WillaKenzie 2018 Estate Pinot Gris

90 Points, Michael Rockich, AppellationsTen

Pinot Gris does not possess a foreword characteristic flavor of a wine like Sauvignon Blanc, for example.  While Pinot Gris flavors are more in the background, the varietal can be quite rewarding in its subtleties and light fruit.  Characteristics vary somewhat according to place of origin.

We are going to look at WillaKenzie Estate’s 2018 Pinot Gris, the first of three of their wines that I am currently reviewing.  The Estate is located in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA in the northern Willamette Valley, Oregon, and is now part of Jackson Family Wines.  The winery and vineyards lie along three long descending ridged hilltops, with the Tasting Room on the middle hilltop incorporating views off into the distant fir tree studded landscape dotted with occasional contrasting meadows of dry grass.  A real storybook setting!

Although their flagship wines are Pinot Noir, six grape types are planted on the Estate’s 420-acres with the bulk of the plantings in Pinot Noir.  WillaKenzie features the most clonal diversity in the Willamette Valley.  The variety assists Pinot Noir’s complexity and texture.  The second most prevalent grape is Pinot Gris at about a quarter of Pinot Noir’s 67 acres.

WillaKenzie refers to the prehistoric sedimentary soils on the Estate which nurture the vines, and also refers to two major rivers in the Willamette Valley, the Willamette and the McKenzie, whose confluence is not far away in Eugene.  The soils were deposited by uplifted ancient seabeds, and consist of deep well-drained silty clay loam over siltstone and sandstone.   The winery states, ‘Place Matters’.

I visited the winery several years ago, and I found the setting to be more impressive than the proverbial castle on a hill.  After visiting the tasting room, I went outside to enjoy the lovely vistas and have a bite.  Shortly, an amicable looking woman came out, we began talking.  I learned she was the founder’s wife, Ronnie Lacroute.  Mrs. Lacroute is American, and she is an instructor in the French language.  Soon we stumbled on the fact that her French husband, Bernard Lacroute of Burgundy, and I had both been employed by the same company.  The company was sizeable and we had not known each other.

Winemaking on the 2018 Pinot Gris included fermentation mainly in stainless with a small amount in barrel.  The malolactic fermentation was blocked.  This Pinot Gris is independently certified LIVE, Salmon Safe meaning environmentally and socially responsible winegrowing in the Pacific Northwest.

An 8,300-case effort, this pale straw Pinot Gris is mid to light in weight, reveals an ultra-fine texture, is well tied together, and presents attractive aromatics of citrus blossom with subtle hints of pastry and powdered sugar.  Consisting of100% Pinot Gris, the 2018 displays excellent balance accompanied by fresh acidity (pH 3.86) well integrated with the velvety fruit.  On the palate, light notes of white nectarine, grapefruit, and salt are intertwined with savory umami.  Quite a flavorful Pinot Gris, albeit in a restrained elegant way, with a remarkably light touch on the palate.

A great pair with Tuscan Garlic White Bean Soup.  The near full-bodied Pinot Gris contrasts its delicate fruit with the earthiness of the bean soup, both working nicely together.  Alcohol is 14.3%.  About $25.

A sample for review.

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