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Monday, July 27, 2015

Lenné Estate: A Sense of Wonder

“Youth is happy because it has the capacity to see beauty. Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old.” ― Franz Kafka

That sense of wonderment, do you still have yours? Or has it been beaten out you, by a seemingly cynical world? Many of us may recall those bygone years; with our mouths agape looking at this amazing and wonderful world we all live in, but perhaps a bit differently now. I got to thinking about that sense of wonder, on my way home from the Oregon Wine Trail last year. 

I was waiting to catch my flight back to San Diego last year; thinking about all the different and unique styles and variations of Pinot Noir I encountered over the course of a week. Sitting at the gate, I watched two small boys playing on the 'people mover' [boys will be boys] they both were so amazed by this ingenious contraction [a god-send for weary travelers]. They were running on it the wrong way, only to give up for a moment, returning back from whence they came. But they were undaunted in their efforts; they'd try it again, and again. All the while, big ear-to-ear smiles on their faces and carelessly laughing, even though they knew that swimming upstream would result in a return trip, back to where they started. 

It's with that sense of wonder that I introduce you to Steve Lutz from Lenné Estate who I had the great privilege to meet last year during a one of many press trips I took last year before I started working fulltime as the Wine Steward for Vons.  
Lenné Estate is a premium Pinot Noir producing 20 plus-acre vineyard site near the town of Yamhill, Oregon. Just speaking with Steve, you quickly understand, his passion for making world class Pinot Noir and having tasted a good deal of his wines he produces, I'd have to conclude, even after a rocky start in the beginning, his vision has paid off in spades. His operation fits in very nicely with the likes of WillaKenzie, Shea Wine Cellars & Vineyard, Solena, Soter Vineyard and the very well-known Beaux Freres.

Steve, like those kids at the airport I mentioned above, never allowed several of the challenges [35% of the vines were lost in the first year, ouch!] he, his wife and his partners faced just attempting to establish the vineyard in the early days, deter him from his dream and as he has said, "I didn't choose Lenné, it chose me". 

"There are many gray areas in wine, but if there is one truth, it is that great wines come from poor soils." ~ Steve Lutz

He believed in the site and knew deep down, if he could just get those vines established on that awful clay-like, rocky soil called Peavine, [a nutrient poor soil] then his Pinot producing dreams would be realized. Peavine soil is similar to Wilakenzie soil and Steve says, "It's the worst organic soil in the country" it's so inhospitable to young vines, but once established this very unforgiving soil, can impart unforgettable expressions of Pinot Noir, that keep folks running back for more.  

As you can see from the image above, the steepness of the site made farming difficult and the vines were dry-farmed from the start. As a result of the crazy 2003 heat spike, they lost a few acres of newly planted Pommard vines. As our group [myself, another wine writer and Steve’s PR guy] walked through the vineyards with Steve, you could see, he was undaunted by these set-backs and was determined to capture the amazing potential this site offered, but only if he was patient. A lesser person may have given-up and thrown in the towel. Speaking with him in the vineyard, looking at a part of his site he named "kill hill" you could hear in his voice and see in his eyes, he still had that sense of wonderment, you knew he could see the beauty of this site, far beyond what we were looking at in this moment. 

As we were sitting around the table tweeting our hearts out, during a live tweet and taste at Lenne Estate, Steve commented that "I wouldn't trade this site for any other spot in Oregon" and went on to say, "I'm where I want to be". And looking out from our view, sitting on the tasting room deck, we could see nothing but the beautiful Oregon country side, making his point for him in spades. 

"The site started to reveal why you grow Pinot Noir in difficult places: to produce delicious wines totally reflective of one specific place." ~ Steve Lutz

For folks curious about whether or not, Lenné Estate is "organic" or sustainable or maybe even Bio-dynamic? I'll let Steve answer that question, in his own words “Being organic isn't a goal, making great wine is and doing it in a sustainable way is just common sense to us.” I love this straight forward answer to what seemingly is the first question out of every wine writers mouth these days. There is no reason that sustainability and profit [today's bogeyman] can't walk hand in hand, it's a model I've not only heard spoken of, but one I've seen with my own eyes being put into action at many wineries across this country, both large and small. 

