Quality winegrowing in America was in its infancy in the 1970’s. The Spurrier tasting in Paris in 1976 gave the first international credibility to California Cabernet and Chardonnay. Three years later, again in Paris, and the following year in Beaune, The Eyrie Vineyards 1975 Pinot noir brought international attention to Oregon, a wine region unfamiliar to almost anyone except a handful of hardy pioneers. With these two tastings, Oregon won its first recognition as the New World home for Pinot noir.
In the winter of 1965, after earning a degree in viticulture and enology from UC/Davis, and research in Europe, 25-year old David Lett moved to Oregon “with 3,000 grape cuttings and a theory”. He planted the cuttings in a rented nursery plot, and went looking for the perfect vineyard site. It was the first planting of Pinot noir, Chardonnay, and related varieties in the Willamette Valley, and the first Pinot gris in America.
The Eyrie Vineyards, founded by David and Diana Lett in 1966, is located in the Red Hills of Dundee, about 30 miles SW of Portland. It was named for the red-tailed hawks who make their home (EYE-ree) in the fir trees at the top of the first vineyard plantings. The winery is in nearby McMinnville.
In 1970, The Eyrie Vineyards produced our first vintage. In 1975, The Eyrie Vineyards produced the first American Pinot noir to compete successfully with the renowned Pinot noirs of Burgundy. (Paris, 1979; Beaune, 1980).
Total annual production is around 10,000 cases. All wines are estate-grown and produced. In addition to handcrafted Pinot noir, Pinot gris and Chardonnay, the Eyrie Vineyards also makes limited bottlings of Pinot blanc, Pinot Meunier and Muscat Ottonel.
In 2005, Jason Lett took over from his father as winemaker and vineyard manager at The Eyrie Vineyards, and continues his family’s pioneering legacy.
The philosophy of The Eyrie Vineyards, in the vineyards and in the winery, is to interfere as little as possible with the processes of Nature.
From the beginning, our wines have been made exclusively from grapes grown without the use of insecticides, herbicides or systemic fungicides. Our vines are grown on their own roots, and are not irrigated.
While we are hands-on in the vineyard, winery manipulations are restrained, to preserve the varietal flavors and expression of terroir we work so hard to achieve in the vineyards.
THE 4 VINEYARDS
The Eyrie Vineyards is located in the Red Hills of Dundee, about 30 miles southwest of Portland. Our four beautiful estate vineyards are all located on south-facing, gently sloping hillsides, with plantings at varying altitudes:
1. The Eyrie Vineyard:
The original planting of wine vines in the Dundee Hills. Founded in 1966. 220’-400’ elevation. 20 acres of Pinot noir, Chardonnay, Pinot gris, Pinot Meunier, Muscat Ottonel. This vineyard is the source of our “single vineyard” Estate Reserve Pinot noir, and special bottlings of South Block Reserve.
2. “Daphne” Vineyard (formerly called Stonehedge) :
720’-820’ elevation, at the top of the Dundee Hills, 13 acres of Pinot gris, Pinot noir, Pinot Meunier.
3. Rolling Green Farm:
540’-720’ elevation, between Eyrie and Stonehedge; 6 acres, Pinot noir, Pinot gris.
4. Three Sisters Vineyard:
200’-360’ elevation, 16 acres, Planted to the three lovely Pinot Sisters – Pinot noir, Pinot gris, and Pinot blanc.
WINES AND WINEMAKING AT THE EYRIE VINEYARDS
Carrying Eyrie’s “gentle touch” vineyard philosophy into the winery seems only natural. Our “style” is based on picking grapes at that elusive point of maturity where true varietal characteristics are at their peak, before they become over-ripe, and in the winery we take great care not to compromise these flavors. This means minimal racking, extended lees contact, complete and spontaneous malolactic fermentation, no fining, minimal filtration, etc. This gentle treatment creates wines which are very approachable when young, and legendary for their age-ability.
The Eyrie Vineyards produces Estate Reserve wines, Estate wines, and Limited Bottlings.
Single-Vineyard “Original Vines Reserve” Wines
All grapes for our Pinot noir Reserve and Chardonnay Reserve come from Eyrie’s original planting, the oldest in the Willamette Valley. These 40-year-old vines are grown on their own roots, and reflect the complexity of their age and their long-established “sense of place.” This is translated into stylish wines showing finesse, subtlety, and depth of character.
Pinot noir Reserve: Fermented in small bins from completely de-stemmed and mostly whole berries. The ‘must” is punched down by hand every four hours. After a gentle pressing, the wine is transferred to oak casks. During nearly two years in barrel, the wine falls naturally clear, and is bottled without filtration or fining.
