Michael and Lisa Noel grow Pinot Noir on two acres in the Chehalem Mountains, in the northwest reaches of Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The vineyard rises to 800 feet, and the Noels live adjacent in a home that overlooks the vines and, far beyond, the captivating undulations of the Ribbon Ridge hills.
In 2008 the Noels planted their tiny plot to six different clones of Pinot Noir: Wadenswil, Pommard, and Dijon 777, 667, 114, and 115. They farm their iron-rich Jory soils organically. Yields are low, just one to one-and-a-half tons per acre. Total annual production: 100 cases.
Luis Hernandez manages the vineyard, and Todd Hamina makes the wine. Both men have over twenty years of experience in the Willamette Valley—Hernandez at Sokol Blosser, and Hamina at Archery Summit, Patton, Maysara, and, since 2007, at his own project, Biggio Hamina.
Let’s review the math: four vignerons, two decades of history, two acres of vines, two, or maybe three, tons of fruit, 1,200 bottles of Pinot Noir. Each bottle, in other words, is a manifestation of incalculable effort. It’s no wonder they number each one.
But these are just the perfunctories of the wine, the facts about its provenance and making. They cannot describe the wine’s mystery, how it wakes you up, then works on you. This year I’ve tasted scores of beautiful Oregon Pinot Noirs, yet Noel’s wines linger brightly. They’re ripe with voluptuous acidity, shimmery minerals, and a forest-earthiness that keeps the fruit in perspective.
My favorite wines are combinatory: stony and lyrical, robust and diaphanous, fruity and steely, pure and beguiling. Contrast creates tension, and tension is interesting. These wines are interesting.
2012 Noel Family Vineyard Pinot Noir Chehalem Mountains
13.6% abv | $40 (sample)
This is a wine that glints with many facets: woods and field, earth and iron, fruit, stone, acid. Its ruby-garnet body is edged with a limpid rim and exhales a woodsy fragrance of herbs, forest, deep plum, and juniper. Sparkling acidity and tart raspberry fruits finish with a hit of ruby grapefruit. The 2012 Oregon vintage was superb, and while this wine is ripe it is not plush; the fruit here reads as if it had been threaded through a rusted core, anchoring it to the land.
2012 Noel Family Vineyard Pinot Noir “Night” Chehalem Mountains
13.6% abv | $50 (sample)
Fruits and flowers swirl amidst savory aromas of linseed, juniper, and cured meats. It’s smooth and silky-textured across the tongue, with a pale garnet body and pure red fruits that, curiously, seem to have been tinged with tar. The wine has a kind of charcoal blackness to it—hence, perhaps, its name—and is the most earthy of the three shown here. But while the others telegraph iron, this one telegraphs ore, all coal and blackness, conjuring night fires in the vineyard, the sparks of pruned vine canes, burning.
2011 Noel Family Vineyard Pinot Noir Chehalem Mountains
13% abv | $40 (sample)
Incredibly light-colored, the tint of macerated strawberries, almost like a deep rosé. A perfume of May flowers, almond blossoms, and sweet tomato mingles with wet stone. The wine’s body is lean and attenuated, with bright pomegranate fruits and a serene, minerally core. It feels at once chiseled and delicate, a framework wrought of bones and iron bedecked in pale flowers. It was still nervy and exciting on Day Three, maybe even more so. This is a Burgundian wine, taut and concise, but with such lyrically sweet top notes you know the song could only have been written high in Oregon’s hills.