Published by Triangle Around Town, Screw It Wine magazine focuses on wine, beer, food, and travel in both North Carolina and across the U.S. The digital, e-publication recently included a feature story filed by Dave Nershi, publisher, writer and reviewer of Vino-Sphere wine blog.
Nershi, who featured us previously after a tour of the Willamette Valley, asked us to submit our current vintages of Helios Estate Seyval Blanc and Rhapsody Pinot Blanc to include in a story entitled, “Willamette Whites Offer Eye-Opening Satisfaction.”
Are you in love with Willamette Valley like I am? If so, it’s for a good reason. The Willamette Valley, Oregon’s leading wine region, has two-thirds of the state’s wineries and vineyards and is home to more than 700 wineries. It is recognized as one of the premier Pinot Noir producing areas globally.
Everyone knows about Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, but the times are changing. In fact, 30 percent of Willamette Valley’s grapes are those other than Pinot Noir. The quality of Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling and lesser-known white grapes capture the attention of wine critics with their balance, elegance and higher acidity.
We tasted six Willamette whites from premier wineries. To round out the picture, we contacted three Willamette Valley winemakers to get their perspectives on the rise of white wines in the region…
Dave Specter is the owner and winemaker at Bells Up Winery, a micro-boutique winery he operates with his wife, Sara. Specter is a former corporate tax attorney who won two national amateur winemaking competitions, encouraging the couple to purchase a former Christmas tree farm north of Newberg, Oregon, and establish their vineyard. Today the winery produces about 600 cases annually.
“Regionally, and broadly speaking, there is a tendency toward producing crisper, balanced white wines that showcase the minerality of the area’s soils,” said Specter. “You don’t see many oaked whites made here compared to other winemaking regions, which makes them distinctive.
“For whites, I’m trying to achieve approachability and elegance through balanced acidity with a creamy texture that comes from a few months spent stirring the wine on its lees. That gives them a fuller-bodied presence, allowing our white wines to be enjoyed solo or accompanied by a meal. We’ve seen great pairings with oysters or creamy Mediterranean lamb stew for the Rhapsody Pinot Blanc, and fish tacos or asparagus with lemon for the Helios Seyval Blanc, which is the only planting of that varietal in the Willamette Valley (thereby making it a very unique white here).”
Additionally, Nershi was joined by a group of wine connoisseurs to sample six wines from the region, including the two we sent in. Here’s what they thought:
BELLS UP RHAPSODY 2021 PINOT BLANC: This wine immediately gained fan-favorite status with our group. I was expecting a more austere wine, but the Rhapsody (named for Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue) delivered nectarine and lemon zest flavors in a jazzy way. The wine gets six months of sur lie aging for a fuller body without dampening the crispness.
BELLS UP HELIOS 2021 SEYVAL BLANC, CHEHALEM MOUNTAINS: Bells Up has the first and only Seyval Blanc planting in Willamette Valley (second in Oregon). The variety is found mainly in the Midwest and East. Tropical fruit and green apples surround a swirling minerality. There is a unique flinty twang on the finish. Minimal availability of 64 cases.