Chardonnay Reserve: Essentially a vineyard/barrel selection. Over the years, certain parts of the original “Draper Selection” Chardonnay plantings consistently have yielded wines with deeper, richer, more complex flavors. These wines are aged for nine months or more on unstirred lees, in a combination of neutral and new French and Oregon oak casks. It receives only one gentle filtration prior to bottling.
The grapes for Eyrie’s Estate wines come mostly from our three “younger” vineyards: Stonehedge, Sisters, and Rolling Green Farm, planted in the 1980’s. Each of these vineyards has its own individuality, but we believe the ultimate blends represent a whole better than its parts.
Pinot noir: Less “reserved” than Reserve wines, Eyrie’s estate Pinot noirs typically display forward, fruity and fresh varietal characteristics. Aged 11 months in mostly neutral oak casks, the wine is not fined, and is filtered only if necessary.
Pinot gris: This blend of grapes from all four vineyards shows rich varietal character and complexity rarely found in Pinot gris (grigio). Fermented in stainless steel tanks, the wine gains added dimensions from remaining on the lees until bottling. It is given only one loose filtration prior to bottling. Our first Pinot gris was produced in 1970, a full ten years before other winegrowers recognized its New World potential. The Eyrie Vineyards continues to be credited with setting the standard for flavor and value.
Chardonnay: In 1964, before leaving for Oregon, David hand-selected a remarkable collection of vine cuttings from the Draper Ranch in northern California. The clonal diversity of this collection, originally imported from Burgundy, and the cool Burgundian climate of the Willamette Valley combine to produce Eyrie’s unique and distinctly European-styled Chardonnay. Aged on the lees for eleven months in neutral oak, and given one loose filtration before bottling, the wines are subtly expressive, elegant, and long-lived.
“Limited Bottling” Wines
Rare varieties, small production; usually available only from winery
Muscat Ottonel: This lovely little Muscat, one of the classic wine varieties of Alsace, is a “shy bearer” by nature, and so sensitive to weather conditions during bloom that some years it doesn’t bear grapes at all. Not good for vineyard economics, but so delicious we’ve kept our original planting of ten rows. In the Alsatian tradition, we make it bone-dry, with a slightly lower alcohol content. Shows a beautiful Muscat aroma. Great aperitif, and fun with anything spicy. LIMITED BOTTLING
Pinot blanc: Eyrie’s Pinot blanc is made from a collection of authentic Alsatian clones planted at our Three Sisters Vineyard in the Dundee Hills (named for the three lovely Pinot sisters, Pinot noir, Pinot gris, and Pinot blanc). LIMITED BOTTLING
Pinot Meunier: Pinot Meunier is similar to Pinot noir but is a little more “rustic” than its elegant sister variety. Historically, Pinot Meunier is grown in the Champagne region of northern France, and is often blended with Pinot noir and Chardonnay in the production of fine champagne. We think it merits attention on its own, however, as a still (non-sparkling) red wine, and treat it like our Pinot noir, with up to two years in French oak, with no fining or filtration. LIMITED BOTTLING
Before our first harvest, in 1970, we searched everywhere for financing to build our little dream winery…gravity-fed, multi-leveled, everything perfect, all to be nestled into the vineyard hillside. To make a long story short, investors back then were seriously under-whelmed by the idea of Oregon wine. We ended up refurbishing an old poultry plant on the outskirts of McMinnville….it worked so well that, many vintages later, we’re still there. Now our “neighborhood” is full of small artisanal wineries, 20 or so at last count. Please join us for Yamhill County’s annual Memorial and Thanksgiving Weekend Winetastings! New Eyrie releases, library wines, special case sales. limited bottlings available only at the winery, accompanied by artisan cheeses and breads, hazelnuts, and other goodies. Tasting fee $10, sharing is fine.
New! Winetasting at Eyrie’s historic winery in McMinnville
Taste the History…
David “Papa Pinot” Lett planted the first Pinot noir vines in the Willamette Valley back in 1965, and The Eyrie Vineyards has been producing famously elegant, classic wines since 1970. Join us at our working winery in McMinnville for wine tasting and tales of Oregon wine history!
Where: The Eyrie Vineyards Winery, 935 NE 10th Avenue @ Alpine, McMinnville
When: Daily, 12:00 – 5:00 Open July 4th. (Closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Week/New Year’s Day)
Tasting fee: Exploration flight, 6 wines, $15; Library tasting, usually 2 wines, $10 . One tasting fee may be waived per every $60 spent, and sharing is welcomed.
For more information or to book groups of 8 or more, please contact us
at 503.472.6315 or 888.440.4970 or email email@example.com