By Karl Klooster • Staff Writer • 

Win, win wines

Marcus Larson/News-RegisterKevin Gouy called the 2011 Cristom Vineyards Pinot Noir “romantic” after tasting it in Domaine Drouhin’s expansive barrel room during the annual ¡Salud! Auction event.

The highly regarded Oregon wine industry program ¡Salud! provides health benefits for vineyard workers that are unprecedented in the country. And that, of course, is the raison d’etre for a two-day, pinot-centric extravaganza featuring a barrel auction of as yet unbottled wines from 42 wineries, not to mention a lavish banquet punctuated by silent and oral auctions.

Each year, wineries in northwestern Oregon craft special ¡Salud! pinot noirs from select vineyards. The proceeds from these one-of-a-kind cuvées help cover annual program costs.

The five-case lots are sold, usually by the case but occasionally by the lot, in the course of the industry’s most notable “Oregon-only” pinot noir event. I can say that because the International Pinot Noir Celebration showcases pinot noir not just from Oregon but elsewhere as well.

Not to discount the black tie gala on Saturday evening, but Friday is where it’s at for serious ¡Salud! wine buffs. A pinot appreciator can really feel the love after sampling just-bottled wine or wine drawn from a barrel.

Not only are these one-of-a kind-wines, but this represents a one-of-a-kind opportunity to taste them all in one place. One could ask for no better way to judge how the vintage, almost ready for release, is evolving.

In this case, the vintage was 2011.

That year’s harvest turned was saved at the bell. Yogi Berra’s famous saying, “It’s not over till it’s over,” summed up the circumstances perfectly.

With warmth way below normal, Oregon winegrowers squirmed on pins and needles as the end of the season approached. A scenario of under-ripe grapes appeared to loom on the horizon.

Then, at the beginning of October, Mother Nature sent sunshine that lasted long enough to achieve full flavor maturity with moderate alcohols. And 2011was hailed as “The Miracle Harvest.”

Winery representatives poured the results of that miracle at the DDO with justifiable pride. Almost across the board, they expressed classical varietal character, complex flavors and excellent balance.

It should also be noted that year after year, owners and winemakers, not to mention owner-winemakers, show up to personally do the pouring at ¡Salud!.

This year, the participating wineries included Florsheim, Amalie Robert, Antica Terra, ArborBrook, Archery Summit, Argyle, Ayres, Beaux Freres, Bethel Heights, Brittan, Brooks, Chehalem, Cristom, Dobbes, Domaine Drouhin, Dusky Goose, Elk Cove, Erath, Evening Land, Hamacher, King Estate, Lange, Maysara, Patricia Green, Patton Valley, Penner-Ash, Ponzi, Raptor Ridge, Scott Paul, Shea, Sokol Blosser, Soléna, Soter, St. Innocent, Stoller, Torii Mor, Trisaetum, WillaKenzie, Willamette Valley Vineyards, Winderlea and Witness Tree.

You couldn’t ask for a wider spectrum of wineries, large and small, from throughout northwestern Oregon’s AVAs. That allowed tasters to gauge overall quality of the vintage for the state’s signature grape.

Although time limitations didn’t allow for tasting of every wine, a comprehensive comment would have to be stylish middleweights, well-balanced throughout, with youthful yet unobtrusive tannins.

Though none of the ¡Salud! wines is ready for release, and development in the bottle will surely add nuances yet unknown, several stood out for this taster at this stage.

In the directly comparative environment, they presented immediately engaging aromas, concentrated but approachable flavors and a velvety mouthfeel within an elegantly varietal structure. They included Archery Summit, Beaux Freres, Cristom, Dusky Goose, Penner-Ash, Shea, Soter, Trisaetum and Witness Tree.

My personal favorites were Dusky Goose and Beaux Freres.

Dusky Goose is a limited production pinot noir made for owners John and Linda Carter by Lynn Penner-Ash. The fruit comes from Rambouillet Vineyard in the heart of the Dundee Hills.

To say its 2011 ¡Salud! cuvée is excellent would be an understatement. If such depth and richness of flavor is evident so young, one can only wonder what a few more years will bring.

Beaux Freres is perhaps Oregon’s most illustrious boutique winery, as renowned wine critic Robert Parker is one of its owners,

Winemaker/partner Mike Etzel has made consistently exceptional wines since 1988. And the 2011 cuvée from three vineyards in three different AVAs is a very pretty wine with loads of succulent fruit.

Large projection screens, called big boards, situated on all three levels of DDO winery continually updated bidders on the status of case bid figures throughout the course of the auction.

When the last of four lot grouping closed at 6 p.m., auction goers had purchased $149,000 worth of wine, though they won’t be able to take delivery for several more months.

¡Salud! weekend culminated in an elegant oral and silent auction dinner at the Governor Hotel in Portland. Between the two events, $640,000 was raised to support the program.

According to Tuality Health Foundation manager Maria McCandless, who coordinates the auction, the annual event has raised more than $9.4 million over the years.

Karl Klooster can be reached by e-mail atkklooster@newsregister.comor by phone at 503-687-1227.

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