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Willamette Valley Pinot Noir Auction 2021 raises over $700,000

Some 97 registered live and online bidders raised more than $700,000 at Oregon’s sixth annual Willamette Valley Pinot Noir Auction, showcasing the 2019 vintage. Charles Curtis MW reports...

Oregon’s sixth annual Willamette Valley Pinot Noir Auction, on 5 August, raised more than $700,000 (£500,000).

It was the first year with both live (59) and online (38) bidders – during last year’s pandemic, the auction was organised as a purely online sale.

Lots for the Willamette Valley Pinot Noir Auction 2021 each consisted of small-production runs with fanciful names. The auction showcased the wines of the 2019 vintage, which proved to be a return to a classic Oregon style. The top lots by bottle price included five cases each of the following 2019 Pinot Noirs:

  • Adelsheim Vineyards, Cheers to 50 Years ($292)
  • Antica Terra, Alder Creek ($283)
  • 00 Wines, Oh, the Places You’ll Go! ($225)
  • Lingua Franca, Up & Up ($217)
  • Soléna Estate, L’Elégance ($200)
  • Elk Cove Vineyards, The Matterhorn ($200)
  • Big Table Farm, The Love Ninja II ($200)

The 2019 vintage in Willamette Valley, Oregon

After a late budbreak and flowering, a fairly large crop was set on the vines. Temperatures during the growing season were moderate but nights remained cool, resulting in wines with bright fruit and crisp acidity. Rain began just before harvest, interrupting the harvest several times.

According to Maggie Harrison of Antica Terra, ‘2019 was the hardest vintage I’ve ever had in my entire life.’

Other vintners were more sanguine. ‘This vintage shows why we should grow Pinot Noir in Oregon. It has flavour, intensity and a silky, ethereal quality to it,’ said WillaKenzie Estate winemaker Erik Kramer. He added: ‘Despite the rain, the fruit was clean; canopy management has improved greatly in the past 15 years.’ Most growers agree that, with rigorous sorting, 2019 will produce satisfying results.

Overcoming challenges

The Willamette Valley has endured a string of challenges in the past year. In July 2020, rampaging wildfires during the growing season led to widespread smoke taint in the grapes. At the same time, residents grappled with the crippling effects of Covid-19 as well as civil unrest during the Black Lives Matter protests in nearby Portland.

Meanwhile, the 2021 growing season ushered in record-setting temperatures during the ‘heat dome’ event as the thermometer climbed to near 50°C.

Despite these notable headwinds, the local community rallied to present their 2019 vintage wines for this year’s auction. Proceeds of the auction benefit the Willamette Valley Wineries Association, which counts nearly 250 members. The Association also partnered this year with the Habitat for Humanity charity to fund The Home that Wine Country Built – a project to provide shelter to a local wine country family in need.

The Willamette Valley Pinot Noir Auction was founded in 2016 by a group of winemakers chaired by Josh Bergström of Bergström Wines and included representatives from Bethel Heights, Gran Moraine, Penner-Ash Wine Cellars, Adelsheim Vineyards and Northwest Wine Co.

The 2021 event was co-chaired by Rob Alstrin of Adelsheim Vineyards and Jessica Endsworth of Northwest Wine Co.

It was announced in the week of this year’s auction that Northwest Wine Co had been purchased from its founders by a group of investors led by local investment firm Casparian Partners. Reputed by the principals to be ‘probably the largest transaction ever done in Oregon wine’, the deal includes more than 283ha of vineyards and more than 300,000 cases annually.

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