When Bernard and Ronni Lacroute first visited Oregon as tourists in 1990, Bernard was far removed from his childhood in Burgundy. He was immersed in the high-tech world of Silicon Valley, while his American-born wife taught French and pursued organic gardening. The couple were so charmed by Oregon that they decided to buy land there, and had their chance shortly afterward when an abandoned 420-acre horse ranch came up for sale.
“It was exactly identical to specific spots in Burgundy,” Ronni recalls. “The landscape and hillsides were so similar that you couldn’t tell them apart.”
The Lacroutes bought the ranch in 1991 and began the arduous task of installing electricity, roads and a water system. They planted their first vines in 1992. True to his background, Bernard dreamed of producing Pinot Noir. The gravity-flow winery was completed in 1995, the year of their first harvest.
“From the beginning, the idea was to grow grapes organically,” she says. “We had been growing vegetables and tree fruit sustainably for years in California, so we planted vineyards around existing trees to provide biodiversity. Everyone seemed amazed that we didn’t just cut them down to put in as many vines as possible.”
Today, Willakenzie exemplifies natural, low-impact farming. The wines are Certified Sustainable and Salmon-Safe, a program devoted to maintaining healthy watersheds so that the state’s main fishing crop can survive. Their small production of 20,000 cases is further divided into 18 separate wines, most of which are vineyard-specific.
Intense aromas of minerals and stone fruits rise from a glass of their 2014 Pinot Gris ($20). The medium-bodied texture yields flavors of peach, melon and citrus, along with much better acidity than normal for this grape variety. The mid palate is mouth filling and persistent, and the minerals echo on the finish along with hints of tropical fruit. The winery recommends Asian food as a match, which would work very well, as would dishes of poultry or veal in substantial sauces.
The 2013 Gisèle Pinot Noir ($30) has a light, bright crimson color and a nose that combines earth notes with whiffs of spiced red fruits. The wine is soft and silky on entry, crammed with flavors of red raspberries and ripe plum, framed by supple tannins. The fruit gains in intensity and ripeness on the palate, and climaxes toward a rich reduction of red fruits on the finish. For fans of the Côte de Beaune, this is splendid Pinot Noir: gentle, graceful and seductive.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History (Lyons Press, 2012) and Moonshine Nation (Lyons Press, 2014); his first novel, Friend of the Devil, will be published by Black Opal Books in May 2016. for more information, go to amazon.com