Shea Estate Pinot Noir, Block 7 2016
Shea Estate Pinot Noir, Block 23 2016
This month, we present an iconic Pinot Noir, Shea from Willamette Valley in Oregon.
Shea Vineyard now consists of 285 hillside acres, of which 250 acres are planted to Pinot Noir and five acres to Chardonnay. The vineyard faces south at an elevation of 320 to 625 feet and is divided into two hills, named East and West separated by a valley containing native plants and trees. The original vines of Pommard and Wädenswil clones were planted on their own roots. Inevitably, phylloxera afflicted the vineyard and planned replanting progressed over the ensuing years, reaching completion in 2005. In 2016, 85 additional acres adjacent the existing property were acquired and planting began in 2017.
The newer plantings include the Dijon clones 114, 115, 777 and 828. The vineyard has never been irrigated except for new plantings during the first year.
Grapes from this impeccably maintained site are highly sought after by many of Oregon’s top wineries including: Andres’s Vat, Antica Terra, Beaux Frères, Bergstrom, Broadley, Elk Cove, Francis Tannahill, J.K. Carrier, Ken Wright Cellars, Panther Creek Cellars, Penner-Ash, Raptor Ridge, Revana, Stevenson- Barrie, Scott Paul Wines, St. Innocent and Tori Mor. In the past, grapes were sent to Manfred Krankl at Sine Qua Non in California (last vintage 2003), but now grapes sent to California go to Loring Wine Co., Pali Wine Co., and Auteur.
Since 1996, Dick has had his own label, Shea Wine Cellars. 20% of the vineyard production is held back for Dick’s own label. There have been several winemakers. Experienced tasters have talked about a certain “Shea-ness” that seems to be expressed in the wines from this vineyard. A consistent floral aroma and a dark red fruit character with spice seems unusually clear and unique to this vineyard.
The Shea Wine Cellars Pinot Noirs are designated as Estate (a blend of several blocks), block or clone designates which vary from year to year, and a special reserve wine labeled “Homer.”
After a decade spent planting and establishing the reputation for their today 200-acre vineyard – located west of Newberg, near to where the current A.V.A.s of Chehalem Mountain, Ribbon Ridge, Yamhill-Carlton, and Dundee Hills all come to within two miles of touching one another – in 1996, New Yorkers Dick and Deirdre Shea decided to take up year-round Oregon residence and began estate-bottling some of their fruit, relying on support from local enological luminaries, including Ken Wright and Patricia Green, before officially hiring a dedicated winemaker in 2003.
Their share of fruit today stands at 25%, with the other three-quarters going to one of the largest – and certainly among the most prestigious – lists of winery clients (in California as well as Oregon) for any vineyard in the U.S. Shea was hit hard in the 1990s by phylloxera, so that the first estate wines coincided with a period of intensive, strategic replanting and grafting. (“Compared with that,” relates Shea, “planting the first time was easy. We just stuck sticks in the ground and walked away, using watering cans on occasion.” And look what quality they got!).
Given the opportunity to cherry-pick their own vineyard, Dick Shea says that “basically we want a little bit of Pommard, some Wadenswil, some Dijon 777,” because the mix is still dominated by Pommard and Wadenswil, or as he put it, by “what came up in the back of a pick-up truck from California to plant the vineyard originally,” with the share of Dijon clones other than 777 being minimal.
Block 7: 91 points, Wine Enthusiast: “This block selection is 100% Wadenswil clone, 13% whole cluster fermented, and aged in 50% new French oak. Strawberry and blueberry fruit plays out broadly across the palate, with notes of root beer and cola. It’s open and forward, quite tasty.”
Block 23: 94 points, Wine Enthusiast: This single-block wine is made from 100% Pommard clone Pinot Noir. Full, round and forward, it’s bursting with baking spice, blackberry pastry, fig and raisin. It’s focused, long and simply delicious.