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Oregon Pinot Gris Symposium Sheds More Light on Oregon Pinot Gris as a Regional Specialty

Starting with Wine Enthusiast’s Paul Gregutt’s keynote speech, the Second Annual Oregon Pinot Gris Symposium sponsored by Oak Knoll Winery, was off and running. Paul Gregutt’s no stranger to Oregon wines, having written about the Northwest since the mid 1980s. His first assignment came from Harvey Steiman at Wine Spectator, as a matter of fact. He was also a “return” keynote speaker, because he was so inspiring at the first symposium… He gave everyone great initiatives, contributing his critical perspectives. It was a perspective that we all spent the year working on, but realized we needed Paul to help us all take the next step forward for the next year.

I sent him a one line note, because Paul was concerned about repeating himself, wanting to move the ball forward. So I wrote to him, “Taking last year’s lead of ‘Don’t compare yourselves to other regions,’ now we have to give these winemakers what they need to say to differentiate themselves from the crowd.”

I gave him a starting point, and he competently rolled forward.

“Who’s the crowd, who’s your competition?” he queried. “It’s going to be much easier to target your competition once you identify them, and to identify them is the purpose of what we’re doing here today. We’re trying to define a regional style that everyone can tap into without feeling restrained that differentiates Oregon Pinot Gris. So, who is the competition?”

In his experience, Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio produced outside of Oregon and outside of the Untied Stated, is generally what he calls an aromatic white wine. He listed other aromatic white wines, like Gewurztraminer, Riesling, and Chenin Blanc… generally stainless steel fermented, very expressive of fruit, rarely if ever see any barrel aging. And these aromatic whites are becoming very trendy in the restaurants by-the-glass among sommeliers that are trend setters, not followers. So, if we’re looking outside of OR with this variety at who’s doing what, it seems that’s where it seems to fall.

But in Oregon Pinot it’s not that simple. In his experience Oregon Pinot Gris is more of a fence sitter, between those aromatic whites and those heavier, oakier Chardonnays that have bigger fruit, higher alcohol, and a lot of oak influence. Your PG “can go across that spectrum from one end of it to the other,” he said. That kind of complicates what he was going to be talking about… “The Typicity of OR PG.”

He talked with winemakers for their thoughts for the OR style. He got lots of great responses. Here are the highlights.

  • Positive side
    • Acid defines the tropical fruit flavors
    • The bright balanced, fruit forward, food friendly style
    • Light and fresh, bright wines with minerality, lower in alcohol, higher in flavor
    • Vibrant fresh, lively acidity, a hint of mineral in the background
    • Needs to be balanced with a touch RS and lees contact for palate weight
  • Negative side
    • OR PG comes in vast range of styles: some sweet, some not, some ripe, others with more reserved citrus
    • The most annoying characteristic: too common, bitter finish
  • Summing it up ~ Double edged sword, if we use pre-existing style understandings or generalization, Oregon is in a comparative position rather than a region shouting its own identity and self defining, which was talked about last years.

“So, how do we move this ball forward?” Paul asked.

Oregon wineries need to make a distinction between how brands can market their individual wines, and how they can market Pinot Gris collectively as a regional specialty. Gregutt believes there’s no one-size fits all solution, but he believes that if we look at it from both ends of that telescope, we can find things that really work.

In a follow-up Email to me, Paul offered the following for each winery to use on its Website, so there’s a common voice, for now. Here it is, and I fully endorse this one.

“Oregon is the original home of American Pinot Gris, first planted here more than 40 years ago. Oregon Pinot Gris is unique and distinctive – a versatile, aromatic, textural white wine, with bright fruit and exceptional balance. Expressive of both place and vintage, it belongs beside Oregon Pinot Noir as the state’s iconic white wine.”

Next story, Paul Gregutt will shed some light on what each brand can do to help itself in this collective marketing effort . Following that story, the third installation will segue into the group speak.


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