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Lenne owner and winemaker Steve Lutz

McMINNVILLE, OR – Any great wine experience has variety and depth. That means you visit big producers, small producers, and look for something different. I try to do that on every trip and it has just worked out that way on this trip to Oregon’s Willamette Valley to visit some small producers.


The great Oregon Pinot Noir grape harvest is mostly complete.

I started the day at Lenne Estate, a small production winery with a a tasting room that resembles perhaps a French farm house. I ended my second-day tasting experience at Youngberg Hill where I stayed last night and will again tonight. Wayne Bailey is a leader in the Willamette Valley industry and makes Pinot Noir to age and to pair with food.


In between, wine marketing expert Carl Giavanti and I wandered through the fields and hills of the valley near McMinnville to the JL Kiff Winery situated beside a sloped vineyard and pole barn winery and tasting room. .

One of the things I like about the Willamette Valley,  and there are many, is you can go into winery after winery before you find a bad – or less than desirable Pinot. Our start at Lenne was a great way to kick off the day. Steve Lutz, owner and winemaker, took the time to talk about his sloped and really tough vineyard location. Difficult soils are tough on the vineyard manager but great for wine. The harder the vines have to dig to find water the better the fruit regardless of the varietal.

Steve has added a Chardonnay to his lineup, as many Oregon wineries are doing, and his was beautiful. Very Chablis-like or Burgundian, the Chardonnays of the valley may some day rival the reputation of the Pinot Noir.

Lenne makes classic Oregon Pinot in a lighter style with a real sense of place in the glass, a Burgundy-like sensation of terroir and soils, along with a bit of spice on the finish of some of the wines.

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Joel Kiff

The journey to JL Kiff was up onto a hillside in a more remote area. Joel Kiff and Tim Wilson are the proprietors. Wilson also has his own label, Denison Cellars.


The unique, steeply-sloped vineyard gives the duo wines which are quite different from block to block within the vineyard. Joel makes 1,000 cases under the JL Kiff label with Wilson doing a similar amount of cases under his Denison label. The wines are medium to modestly priced. It’s these little gems that make exploring wine country so fun and exciting if you’ll just seek them out.


Tim Wilson

We barrel tasted and tasted some wines not harvested until Nov. 1 last year because of the unique vineyard site. The wines were lighter in taste and a little more elegant. Joel’s wife helps run the small tasting corner in the pole barn structure. The Kiff’s two adult sons are also part of the operation.


While perhaps its a romanticized view of winemaking, the fact is in Oregon these scenarios still exist where the family business is wine and all of the family is still involved.


Bailey on the final day of harvest.

Wayne Bailey is a real Willamette Valley veteran. He also owns the beautiful Youngberg Hill Inn atop a hill with a beautiful vineyard view. His wines are made for food and with plenty of structure, acid and elegance to age well for perfect enjoyment 4-5 years after the vintage year they were produced.


Wayne poured for me and a personal friend of his a full tasting of his Pinot Noir wines and a couple of different verticals – primarily Pinot from different parts of his vineyard from ’13, ’14, and 2015. We also tasted his elegant Chardonnay.


Bailey after pouring nearly 10 wines.

Bailey’s winery and Inn sets just 25 miles from the Pacific coast. His vineyard enjoys slightly cooler temperatures, particularly near the top of the property which makes for slightly less alcohol and silky Chardonnay and Pinot.

I’ve tried just to do posts showing my daily activity while interviewing these winemakers about warmer growing seasons and price pressures on their wines. Those stories will be published here in the future.

Meanwhile, tomorrow my schedule is less structured. I’m going to see some old friends and go where the day takes me. I certainly plan to post again tomorrow evening about my day.

I’m returning home Thursday. No matter how often I come to Oregon wine country, I never tire of the quality and diversity of operations, the people, and the wine.