Hidden Gems Exist In Oregon’s Willamette Valley
A visit to the Coeur de Terre Vineyard and the Dukes Family Vineyards in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.
By Lou Marmon
Gazette Newspapers February 26, 2014
The excellent wines, spectacular views and remarkably friendly people within Oregon’s Willamette Valley make selecting which wineries to visit a difficult challenge. There is comfort in choosing familiar names such as Ken Wright, Soter Vineyards, Domaine Drouhin and Cristom Vineyards, pioneers in the region with stellar reputations for creating outstanding wines. But don’t ignore the smaller, less well-known wineries found scattered throughout the region where you will often have an opportunity to meet the owners, hear their stories and experience first-hand their passion to craft notable wines.
With limited funds and no formal training, Scott and Lisa Neal left Colorado where he was in the medical device business and she did real estate to pursue their winemaking dreams. By happenstance they came upon a nearly ideal location to grow grapes in the foothills of the Yamhill Valley. After tromping around and examining the soils along the property’s hillside for two days, they purchased the land, establishing their Coeur de Terre (Heart of the Earth) Vineyard in 1998, named after a heart-shaped boulder encountered while digging up the land for a vineyard that now has a place of honor on the property.
Coeur de Terre is a must on the list of places to visit in Willamette Valley, not just for their delicious wines but also because the owners are unpretentiously knowledgeable and loads of fun to hang with as they share the bounty of their family owned, organically run winery. They make a very tasty Riesling and produce several high-quality single vineyard Pinot Noirs. These include their sleek Talluhah’s Run 2009 showing floral and blackberry aromas intermingled with flavors of spice, dark plum, red berries and tobacco; the even more floral Abby’s Block 2009 that has cranberry, black cherry and savory notes with firmer tannins and a bit more spice and the softer Sarah Jane’s Block 2009 whose red cherry and rose petal scents are accented with hints of leather and herbs that persist among the spicy red and dark fruit flavors well into the long finish. Their violet and blackberry scented Renelle’s Block 2009 is simply delightful, deep in color and structure with Asian spice, black cherry, raspberry, cola and earthy flavors that display remarkable complexity, length and balance.
The single best word to describe Dukes Family Vineyards is “precision.” It is seen everywhere in the property located in Oregon’s Eola-Amity Hills from the immaculately maintained vineyards on their gorgeous estate to the structure of their exceptional wines.
Pat Dukes has a resume (including being a Cordon Bleu-trained chef) that would make the bearded Dos Equis beer guy jealous. His wife Jackie says that their friends accuse them of the best mid-life crisis ever. They moved onto the property to live among the vines in 2008 where they oversee all aspects of the winemaking and still find time to cook and entertain their guests.
The Dukes’ Blushing Katie 2011, a 100 percent Pinot Noir Rose, has lovely watermelon aromas and tart cherry and strawberry flavors with good balance and length. The deeply fragrant Alyssa Pinot Noir 2009 has dark and red berry aromas and flavors and soft tannins allowing it to be enjoyed now as well as after a few more years in the bottle, while the 2010 Alyssa shows more earthiness and bramble character along with spicy red berry, cranberry and black fruit. A distinctive contrast is also seen between the harvests of their Charlotte vineyards with the 2009 showing more earth along with dark fruit in a soft frame while the 2010 Charlotte has some additional spiciness along with cranberry, dark fruit and a more pronounced minerality.