Northwest Wine and its Many Paths to the Future


There are seemingly endless approaches to re-inventing, exploring, expanding and expressing the rich diversity of wines being generated here in the Pacific Northwest.

Devium’s Keith Johnson is pulling grapes from Walla Walla County’s highest site, above 2000 feet on Lewis Peak, as well as Red Mountain’s buzziest vineyard, WeatherEye. Eternal’s Brad Binko just sent me what he believes is a first – an orange rosé from Viognier co-fermented with a splash of Cabernet Franc. There is an embarrassment of Pét-Nat riches coming from every corner – perfect wines (along with rosés) for spring. I recently tasted a sparkling Malbec Piquette (just 5% alcohol) from Valcan Cellars that was quite pleasurable on a warm spring afternoon.

Among all this diversity a few clear trends have emerged. Alcohol levels for both white and red are trending down. Varietal wines and blends from Iberian, Italian and other Mediterranean varieties are trending up. The use of clay, concrete, stainless steel and neutral oak for fermenting and aging wines is also on trend, while the percentage of expensive new oak in all formats is way down. And almost everyone is picking early and going for higher acids and savory herb accents.

One winery enjoying striking success while rowing as hard as possible against this tide is Tenor.  Tenor is pushing boundaries in the opposite way. Taking kind of a back to the future approach. The brand is a major part of Avallé – the new unifying name for the family portfolio that also includes Matthews, Jaine, Blackboard and Single Barrel. Production is small, and I do not have a lot of experience tasting Tenor wines. So my impressions are as fresh as anything I’ve written in a long time, and the four wines reviewed here caused me to do a lot of thinking and re-tasting before I wrote down anything about them.

To me the most exciting trends in winemaking are those that push, extend or blow through boundaries. I believe that’s the strength and appeal of Tenor. As I noted, a lot of wines these days are low in alcohol, high in acid, with strong savory/earthy components. There’s nothing wrong with any of that, but Tenor wines go 100% the other way. In some respects they recall some of the massive Napa wines from the ‘90s – but only in the best possible way. Those Napa wines were spectacularly ripe; some were pushing 16% alcohol, a few were aged in 200% new oak, but… and this is a big but… they were fat and tiring.

Here is where the Washington stamp of acidity comes through and keeps the boat afloat. The pinpoint focus since Tenor was established in 2007 has been showcasing single varietal wines that (to my way of thinking) push the extremes in terms of ripeness, selection and barrel choices. In the winery’s own words, “every bottle walks a razor’s edge between boldness and balance.” But they hang on to their acid, and that’s a game changer.

The four Tenor wines I tasted were all from 2021 – a Chardonnay, a Pinot Noir, a Grenache and a Syrah. The full reviews may be found in the paid subscriber section in my Substack.

Not every innovation comes from a new winery. Wisnovsky Family Estate is a southern Oregon pioneer that began celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2022 by completely reinventing itself. There are two labels during the transition – Valley View (the original) and Domaine Rogue. Second gen owner/partner Mark Wisnovsky alerted me to the changes with a couple of notes accompanying some of the most recent releases.

“There has been a rebirth of Valley View, one of Oregon’s Pioneer wineries. We celebrated our 50th anniversary two years ago by changing course and hiring Mike Brunson, an acclaimed Sonoma winemaker who has made wine for over thirty vintages, most notably as head winemaker and vineyard manager at Michel Schlumberger. Mike immediately reestablished winemaking equipment, protocols and vineyard practices as well as selling all existing barrels. He personally selects the highest quality once used barrels from Merry Edwards (Pinot Noir), Rombauer (Chardonnay), Diamond Creek (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah) and Caldwell (Tempranillo and Syrah.) 

“Mike and I with our crew have reinvigorated the vineyard with LIVE, sustainable and regenerative techniques and are gradually replanting less successful blocks. Valley View now farms 70 acres on four separate estates.

“We are stunned by the dramatic turnaround in the quality of our wines. To emphasize the new wines, they are released under a new Domaine Rogue label. We are working with Mike on an ambitious six year plan to plant 20 acres of new clones and vines at the estate vineyard as well as specifically chosen sites in the Applegate and Rogue valleys. Valley View now owns or manages 74 acres of vineyards with 51 in production.”

PG:  To be perfectly honest, I remember tasting Valley View wines back as far as 30 years ago and they just weren’t very good. In fact there were some true oddities. So it was with some trepidation that I set out to taste the latest offerings. Given that new winemaker Mike Brunson barely had time to stomp the grapes after arriving in 2021, it makes the obvious improvements all the more exciting. Just as Troon (another Rogue Valley pioneer) took a number of years to really turn things around, I suspect that this is just the start of good things to come for Domaine Rogue.

