Robert Parker 93+ Points: "In 2016 we had access to vineyard sites that came with the purchase by Jackson Family Wines," Lynn Penner-Ash explains. "Those sites brought some freshness to the wines. They are fresher and livelier than what we saw from the other warm vintages." She also notes that the oak usage dropped quite a bit in 2016, down to about 19%-23% from 20%-40%. Pale to medium ruby-purple in color, the 2016 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley opens with just the slightest touch of gunflint-like reduction on the nose, giving way to red cherries, cranberries and warm raspberry with underlying suggestions of pink peppercorn and flowers. Light to medium-bodied, it gives up great layers of warm red and blue fruits with earthy accents of forest floor, wet earth and bark. It's structured by fine-grained tannins and great juicy acidity carrying the long fruit-forward finish. This is youthfully coiled but should blossom beautifully. 10,000 cases produced.
In 2016 Penner-Ash was purchased by Jackson Family Wines. Winemaker Lynn Penner-Ash says it will allow the winery access to more top vineyard sites like Gran Moraine and Zena Crown to use in their Willamette Valley blend and the brand's single-designate Pinot Noirs. "We built our reputation on small-lot vineyard designates," she explains. "These vineyard designates show what we're doing with the different AVAs and how they work themselves into the blends for our Willamette Valley wines. We will take more fruit from the designates to add to the Willamette blend because we want it to be consistent. It's our flagship bottling and our largest blend." Winemaking is adjusted each year to suit the particular vintage. "Our formula is purely based on vintage. For example, our barrel usage transitions from 19% to 40%. There's no real formula. We are just trying to make the best wine we can from a particular vintage."
Tasting through several vintages from 2000 onward, I asked Lynn about the changes she's seen in climate since the early 2000s. "We used to see around 10 days of 90+ degrees a year," she says. "In 2018, we are already at 31 days of 90+ degrees. We are seeing a change in the number of heat units and the intensity of those heat units. Something is taking place." I asked how often acidulation is required. "2003 was the first year we started talking about acid additions," she says. "We've had to acidify in the last three vintages. But we've really started to focus on when that addition is made. Now we have better skills. We can run TA and pH in-house and can gauge those much more accurately." What about picking earlier? "We’ve been classically split picking," she says. "It’s a trade off. You want that acidity, but at the same time if you harvest earlier, the fruit isn’t as ripe. You’ll see that transition in our wines in the last few vintages. In 2015 we really started splitting picks, trying to blend earlier picked and later picked fruit as opposed to acidifying."
"You’re going to see the degree days racking up now, and the vines are now carrying more fruit as well because you’re getting better bud set from these warmer springs, the precursors to the next year’s crop," Lynn says of the future. "We have no issues with rain, infertility, etc. Our average cluster size is increasing.;100- to 120-gram clusters used to be huge, and now we’re seeing up to 170-gram clusters. They're very tight and very full. We prefer looser clusters because rain will be a big problem for these tight clusters. At one cluster per shoot, where I think our vines should be, that brings us up to 2.75-3 tons per acre. It's a big challenge to figure this out because we’re getting bigger berries and you get less flavor because the skin-to-juice ratio is actually changing. I’m seeing it across the board, regardless of AVA. The next couple vintages go well up to 2,500 growing degree days. So you’re seeing quite the transition."
I found the Willamette Valley Pinot Noir blend from Penner-Ash to be of consistently high quality across the board regardless of vintage, although the wines, especially the single-designate Pinots, truly shine in a great vintage like 2016. They are also wines that show beautifully with age, gaining in tertiary notes while maintaining fruit and structure."
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