A short while ago I received an intriguing message from a winery that’s about as under-the-radar as a winery in a major, prestigious Oregon AVA can possibly be.
Cliff Anderson, the owner of Anderson Family Vineyard, wrote “I’m not sure we’ve ever had the chance to meet. I’ve certainly heard your name and read your writing. We’ve been growing and making wines on our steep butte here in Oregon for over 30 years.
“We’ve been asked but have never submitted wines for critical review. I’m curious and excited to get your feedback. Let us know if you’d be interested in tasting and reviewing a rather wide range of wines in current release. These would be six years of our estate Pinot noir (’14 thru ’19). And six years of our Dijon Chardonnay (’15 thru ’20). All made from the same vines in the same way.
“We think one of the beauties of tasting these wines vertically is the opportunity to truly ferret out vintage differences…taste Oregon’s weather, not differences in farming or winemaking. All twelve of these wines were farmed and made by the same people in the same way… as few different variables as possible. Even down to the cooper and barrel selection used… same vines, different years.”
Well, as you might have guessed, I jumped on the chance. Never reviewed after three decades in the business?! Same non-interventionist winemaking all that time! Unique soils unlike elsewhere in the Dundee Hills! Sign me up. I’ve spent the past week exploring these wines. Before I rush you into the reviews, here are a few more of Cliff’s notes on the winery’s history and winemaking practices.
- All estate fruit from our 16.5 acres of closely-spaced vines (3′ X6′).
- All farming is by our own team…over three decades farming this butte.
- Grown on, over and through rocks…the entire vineyard is an ancient, basalt landslide.
- All dry farmed, no irrigation.
- All farmed organically from the get-go.
- All indigenous yeast & bacterial fermentations.
- Same winemaker, same techniques, same vines.
- All wines moved with gravity, never pumped.
- All Pinots are from the same vines & include Pommard, Wadenswil, 115, 667 & 777.
- All Chardonnays are from the same clone 76 & 96 vines.
- All Pinot Noirs are $56 retail, regardless of vintage.
- All Chardonnays are $48 retail, for all vintages in current release.
There’s a whole lot more (and very interesting background on Cliff, his partner Allison, and their long search for the perfect place to grow wine grapes after moving to Oregon in 1973. I’ll publish more of that story on Substack.
Every single one of the dozen wines I tasted held together beautifully on the third and sometimes fourth day. Ageworthy? You bet. But with a bit of aeration they are fine for drinking immediately, the older vintages of course, but even the most recent releases.
Anderson Family Vineyard
Anderson Family 2015 Chardonnay
Impeccable condition, pale straw, no sign of browning at all. Fresh, bright and just slightly high-toned. The texture is terrific, with a baseline of mineral and a frame of citrus rind. The barrel toast is well-integrated. There’s no indication that this wine, bottled six years ago, is anywhere near its peak. Further confirmation – tasted on the third day it showed hardly any deterioration. Perhaps the toasty oak was a bit more pronounced, the high-toned brightness slightly muted, but overall still delicious. 525 cases; 14.3%; $48 (Dundee Hills)
Anderson Family 2016 Chardonnay
For me the 2016 vintage is the best of the last decade for Willamette Valley Chardonnay. This exceptional wine has the extra depth, texture and detail that justifies that claim. The liveliness of spring water over stones underscores focused flavors of citrus skin, pears and apples, accented with honeycomb and a lick of caramel. The wine is as fresh as the day it was bottled five years ago, and the finish lasts and lasts. I wouldn’t be surprised if this wine had another 15 years of life ahead. 460 cases; 14.1%; $48 (Dundee Hills)
Anderson Family 2017 Chardonnay
This is spicy and leesy, showing citrus fruit perched above the vineyard’s typical foundation of wet rock. There’s a lightly lactic character to the mouthfeel that softens it up a bit and adds hints of brioche and banana. This wine was the most surprising as it improved significantly on days two and three, adding depth and texture. All of these Chardonnays should respond well to decanting whatever their age. 550 cases; 13.9%; $48 (Dundee Hills)
Anderson Family 2018 Chardonnay
The crystal clear minerality of this vintage is striking, as is the precision through the finish. This to me seems to be the most specific to the terroir (as described) out of all the Chardonnays, with that lively texture and perfectly proportionate balance. Citrus, apple and melon fruit is here, clean and distinct, with just the right impact of barrel toast. With three years of bottle age it is just now at a perfect place for diving into its youthful self. 410 cases; 14.4%; $48 (Dundee Hills)
Anderson Family 2019 Chardonnay
The aromas of primary fruits leap out, almost pungent with their brightness. The finished alcohol is significantly lower than the previous wines, and lightens up the mouthfeel. Though nicely balanced this wine seems thinner than its companions. The fruit emphasizes pears and the influence of the new oak is buried. Opens up a bit more on the second day. 370 cases; 13%; $48 (Dundee Hills)
Anderson Family 2020 Chardonnay
This is Oregon’s smoky vintage, but the Chardonnays were almost always picked ahead of the fires, and have suffered in the press unfairly. For lightness, elegance, minerality, definition and freshness this is spot on. The continuity among all six Anderson Family Chardonnays is easily apparent; here the newest vintage displays the purity of the structure without the blending of components that bottle age provides. Nonetheless this is a most enjoyable wine already, with decades of life ahead. 275 cases; 13.4%; $48 (Dundee Hills)
