife’s three daughters. Set on a steep slope towards the back of the property, Jordan Block sits between 700 and 800 feet above sea level and consists of volcanic rock soil called Steiwer soil. A generous coastal breeze blows through every afternoon, making it a very cool site. The combination of weather patterns, influenced by the Van Duzer corridor, slope and soil all contribute to the characteristics that were impressively displayed in each of the wines we sampled.
The 2006 Jordan Block Pinot Noir was robust in color, aroma and flavor – largely offering earthy qualities with some vibrant red fruit. Great complexity and bold tannins ended with a long, intense finish with reinforced acidity. Although the earthy flavors were more pronounced than the fruit, the nice acidity added to its depth of character, created a solid wine. Someone in the group mentioned the word savory, which really captured the major characteristics of this wine with a single word.
2007 was a year that many farmers heavily complained about the weather during harvest, which was immediately translated to consumers that it was a bad vintage; in truth, it was quite good. Much like a Burgundian, in terms of earthiness, balance and lower alcohol, the 2007 Jordan Block Pinot Noir had beautiful smoky, earthy aromas with hints of cherries and berries. On the palate, earth dominated the berry flavors, but the finish was all about the coffee and spice. Robust tannins and a solid acidic backbone add structure and character. Of the six wines that we tried, this was one of my favorites.
The 2008 Jordan Block Pinot Noir immediately took a bold stance as a stand-out wine. Everyone in our group agreed that the ’08 offered bursting concentrated black fruit aromas and flavors, harmonious balance and impressive acidity. I loved the full-bodied blackberry, black cherry and currant aromas and flavors along with the fresh, undiffused acidity – two words in my notes that I wrote in all caps: Vibrant, alive. The mouthfeel was luxurious and silky smooth, and the raisin and pie spice finish was lengthy and ambrosial – an outstanding wine.
Starting in 2009, the Youngberg Hill labels were changed to reflect their progress in practicing holistic farming, and the closures went from cork to screw caps. After conducting some research, Wayne learned that screw caps leave the lowest carbon footprint, while offering longer ageability of wine and obviously depleting any risk of cork taint. Although several people in our group described the ’09 as “angular” and “uncomfortable in its own skin,” I disagreed. I thought the 2009 Jordan Block Pinot Noir did display a higher and bolder tannin structure than the ’06, ’07 and ’08, but I loved the bright red fruit aromas and flavors of cranberry and rhubarb. Much like the others, the ’09 definitely had a solid acidic backbone, but the finish offered a certain minerality that I didn’t detect in the others. Overall, I think it’s a great wine, and a great wine to drink now through the next couple years.
The not-yet-released 2010 Pinot Noir was the last in our vertical of wines from the Jordan Block. In 2010, Wayne started to take the holistic approach to farming. Interestingly enough, the notes found in the 2010 Jordan Block Pinot Noir were quite different from the other vintages. Currants, black pepper, bacon and tobacco stood out in both aromas and flavors. Surprisingly soft, supple, tannins and lower acidity – yet still solid acidity – were the highlights of this vintage. Everyone agreed that this was a superior Pinot Noir with striking characteristics and a seamless, elegant mouthfeel.
The burning question of the tasting was: Does the organic, holistic, and progress towards biodynamics approach to farming reveal itself in the structure and quality of the wines? My answer and personal opinion is, most definitely. Holistic farming methods are believed to reveal the true expression of a terroir, and as we sampled the Jordan Block wines from 2006 to 2010, the flavor profiles were indeed reflective of the terroir. As their farming practices progressed from organic in 2006 to holistic in 2010 – the terroir seemed to come alive in the wines as we moved from one vintage to the next, while clearly displaying the common qualities found in the Youngberg Hill wines: bold tannins, solid acidic backbones and explosive fruit with added earthy and spicy undertones. I can’t wait to try their Biodynamically farmed vintages.
Next up: A Night’s Stay at the Youngberg Hill Inn – A fabulous Bed & Breakfast.
Read through the In The Glass section on WineJulia.com the other outstanding Youngberg Hill wine that we tasted after the Jordan Block vertical – which was my absolute favorite: the not-yet-released 2010 Barrel Select Pinot Noir.