Thursday, March 31, 2011

From Willamette's East Valley; Hanson Vineyards

Hanson Vineyards is one of 16 wineries that make up the East Valley, a Willamette Valley wine producing region that lies east of the I-5 corridor. While the area is a relatively new wine destination, some of the families have been farming that side of the valley for a good long while. Hanson Vineyards is one such long-standing winery and has been growing Niagara and Concord grapes since the 1920s. The wine making got serious in 2000 when Clark Hanson started to plant vinifera root stocks.

The Hanson family, Clark and his son, Jason, are looking to make a wine accentuated by their terroir. The vineyards are planted along the cool water Cascadia creeks, which elements add a unique character to their wine. Clark and Jason are currently making four wines: a Pinot Noir, a Chardonnay, a Pinot Blanc, and a Riesling. Though they generally agree on how the wines should be made, they disagree on Riesling, as Clark prefers a sweeter Riesling while Jason likes them really dry. As a compromise they change the style every year, alternating between about 2% residual sugar and a bone dry Riesling.

Hanson Vineyards is a small winery and they plan to stay that way, with designs on maybe making a few hundred cases of each varietal. In addition to being small, Hanson does their own thing, not pressured to follow any particular formula or style that may have become fashionable in Oregon's Willamette Valley. Hanson Vineyards makes the wine that their vineyards give them, not pursuing in your face, inkier Pinots. The Pinot Noir that's coming out of Hanson Vineyards is lighter in color and body.

I found the Hanson wines were certainly lighter than some Oregon Pinot. While they didn't have the dark fruit or earthen characteristics often associated with Pinot, the wines communicate lighter fruit and herbal notes. The nose on the Pinot Noir was very classically Burgundian and the wine was lighter to medium bodied and had very little oak influence. The Chardonnay was a fine example of what Oregon can do: lighter fruit and some herbaceous notes. France would have been proud of both of these varietals from the New World.

Hanson Vineyards gives Oregon Pinot and Chardonnay fans the opportunity to see the versatility that the Willamette Valley offers in the form of a small family operation that has no designs on overthrowing the giants of Willamette Valley or converting Pinot drinkers to their more Old World style. The Hanson family is happy to be able to create the wines their vines give them and Jason and Clark have agreed that the wines they're producing are as they are intended.


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