The Season of New Arrivals in the willamette valley

After the mellow hibernation of cellar season, spring brings a rush to get white and rosé wines in bottle for release parties, wine club shipments, and increasingly bustling tasting rooms. One look at the Memorial Day Weekend events being featured in wine country and you’ll see that the spring vibe in the Willamette Valley is fun, joy, and the renewed energy that only a deluge of Vitamin D can bring. Spring visitors to wine country will discover new releases, exciting projects, and perhaps even a sneak peak at the still-aging wines to come.

Pinot noir and several other popular Willamette Valley varieties make wonderful rosé, so the dawn of rosé season—an increasing craze around the wine world in recent years—is cause for much celebration in wine country. Bells Up will release a rosé as their very first estate wine this spring, made from Pommard and Dijon 667 Pinot noir vines planted in spring 2014. “We’ve made rosé from the beginning (at my mom’s request) using sourced fruit; but this one is super-personal,” says Sara Specter, who founded Bells Up with her husband, attorney-turned-winemaker Dave Specter, in 2013. The rosé, dubbed Prelude and pictured at left, has a special Memorial Day significance. “Many of the rows in our vineyard have been tagged with the names of friends and family who have passed away during this journey, as Dave transitioned from corporate tax attorney to winemaker. This wine is the first of many to come that honors the memory of those people we desperately wish were still here to enjoy a glass with us.”

At Winter’s Hill, spring will mark the release of several wines including 2017 rosé and their 2015 Reserve Pinot Gris—a less common sight than the 2016 and 2017 arrivals. “Since the Reserve Pinot Gris is fermented and aged in French oak, we like to give it some time in the bottle before release to allow the palate to develop more fullness,” explains owner Russell Gladhart. 

White and rosé wines are heading to the bottling line and then out to the tasting room and the wider market; joining them are many 2016 Pinots, which have generated quite a bit of buzz. Meanwhile, 2017’s red wines still have months of development left to go. Gladhart uses Memorial Weekend as a chance to give visitors a sneak preview. “We give our fans the chance to taste the 2017 Pinot noir that is still developing in barrel,” he says.

If you’re one of the lucky ones who gets to taste 2017 Pinot in barrel during your winery visits this spring, look for fresh fruit aromas and structure—the wine’s tannin and acidity will already be present. “As the wines continue to age in barrel, and later in bottle, they will develop the complexity and depth of aroma that we love in Pinot noir,” Gladhart explains. Oak and fruit will continue to integrate over time in barrel.

“I sometimes explain to consumers that the wines develop fastest when they are younger. They develop more in the first six months in the barrel than in the second six months; and they develop more in the first year in bottle than in the second year,” he says.

“The wine is a living thing, and it never stops changing, but that change happens more rapidly in the beginning.”