Classifications in Burgundy define vineyards as grand, very good, or worthy, at least, of the village name. New World vineyards, with less history, have no such official levels. But vineyards do rise to the top of our tastings, the quality and distinction of their fruit showing through the winemaking of any number of different producers. This year, when we tallied the vineyard-designated wines from across the US, Temperance Hill came out on top.
Temperance Hill’s first acres were planted in 1981, on what may be the remnants of an ancient volcano. Its hundred planted acres—about 80 percent pinot noir, the rest pinot gris, gewurztraminer and chardonnay—are within sight of a number of the Eola–Amity Hills’ iconic vineyards, looking down, as it were, on each of them, since the vineyard’s elevation ranges from 650 to nearly 900 feet. “It’s easily the highest vineyard in the region,” explains Dai Crisp, steward of the site for the last 15 years, “and is one of the highest in the Willamette Valley.”
That distinction makes Temperance Hill unique in a number of ways. First, even by Eola–Amity Hills standards, it’s cool: Crisp typically begins picking after many others have brought in their last grapes. (In 2011, harvest was concluded on the eleventh of November.) Second, the soils are rockier, composed mostly of Nekia and Ritner series, thin and strewn with basalt, so variable that Crisp calls this place “a laboratory of viticulture,” since managing vine nutrition changes row to row. (Crisp began working toward Oregon Tilth certification in his first months; the vineyard has been certified organic since 2012.) Third, at elevation, there is no escaping the Van Duzer Corridor breezes.
All of these elements contribute a mineral signature to the pinot here that seems like a hallmark of place, at once aromatic and structural. There’s also a depth of color and cinnamon-stick spiciness common to pinots made from Temperance Hill fruit. “The site always has a kind of death-defying balance,” says Josh Bergström, who purchases chardonnay and pinot noir from the vineyard. “It’s so explosively aromatic it jolts you out of your chair, showcasing one of Oregon’s more esoteric bouquets.”
Perhaps one of the best measures of a great Eola–Amity Hills vineyard is the degree to which the fruit is used by neighbors. Seven Eola Hills wineries buy Temperance Hill fruit—St. Innocent, Evesham Wood, Walter Scott, Lumos, Brooks, J.K. Carriere and Ransom—as do other highly regarded Willamette Valley producers, including Adelsheim, Bergström and Elk Cove, three of our Top 100 Wineries this year.
This article first appeared in W&S Winter 2013.