Raptor Ridge Winery

raptor

Raptor Ridge Winemaker Scott Shull

We met Annie Shull yesterday. She was standing behind the wine bar in a very nice Scottsdale retail shop, pouring wine and talking to the customers who wandered up. She does this a lot, as do the sales and marketing people from other up-and-coming wineries. The mission is to take their wine to the people — to pour their vintages down the throats of willing wine drinkers, thus building, one wine drinker at a time, a devoted following for their wines and winery.

Annie’s winery has jump-started that process. Raptor Ridge Winery in Newberg, Oregon has gotten such great press, almost from the very beginning, that they’ve happily sold out many of their vintages well before the next year’s release. All the name publications — Wine Advocate, Wine Spectator, and Wine & Spirits, which has named them a Winery of the Year — have awarded them many 90+ ratings. And that’s a very good thing.

Raptor Ridge’s winemaker is Scott Shull, Annie”s husband, who launched their venture in 1995 like many small producers: in his garage and on his kitchen table. His focus is Pinot Noir, and he sourced grapes from vineyards throughout the Willamette Valley. His winemaking focus is on allowing each vineyard to shine. He ferments and barrel ages each vineyard lot separately, and then produces each cuvee (there do about eight Pinot Noirs and a Pinot Gris) by tasting and blending just before bottling. This winemaking is as hands-on as you can get, from the vineyard right through to the bottling line.

The results speak for themselves. I tasted four of their wines, and was impressed with each for different reasons.

The Raptor Ridge Pinot Gris 2009 is a fabulous example of this varietal, which has become Oregon’s signature white grape. The nose is aromatic with peach and citrus notes and a suggestion of sweetness, but the palate is laser-beam clean, with tangy tangerine fruit and very crisp acid. The finish is anything but cloying, finishing rich but dry. I see why this vintage of Raptor Ridge Pinot Gris earned top ratings.

And speaking of vintages, I asked Annie whether there was truth to the now-commonly-held belief that 2007 was a crummy vintage in Oregon, while 2008 was the best ever. She pointed out that it was the wine press who fed us this theory, and that it wasn’t necessarily borne out across the board. In fact, her wines suggest the opposite.

The Raptor Ridge Willamette Pinot Noir 2008, whose fruit was sourced from eight vineyards, was indeed plush and ripe, with a nose of stewed fruit and tart berries. The palate was rich and soft, and finished elegantly.

Then we tasted the 2007′s. The Raptor Ridge Reserve Pinot Noir 2007 (with fruit s0urced from six vineyards, including Shea) had much more classic aromas of black cherries and smoke. The palate was lighter but more varietal — it said “I’m a Willamette Pinot” very clearly. For just a few dollars more, I thought it was a great value.

My hands-down favorite was the Raptor Ridge Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir 2007. It combined both depth and elegance, with soft blackberry fruit, a hint of spice and toast, a rich mid-palate and long finish. The tannin structure is more pronounced than a typical Pinot, but that may have been the blessing of the 2007 vintage: the wines that experienced those difficult conditions have aged beautifully. It took a few years for the softening tannins to reveal the great fruit, but it’s now there for anyone to taste.

The retail price of all these wines doesn’t approach the heights of many established Oregon wines, and that’s a good thing. Many more of us will be able to buy and enjoy them. And if you’re up near Newberg, Oregon, be sure to stop and see Annie and Scott. Cheers!

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