Swafford on Wine: Willamette Pinot Noir Going once, Going twice...

Sold! For more than one million dollars, setting a new record, the Willamette Valley Wineries Association auctioned 92 lots of wine, each consisting of five, 10 or 20 cases of mostly Pinot noir from the excellent 2017 vintage, at their fourth annual auction at The Allison Inn & Spa in Newberg on April 6.

The money raised will fund marketing and educational projects to spread the word throughout the world of the high quality of Oregon Willamette Valley Pinot noir. A standing-room-only crowd of 450 cheered the enthusiastic bidders, who numbered 128 members of the wine trade — retailers, restaurateurs and wholesalers — from 26 states and three countries. Veteran auctioneer Fritz Hatton pitted bidders against one another at a rapid pace, producing sales of $54,000 for Domaine Serene, $32,000 for Antica Terra, $30,000 for Alexana Winery and $26,000 for Bethel Heights — each lot consisting of five cases. The million dollar goal was reached on the final lot when six bidders collaborated on a $60,000 bid for five cases of Duck Pond Cellars Pinot noir.

This event was a two-day affair beginning Friday, April 5, with tasting of all the auction lots at stations placed in the impressive wineries of Domaine Drouhin Oregon and Domaine Serene, both in the Red Hills near Dundee. Before the auction on Saturday, the stations were moved over to the Allison Inn.  We needed two days to get to so many great wines. Excellent food choices were available at all three locations to enhance the superb wines.

The event proved to be a great spectator sport, but also a nostalgic trip for me, as I visited with some of the pioneers of Oregon wine who greeted me so cordially when I came up from California in 1981 and became a wine merchant in Newport for over 30 years. Husband and wife founders of Elk Cove Winery, Joe and Pat Campbell, whose son Adam is now winemaker, were honored at the auction. I remember Pat overcoming a snow-filled driveway at the Gaston-area winery to come down to Newport for a wine tasting at our Champagne Patio. Joe reminded me of the time, early in the days of the winery, when he would bring wine directly to me, and I reminded him of the time he left me Reserve Pinot when I had paid for the lesser expensive Regular. I called him to correct the error, and he brought me an Elk Cove T-shirt to say thanks on his next trip down. (I wore that shirt out. I told him I needed a new one.) David Adelsheim remembered me bringing David Ogden Stiers to him for advice on the opening remarks Stiers was asked to make at the annual International Pinot Noir Celebration that was co-founded by Adelsheim. 

One strong impression I took away with me from the wine auction was a sense of continuity in Oregon wine making. I spoke with the new generation of winemakers at many stops to taste, trying not to be boring with comments of: “I knew your parents when you were little.” It was nice to visit with and taste the wines made by Winter's Hill Estate's Russell Gladhart, son of Peter and Emily; Alex and his sister Allison Sokol Blosser, winemaker and co-president of the winery founded by their parents Susan and Bill;  RR Wines' winemaker Wynne Petersen-Nedry, daughter of Judy and Harry. 

Perhaps the best example of the spirit of cooperation and family in the Oregon wine community was shown in the lot of 2017 Chardonnay called "Three's Company." This was the collaboration of Adam Campbell, Luisa Ponzi and Alex Sokol Blosser, whose pioneering parents founded Elk Cove, Ponzi and Sokol Blosser wineries nearly 50 years ago. I enjoyed this weekend so much that I hardly had time to suddenly feel old.


Joseph Swafford [email protected]  


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