Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay may very well be the grapes most commonly grown in the United States, but they are not the only varieties to be found in vineyards. Although pinot noir has earned a reputation as the world’s “most fickle grape,” according to sommelier Michael Jordan, some wineries in the West are taking up the challenge of producing delicious and well-balanced pinot noirs.
The United States is the fourth largest wine producer in the world, but internationally its wine-producing regions are less famous than France’s Bordeaux or Argentina’s Mendoza. Jordan, director of global key accounts for Jackson Family Wines, wants to change that and help put California and Oregon on the map as globally-recognised wine regions in their own right.
The family-operated Jackson Family Wines owns 55 wineries in North and South America, France, Italy, South Africa and Australia. In the US alone, it operates about three dozen wineries in California and Oregon.
At a recent masterclass held in Hong Kong’s Conrad Hotel, Jordan discussed the key differences between California and Oregon wines, as well as the conditions that make the regions so suitable for wine grape cultivation.
Pinot noir made from Oregon grapes tends to be fresher than its “fruitier, jammier” cousin in California, Jordan said. However, it’s more intensely fruity than Burgundy wines.
Oregon pinots also tend to be more acidic than California wines, and they fall somewhere in between Burgundy and California wines on both the tannin and richness scales.
“We’re not trying to make Burgundy wine. We’re trying to make Oregon wine,” Jordan said. “I think it’s been pigeon-holed and compared for so many years to New Zealand or Burgundy or to someplace else that we’ve lost track of the identity and characteristics of true Oregon pinot noir.”
The company’s latest vintage to hit store shelves is the Gran Moraine Yamhill-Carlton 2014. Derived from the Yamhill-Carlton American Viticultural Area (AVA) in Oregon’s Willamette Valley – a region designated for grape cultivation – the wine features flavours of cranberry, rose hips, orange zest, Meyer lemon, morel mushroom, red cedar and spices. According to the winery, 2014 will long be considered “one of the best vintages ever for the Willamette Valley,” thanks to favourable weather conditions that year.
The masterclass featured a guided tasting of eight different offerings from Jackson Family Wines – four from California, and four from Oregon.
Jordan, who has an extensive background in the restaurant business, previously served as the global manager of wine for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts worldwide, and he has been named ‘Sommelier of the Year’ by multiple organisations throughout the years.
Text: Emily Petsko