Harry Peterson-Nedry planted his Ridgecrest vineyard in 1982 and brought in his first grapes in 1985. The vineyard location, the Ribbon Ridge AVA, is home to some of the best pinot noir vineyards in the country.
IN THE MID-1980s, the second wave of Oregon pioneers arrived in the Willamette Valley, following some exciting reviews from Wine Spectator and Robert Parker, themselves newly minted back then.
Chehalem winery was one of them. Founder Harry Peterson-Nedry planted his Ridgecrest vineyard in 1982 and brought in his first grapes in 1985 — a most propitious time. The vineyard location, in what has become the Ribbon Ridge AVA, was equally well-chosen. Tucked into a corner of the Chehalem Mountains AVA, Ribbon Ridge is now home to some of the best pinot noir vineyards in the country. But back then, Peterson-Nedry was exploring unknown territory.
A winery soon followed, and the first few vintages included pinot gris, gamay noir, and estate-grown chardonnay and pinot noir. Over the years two more estate vineyards were added: Corral Creek, in the Chehalem Mountains, and Stoller, in the Dundee Hills.
Single-vineyard wines and well-crafted “Three Vineyard” blends are offered, and the winery makes one of Oregon’s most extensive riesling lineups. The introduction of a major label redesign brought a tasting of 18 new Chehalem wines to my door, with riesling and pinot noir among the stars of the show.
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The new labels, quite honestly, don’t charm me. They are full of good information, colorfully decorated with vineyard photographs, and offer advice on wine and food pairings (misspelled as “parings” on some labels). But there is so much clutter and color that consumers may find them more confusing than compelling.
Labels aside, the wines are as good as ever. Many are made in small lots, but the wines mentioned here are widely available and priced at the low end of comparable Oregon offerings.
The Chehalem 2011 Three Vineyard Pinot Gris ($19) is clean and easy-drinking. Lightly spicy apple, pear and peach flavors combine gracefully, giving the wine a lush fruity core.
Chehalem has long made a stainless steel-fermented chardonnay called INOX. Both the 2010 and 2011 ($19) are in the market. I give a slight nod to the 2010, whose flavors are as crisp and refreshing as a clear mountain stream. Steely and mineral-driven, its apple and pear fruit carries just a tongue-tickling hint of butter. The 2011 INOX is much softer, with an easy-drinking roundness to the mid-palate.
Among a group of four rieslings, the 2011 Three Vineyard Riesling ($24) is a fine choice. It’s slightly sweet, textural and complex, with flavors of fruit skin and rind.
Limited-production, single-vineyard and reserve pinots are also made, but the best value remains the Chehalem 2010 Three Vineyard Pinot Noir ($27). It’s a smoky, dusty wine that seems to be aging rather quickly, though gracefully. At the moment, it’s drinking really well, with plenty of pretty cherry fruit.