Soter Associate Courtney Shields is my host today, and we start off by heading into the vineyard to sip some Soter sparkling wine affectionately referred to as “Soter Pop”. Sparkling wine represents a relatively small amount of Soter’s production, but both the Rose and Blanc de Blancs are great if you can find them (rumor is the Blanc de Blancs is pretty impossible to find).
Soter Vineyards gets its name from winemaker and Portland native Tony Soter, who made a name for himself through his Etude Winery in California. Tony has a reputation for being able to pick great sites, which led him to the Yamhill-Carlton sub-AVA of the Willamette Valley.
They recently sold the Beacon Hill property to focus on the Mineral Springs Vineyard adjacent to the winery. Soter Vineyards controls 240 acres, though only 32 acres of this is planted. Tony is known for his ability to pick great vineyard sites, and the Mineral Springs Pinot Noir reflects this.
Production at Soter is slated to double as new plantings in the Mineral Springs Vineyard produce usable fruit. Throughout this expansion is a commitment to sustainable practices. Soter Vineyards is LIVE Certified and actively promotes biodiversity in the vineyards. Being LIVE Certified recognizes producers with a commitment to sustainability without all of the costs and red tape of seeking an organic recognition.
To Courtney, sustainable viticulture is simply the “Oregonian Way”, and its an identity she embraces on both a professional and personal level. There are even “Soter Sheep” at the estate as part of the biodiversity program, complete with Shepard and all.
In terms of challenges facing the Willamette Valley, Courtney fears for the smaller producers being able to keep up with the rising production costs in this lackluster economy, as well as finding distributor representation to get the wines out into the world.
Courtney sees the collaboration that exists in the valley as one of its greatest assets, and this is demonstrated when she invites a “competitor” winemaker to lunch with us. As we drive to lunch at the fabulous Tina’s in Dundee, I mention that our interview went incredibly well, only to have to confess that she used to be a junior high sex-ed teacher so she is used to dealing with immature boys…fair enough.
We are joined at lunch by Drew Voit, and his ambitious beard immediately puts me on the defensive. After I get over my beard envy and give this guy a chance, he doesn’t disappoint. Drew is the winemaker at Shea Vineyards, rumored to be best Pinot Noir Vineyard outside of Burgundy. I pair the 2006 Shea Pinot Noir he brought with Tina’s Lamb Stew, and it is a pretty darned good pairing.
Drew’s situation intrigues me, that is, taking over an established winery. He says his mission at the moment is to familiarize himself with the different clones and blocks in the Shea Vineyard.
We talk styles of Pinot Noir, and both Drew and Courtney are a little fed up with Burgundy comparisons. Drew is simply trying to make the best Pinot Noir he can to reflect what the vineyard is giving him, and he has a feeling Burgundian winemakers are sitting around wondering if their wines are Willamette-enough in style. Well put sir, well put.