Domaine Rogue 2022 Quartz Vein Riesling – Picked earlier than in past vintages and fermented cold to dryness, this is a nice mix of clean, lemon and apple fruit flavors. Good balance with the right acid component to keep it fresh and lively but not too tart for most tasters. 155 cases; 12.6%; $26 (Applegate Valley) 90/100

Domaine Rogue 2021 Chardonnay – From 35-year-old, dry-farmed vineyards, this all-stainless effort features the Wente clone. A soft, lovely wine, ready for immediate drinking, the fruit runs from ripe apple and peach into light tropical (banana) flavors. It’s broad and lingering on the palate, with appealing creaminess through the finish. 225 cases, 13.8%, $28 (Applegate Valley) 90/100

Domaine Rogue 2021 Quercia Chardonnay – Sourced from the same vineyard and old vine Wente clones as the all-stainless Chardonnay, the difference is that this spent 10 months in a mix of one-to-three year old oak barrels. Native yeast was used, and new winemaker Mike Brunson shows a nice touch with the oak, complementing without burying the fruit. With most Chardonnays and Wente clones in particular a kiss of new (or newish) oak is usually a plus. 265 cases, 13.9%, $28 (Applegate Valley) 91/100

Domaine Rogue 2021 Cinquanta – The name and the wine are meant to honor the winery’s 50th anniversary. This first release is barrel-fermented Chardonnay, made as a reserve in limited quantities. It’s rich, lightly toasty, with seams of toasted marshmallow and a hint of s’mores. There’s plenty of rich ripe fruit, and the overall balance is spot on, if a bit old school. I’d drink this now and over the next four or five years. 70 cases; 13.9%; $36  (Applegate Valley) 93/100

Domaine Rogue 2021 Oshala Pinot Noir – Fermented with indigenous yeasts, this is a wide open, flavorful wine with red currant, pomegranate and tart berry fruits. There’s a punchy spicy note ringing across and down the palate, into a sharp, clean finish with medium concentration. 420 cases, 14.2%, $38 (Applegate Valley) 90/100

Domaine Rogue 2021 Gravel Lane Pinot Noir – Planted in 2005, this part of the estate shows darker fruit, some peppery/savory herbal character and slightly chewy tannins. All three of Domaine Rogue’s 2021 Pinots are well-structured and clearly differentiated. This bottling may have a few extra years of life ahead. 310 cases, 13.5%, $38 (Applegate Valley) 90/100

Domaine Rogue 2021 Quartz Vein Pinot Noir – Named for a vein of quartz rock running diagonally through the lower vineyard, this is planted to a mix of clones including Mt. Eden and Calera. Aromatic with a nose-tickling mix of citrus and roses, it shows a delicacy beyond its medium-high abv. The wet rock acids bring a dash of orange juice to the core of tart berry fruit. 320 cases, 14.3%, $38 (Applegate Valley) 91/100

Valley View 2021 Tempranillo – Multiple clones play a role in this wine, another in a growing series of excellent Tempranillos from southern Oregon. Scents of dried leaves, rose petals, ground cinnamon and more lead into a complex palate with a weave of tobacco, dried fruits and mocha. The alcohol is on a fine balance point, and though still young this is drinking beautifully already. A fine value. 1050 cases; 14.6%; $24 (Applegate Valley) 91/100

Domaine Rogue 2021 Syrah – Firm and varietally spot on, this brings deep marionberry fruit, a streak of latté, and pinpoint accents of clove and licorice. It’s an excellent example of the style and quality of the best Rogue/Applegate Syrahs, which is second only to the Rocks District for great Oregon versions of the grape. 485 cases; 14.6%; $36 ((Applegate Valley) 92/100

You can purchase these wines here.

Events & Tastings Coming Up

Pinot in the City Seattle

On Wednesday May 8th some 60 wineries will do a tasting in Seattle under the sponsorship of the Willamette Valley Wineries Association. This is their first visit in a decade and is a marvelous overview of many of the wineries that have put Oregon on the global wine map. A trade tasting in the afternoon will be followed by the main event at Block 41 (115 Bell Street) from 5:30 (VIP tickets) or 6:30 (regular admission) to 8:30.

Oregon AAPI Food & Wine Fest

Celebrating the rich culinary heritage of the AAPI community, this event returns for its second year. It will take place at Stoller Family Estate the weekend of May 18-19. A tribute to the diverse contributions of AAPI Chefs and Winemakers within the Willamette Valley, it’s a chance for attendees to experience the unique flavors and stories behind the wines and dishes.

Event founder and Executive Director Lois Cho explains that “currently there are 12 known AAPI wineries out of the 1,000+ wineries in Oregon. We’re excited to have representation from nine of them this year at the Fest. This event and our dinners in Portland are really a way to bring together the rich food and wine industry we have to offer here in Oregon, highlighting AAPI vineyards and restaurants.”

Salon de Vin

The evening of May 18th at Amaterra Winery. Now in its third year, this benefits a trio of youth and family-oriented non-profits. A dozen wineries are featured, including such cult-worthy names as 00 (Double Zero), Antica aterra, Bledsoe|McDaniels, Force Majeure and Holocene.

Paul Gregutt
Paul Gregutt
Paul Gregutt has been covering the wines and wineries of the Pacific Northwest since the mid-1980s. From 2002 to 2012 he wrote a weekly wine column for the Seattle Times and authored two critically-acclaimed editions of ‘Washington Wines & Wineries – The Essential Guide’ (UC Berkeley Press). He served as the Northwest editor for Wine Enthusiast magazine from 1998 until 2022. Early on he was an original staff member of both the Seattle Weekly and KZAM-FM. He lives with his wife Karen and his rescue dog Cookie in Waitsburg (pop. 1204), a farm community about 20 miles NE of Walla Walla. When not tasting and writing about wine he writes songs, plays guitar and sings in his band the DavePaul5 ( Follow his writing at PaulG on Wine,, and in the Waitsburg Times.



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