Our trip to winemaker Michael Lundeen’s home in McMinnville, Oregon started almost a year ago with my quest to find incredible, small production Oregon Pinot Noir at a good price.
I was once told by someone in a wine store, in somewhat indirect terms, that good Pinot Noir doesn’t even exist under $40, so don’t bother otherwise. I became determined to disprove this fact—and in the process, found some incredible wines. The search continues to this day. But, in all reality, I needed to get a sense of how some of the ultra-expensive big boys were drinking to have a real context.
I was pretty mixed about this. Obviously I wanted to be stunned, and experience wine that redefined what I understood as incredible. But, that was also my fear—especially in context of the blog. What if my frame of reference was all wrong and what I had been enjoying was actually mediocre in comparison? Because in all honesty, before the trip I’d probably never had an Oregon Pinot Noir that cost more than $50—and there are many.
I first came across Michael’s ’06 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir in the most unlikely place—a strip mall in upstate New York. I brought it home and was stunned with how it compared to other Pinots in the same price range (about $23). A week later I bought a second bottle, aligned and confirmed my notes, and e-mailed Michael.
I wanted to know more. But I wasn’t just interested in tasting notes or downloadable shelf talkers in .pdf. It was the first time I actually felt a pull to talk to the winemaker. There really are so few times when you drink a wine and think, “Wow, I would die to know what the winemaker was thinking when he made this.” Insight. Perspective. Normally one checks on what Parker or Wine Spectator has to say; we check out Snooth or Cellar Tracker for community tasting notes; or, we toss out a Google search for a blog that may have picked it up, too—when ironically we could just be going to the source.
When we left the hotel for our Genius Loci tasting, I didn’t actually know where we were going. Despite my theories en-route, I was surprised to find us driving up to a sun-drenched residence situated on a perfect tree-lined plot, with vines planted in blocks right on the property. There were cats, too—one with an unfortunate shaved bottom—which made Carey very happy.
Michael met us in the driveway where within moments I felt I had some sort of grasp on the Genius Loci operation. We were standing in front of a house his grandfather build, surrounded by vines his grandfather planted, which—with the exception of the Syrah that comes up from southern Oregon—supply just shy of 500 cases of wine worth traveling to Wilton, NY (or McMinnville, OR) to seek out. I recommend the latter. The cat with the partially shaved tail and bottom* was recovering from a little hind-quarter chomp and didn’t seem the slightest bit concerned with anything except the sun and the warm driveway.
The feeling quickly became mutual.
We got into tasting right away, which was good because I hadn’t had any wine since 10:30 that morning.
First up: the Pinot Gris, Cuvée Desireé—named for his lovely fiancée who was off to view, but not participate in, a roller derby for the evening (can you say, cool?)—which is blended with 5% Gewürtraminer adding a recognizable touch of its unique spice and savory depth.
Next: the 2007 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. The latest release of the wine started this whole journey, being the one wine of Michael’s that makes it to NY. What clearly sets his wine apart is his use of oak. Instead of toasty new barrels, eager to leave a sticky, fat fingerprint on the fruit, he uses older barrels somewhat sapped of their identity, but allowing for longer aging times—upwards of 20 months. As as result, I find Michael’s Willamette Valley Pinot Noir to be delicate, beautifully textured, showing perfectly developed brambly fruit flavors, black tea, and a uniquely lengthy finish.
The 2006 Poverty Bend Vineyard Pinot Noir and Folin Vineyard Syrah are no doubt Michael’s crowning achievements, and two wines I am eager to review thoroughly. Aside from the wine, though, Michael is just a stellar guy—genuine, fun, and smart as hell when it comes to wine. We had a great time hovering around for hours, soaking it all in. Can’t thank him enough for hosting us.
Carey and I bought a bottle of the Poverty Bend Pinot to take with us to dinner that night. Despite strong urges, I cleared my head, swirled, ate escargot, and didn’t write down a single note. I found myself more interested in watching the delight of our dining companions, enjoying how an incredible wine in conjunction with great food can effortlessly warm souls—that was the note worth taking that night.
This weekend I went back to the one wine store where I found Michael’s 2006 Pinot Noir last year. The ’07’s had just arrived! One whole case—of which I took three bottles home. I felt like a hog, but couldn’t help myself.
*Even though Carey followed him around with the camera for a quarter hour taking photos, we elected to honor his pride by not posting a photo of his bottom. We’ll go back when his furs are grown in and snap some new portraits.
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