This is a very young winery, and vineyard, it was nothing but a gentle sloping pasture back in the early days of the 21st century. After having tasted a bevy of Steve's wines, sitting on the deck of the tasting room, on a brilliant Oregon day [the weather, the week I was there, in two words, picture perfect] I have to conclude this 21 acre parcel has to be one of the very best in Oregon, the Pinot Noir I tasted spoke to me, quite eloquently,  struggle is part of life and sometimes you get to taste the sweet success of perseverance. 

2008 Lenné Estate Karen’s Pommard Yamhill-Carlton District: Steve remarked, that he thought “this 2008 was the vintage of the decade” and that was not the first time I've heard that same comment from many other winemakers in Oregon.  After putting a small splash in my glass, wow the nose just popped, with aromas of fresh baked cherry pie, damp-earth, wild-flowers and sweet spice from time spent in oak.  

The sweet invitation offered by the nose, had me easily surrendering to the first splash down on the palate, boom dark cherries, black cut-tea leaves, brooding tannins, lively acidity easily carrying the abundant red/dark fruit to a lengthy polished finish. This wine sells or sold for $55 but with only 49 cases I’m not sure there is much left to be found.  I scored this wine 92 points; it’s a showcase of Peavine perfection. 

The 2010 Lenné Estate Pinot Noir, Yamhill-Carlton District: Wow, a brilliantly ruby colored wine, shimmering in the glass, gorgeous aromas of sandalwood, summer ripe cherries and fresh cut wild-flowers. 2010 was not a perfect growing season, by any stretch of the imagination, marked by late October rains and a long, cool growing season, leaving the grapes to struggle to find the perfect ripeness. You can taste these factors a bit on the palate, a bit rustic than the 2008 and completely different then the fruit-driven 2009. 

But still, this wine did not fail to impress me with an interesting layer of minerality [ancient sedimentary soils of the Yamhill-Carlton District] swirling about in the background, red berries and dark blackberries mingling nicely with the baking spices and vibrant acidity. This wine sells for $45 and there appears there's still some available for purchase. I scored this wine 90 points.

The 2012 Lenné Estate Pinot Noir, Yamhill-Carlton District: A completely different expression of Pinot than the others, most likely one of Oregon's most perfect growing seasons and also that of many West Coast Pinot Noir producers. This wine is currently not available for purchase, but you should look forward to putting in your order soon as it becomes available. This one will go fast, have no doubt. 

The nose is alluring, sweet baking spices, sandalwood, ripe blackberries and summer florals tease and tantalize the first sip. On the palate you find plenty of freshly baked cherry pie, vanilla accents, softly textured tannins and more mimicking of the nose seem to invite sip after sip and perhaps even the eventual slurp oh-my. I scored this wine 93 points, it has the stuffing to age, but the immediate approachability of this wine, will make being patient difficult. 

The wines I experienced here, were truly impressive and I'd invite you find out what all the fuss is about for yourself, because tasting is believing. I'll certainly be updating and adding the Lenné Estate to my wine tasting recommendation list. I don't want any to miss the opportunity to taste what hard-won success looks like. So if you're in Oregon, tramping around on the Oregon Wine trail, make sure you stop-by and see Steve Lutz in his new tasting room, which should be finished in the very near future. Until next time folk, remember life is short, don't settle for commodity wines, sip long and prosper cheers!

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Shawn Deny said...

Just speaking with Steve, you quickly understand, his passion for making world class Pinot Noir and having tasted a good deal of his wines he produces, I'd have to conclude, even after a rocky start in the beginning, his vision has paid off in spades.
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kach chuot said...

I like thi quote “Youth is happy because it has the capacity to see beauty. Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old.” ― Franz Kafka

Thomas @ Blog Wine Cellar said...

I love the wines from Willamette, especially small family owned operations like this one. I stayed in Yamhill in Ken Wright's lofts for a few days a couple months back and had a ball. Cheers!

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