Eyrie Vineyards

"I knew ever since tasting David Lett’s 1975 South Block – which was when it had been in bottle for around a decade - nobody has made a Willamette Pinot any more profoundly, hauntingly, complexly delicious since" - David Schildknecht, Wine Advocate

Eyrie vineyards plays an important role in shaping the Oregon wine industry where the very first plantings of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the Willamette Valley were made by founder David Lett in 1965. With a degree in viticulture and enology from UC Davis followed by months of research in Europe, then 25-year old Lett moved to Oregon with 3000 grape cuttings which he planted in a rented nursery plot and set about his search for the perfect vineyard site. Aside from these Burgundian varieties, he was also the first to plant Pinot Gris in the whole of America.

A year later, they settled on the volcanic soils in the Red Hills of the Dundee AVA where Eyrie was born, naming the winery after the red-tailed hawks who make their nests in the fir tree at the top of the vineyard sites. This was the first of the five south-facing vineyard sites that would soon make up the repertoire of Eyrie’s great terroir. It did not take long until the region attracted many other determined growers who believed in the potential that the climate and the soils held, and in 1975 Lett had produced the first American Pinot Noir would be placed in the top 10 in an international Pinot Noir blind tasting held in Paris known as the Wine Olympics organized by Gault Millau. Though this achievement did not quite attract the same headlines as Stephen Spurrier’s Judgement of Paris competition in 1976, it was enough for Robert Drouhin of renowned Burgundian negociant Maison Joseph Drouhin to organize a rematch in Beaune in which the same bottle became runner up to Drouhin’s winning 1959 Chambolle-Musigny by only one-fifth of a point.

In 2005, David passed the mantle of winemaker and vineyard manager to his son Jason, who has changed very little in the way the estate is run. Sustainable viticulture was practiced right from the start, with not a shred of herbicides, pesticides, tillage or irrigation, with all five vineyards certified organic. Even the three local growers they purchase grapes from to supplement their range are either certified or at least apply the same principles. Their precision and perfection in growing both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay have even led them to explore other varietals too, with limited bottlings of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Meunier, Muscat Ottonel, and also the Jura variety Trousseau. Their delicate approach to vineyard management is continued in the winemaking style too, where the aim is to retain the gentle maturity of the grapes through natural fermentations, soft extractions minimal usage of new oak that sees just 5 or 6 new barrels being introduced per year. All of this results in a truly refined style, especially in his Pinot Noirs where it has truly found a home outside of Burgundy, yet retaining all of the elegance, purity and age-worthiness that sets them apart from other New World Pinots.