Oregon winemaker trades news job for world-class Pinot
Former CBS foreign correspondent revels in the challenge of making great Pinot Noir
It takes great temerity to make Pinot in these parts. At the 45th parallel ― which happens to run through Burgundy, France, too, where the grape is made into some of the most elegant wines in the world ― the Willamette Valley produces barely enough hours of light and degrees of heat to ripen grapes.
The advice Tunnell ignored was his mother’s: “You’ve lived all over the world; why would you want to go back to Newberg?” She became hopeful when he informed her that he’d met an interesting prospect ― Melissa Mills, a local news anchor at the time (and now his wife). “That’s great ― can she get you a job at the station?” But Tunnell has job enough tracking some 20 acres of Pinot Noir, about 4 of Chardonnay, plus a little intriguing Gamay Noir ― and doing it all organically, a commitment to the environment he made as a boy, swimming in the Willamette River downstream from a couple of paper mills.Surveying those acres with him on his little ATV, I couldn’t help asking, “But how much does a newsman know about growing grapes ― about what to plant where in the first place?” “Not much,” he grinned. “But see the sun on those slopes? I figured that would ripen the dark blackberry and currant flavors we get on this ridge. And the stand of evergreens south of the house? I thought that would deliver loamy, forest-floor flavors.” Tunnell’s instincts are borne out in a glass of his Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. The wine goes a long way toward justifying the pain in life’s old no-pain-no-gain formula. INFO: Brick House Vineyards (503/538-5136) is open by appointment. OREGON PINOT PICKS Oregon is now considered one of the top places in the world to grow Pinot Noir. Because it’s an extremely difficult grape to grow, however, the wine isn’t cheap. Archery Summit “Premier Cuvee” Pinot Noir 2000 (Willamette Valley), $37. Intriguing spice and menthol aromas and dense black cherry flavors. A Pinot built for red meat. Argyle Pinot Noir 2002 (Willamette Valley), $18. Light-bodied and earthy, with black cherry flavors and a hint of spice ― at an unbeatable price.
Cristom “Jessie Vineyard” Pinot Noir 2000 (Willamette Valley), $40. Gorgeous ripe cherry aromas and flavors of rose petals, spiced tea, and cherry jam. This Pinot takes several minutes to “unwind”; give it a few good swirls.Rex Hill “Jacob Hart” Pinot Noir 2000 (Willamette Valley), $52. Rich pomegranate aromas and blackberry, plum, and spiced-tea flavors. Think roast chicken and wild mushrooms. Sokol Blosser Pinot Noir 2000 (Willamette Valley), $30. Beautiful flavors of dried cherries and leaves, damp earth, and licorice. ― Karen MacNeil-Fife