Anderson Family 2014 Pinot Noir
Showing some sunset hues at the edges this nonetheless retains its solid core of cola and black cherry fruit. This wine is at a point that I really enjoy drinking Oregon Pinot Noir – past its raw youth, but retaining its focus, purity of fruit and defining minerality. It’s probably in a holding pattern and should be enjoyed over the next five years. 1300 cases; 13.2%; $56 (Dundee Hills)
Anderson Family 2015 Pinot Noir
Seductive as hell, this has the scents, the power and the complexity to go a long way from here. It’s a Dundee Hills mix of strawberry/cherry and a spine of iron. There are hints of truffle and a solid mineral base accented with ripe tannins. The minerality of the estate vineyard is impressive. After six years in bottle this sleek but powerful Pinot can be enjoyed now or cellared for another decade. Still drinking really well on day three, this is a showcase for the vintage. 1450 cases; 13.3%; $56 (Dundee Hills)
Anderson Family 2016 Pinot Noir
Here again the 2016 vintage shines – a perfectly balanced wine with precision, style, depth and length. Nicely layered with blue and black fruits, baking spices, licorice, coffee grounds and clean earth. The wine keeps your attention through a lingering finish. The tannins are polished and firm, and the wine trails out long and totally satisfying. Still delicious on day three. Drink now and over another decade at least. 1130 cases; 13.5%; $56 (Dundee Hills)
Anderson Family 2017 Pinot Noir
This is a light and elegant wine with subtle threads of moist earth, mushroom and Asian spices. The core fruit has the character of wild mountain strawberries mixed with rhubarb and red currant. There’s a suggestion of salty sea spray as it fades away. It has the balance and temperament to age gracefully. 1470 cases; 13.5%; $56 (Dundee Hills)
Anderson Family 2018 Pinot Noir
Rich with black cherry and espresso flavors, this instantly appeals. The initial boldness is balanced against firm acids and the underlying minerality that characterizes this estate. The effect is to layer and extend the flavors, and these wines are built to be ageworthy. Young, fresh and sturdy, this trails out with threads of dark chocolate, coffee grounds, cigar box and tobacco. 1480 cases; 13.8%; $56 (Dundee Hills)
Anderson Family 2019 Pinot Noir
This has the lowest finished alcohol of the six Pinots tasted in this flight. The aromatics are elevated, the fruit quite lovely and delicious. The elegance the wine expresses harks back to the early vintages of Eyrie, but here the elegant flavors of berry and flower avoid any green character. I’d pop this into a blind tasting of 2019 premier cru Burgundy and see what transpires. My money is on the Anderson Family. Drink now and… pretty much forever. 1300 cases; 12.4%; $56 (Dundee Hills)
Many of these wines are still available for purchase here.
I’m definitely putting a visit to this winery at the top of my to-do list at the next opportunity. Vertical tastings at modest prices are available by appointment. These multi-vintage verticals are hosted by the winemakers and cost just $30 per person (fee is waived with a minimum $100 purchase). That’s a pretty fine deal by any standard.
Domaine Drouhin Oregon
Here’s another Dundee Hills destination – not hidden but definitely a treasure. Along with DDO’s slow, steady growth and consistent quality vintage after vintage what is not always recognized is how stable the prices have been. Going back as far as the 2000 vintage the price for the Willamette Valley Pinot Noir was $40. Today it’s $48. I can’t think of another Oregon winery with equally fine credentials that has held on to such pricing so consistently for so long.
Domaine Drouhin Oregon 2021 Arthur Chardonnay
It’s hard to imagine a more reliably brilliant Oregon Chardonnay vintage after vintage than DDO’s Arthur. Its textbook structure, compelling style and exceptional balance place this at the top of the state’s offerings. The fruit is picked at perfect ripeness, the acids provide a refreshing lift and the use of DDO’s proprietary barrels gives the wine a lush but never intrusive toastiness. 3030 cases; 13.9%; $42 (Dundee Hills)
Domaine Drouhin Oregon 2021 Pinot Noir
The subtle elegance of the three 2021 DDO releases profiled here puts an unmistakable winemaker fingerprint on all of them. Even after 35 years the impact of more than a century of Drouhin family winemaking skills honed in Burgundy can still be startling to see in Oregon. Brambly berries, slightly stiff acids, firm and just-ripe tannins, all with a minerally bottom note keep this young wine fascinating. Will it age well? Undoubtedly. The ability to make a wine that is immediately delicious and yet structured for the cellar is what elevates DDO and winemaker Veronique Drouhin to the very top. 17170 cases; 14.1%; $48 (Dundee Hills)
Drouhin Oregon Roserock 2021 Pinot Noir
The lovely aromatics bust out instantly, a compelling, almost ethereal mix of floral, spice and citrus components. The wine coats the palate with a subtle softness that makes it completely approachable despite its youth. Light touches of toasted hazelnuts and chicory adorn the tangy raspberry and cherry fruit. This does not show the herbal/earthy character of the vineyard as in previous vintages; it’s a more fruit-driven and elegant wine ready for immediate enjoyment. 10500 cases; 14.1%; $42 (Eola-Amity Hills)
The wines I review have been tasted over many hours and days in peer groups.