Ending Oregon Wine Month with a visit to one of my favorite wine producers-Ayres Vineyard & Winery.
The term “Boutique Winery” is a classification that’s often used in today’s wine industry. Some would say that the phrase is becoming too cliché, but for wine enthusiasts like myself I continually find I am drawn to these smaller wineries who work hard to give a localized and “artisanal” feel to their wines. A winery is often considered “Boutique” when their annual production is 1000 cases or less, although no one is likely to demand reclassification if the production exceeds that amount by a few hundred or so. Aside from the “Case Classification” a Boutique Winery is also set apart by having a sense of Family, Community, and personal touch when it comes to the winemaking process. When visiting the Willamette Valley, specifically the Newberg area, a visit to Ayres Vineyard & Winery will deliver a sense of Family, Terrior, and a top notch boutique winery experience.
The idea for Ayres Vineyard & Winery began with a single comment heard on a trip in 1997 by a winemaker in France, he simply stated “I make the wines I like to drink”. Owners Brad and Kathleen McLeroy took those words to heart and began to formulate a plan of their own.
Eighteen years ago Brad and Kathleen along with Kathleen’s parents made the move to Oregon, to begin anew and to start looking for the ideal property to make their winemaking dreams unfold. After arriving in Oregon Brad began working at Domaine Drouhin as a cellar hand, and then worked his way up to Chef de Cave; which is the French term for cellarmaster. During this time in 2000 the McLearys and Kathleen’s parents the McClures, had the opportunity to purchase a 38 acre property near Newberg, Oregon. This location would be the beginning of a homestead for the families, and the start of Ayres Vineyard & Winery.
After an initial planting of Pinot Noir clone 667 more Pinot Noir clones, 777 and 115 joined the vineyard in 2002 along with some experimental plots that included Pinot Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot d’ Auxerrois. Soon to follow, Pommard and Pinot Noir clones 113 were planted to help round out Ayres Vineyards. During my tasting with Winemaker Brad, he told me that they do not use the little known grape. Pinot d’ Auxerrois as these couple dozen vines have actually turned into dessert for his kids who eat the grapes right from the vine during harvest time.
The first harvest at Ayres Vineyard was in 2003, and this also marked the first commercial vintage of Ayres Wine. Three years later, in 2006, Brad made the decision to leave his position at Domaine Drouhin and become the full-time winemaker at Ayres. Now 16 years since the first vintage, Ayres Vineyard & Winery has continued to produce wines that catch the attention of consumers and gained accolades from the critics. After being introduced to Ayres wines last year I too became a fan of this family oriented and sustainable Oregon Winery. I was excited for the opportunity to sit down with Brad and do a tasting of some of his newest releases.
Photo from 2018 of what would become one of my favorite Oregon wines.
Are you familiar with the Burgundian Pinot Blanc grape? How about the beauties that are being grown in Oregon? The Pinot Blanc grape is a tough one to always identify correctly in a blind tasting. This versatile grape has the cheeky characteristics of a well produced Chenin Blanc, but also the sleek style of a Chardonnay. There is so much to like about this grape and the wine from Ayres which is made with 100% Pinot Blanc and finished in stainless steel. On the nose you get a beautiful fresh aroma of apples and almonds, like a Charcuterie platter waiting to be enjoyed. A surprising slightly buttery flavor makes you sit up and take notice of this delicious wine, as it introduces flavors that are earthy like a mushroom yet sweet like a marshmallow. At the same time, this wine is crisp and light making it a perfect warm weather wine to sip at the end of the day. Pairing this Pinot Blanc with any white fish or seafood would bring out the layers of flavor already present in the wine.
When you see the words Ribbon Ridge on the label you know that you are in for something special. (Photo from 2018)
Made from the Pommard Pinot Noir grape, this vintage was picked earlier resulting in lower sugar and a welcoming acidity. Buoyant and bright, this Rosé of Pinot Noir showcases the best of a Rosé with notes of morning dew rose petals and ripe Spring strawberries on the nose. The same crisp flavors can be found on the palate, with the addition of a pleasant smoke and spice combination that is light as air. If you are looking for a unique Rosé to help you pass those summer days, then look no further than this Estate wine from Ayres.
“Perspective is the way we see things when we look at them from a certain distance and it allows us to appreciate their value.” – Rafael E. Pino
This Pinot Noir embraces
all of Ayres’ estate producing clones: 667, 777, 115, 113,
and Pommard, along with fruit from neighboring Lichtenwalter and Armstrong Vineyards. A unique Pinot Noir that in a sip is a snapshot of the Ribbon Ridge AVA.
One of the most versatile Pinot Noirs I tasted while in the Willamette Valley, this 2017 Perspective from Ayres could literally be a wine that pairs well with anything. In those instances where you know you should open a white for your meal but your taste is leaning more toward a red, this is the bottle to open. A beautiful shimmering Ruby color welcomes you as you smell the aromas of bright cherries and marshmallows toasting over a campfire. Brad calls this his “Hand of the field instead of hand of the cooper” wine, and that is so true with the notes of earth and sea salt on the tongue that swirl around in an ocean of cherry and boysenberry flavors. A warmer Pinot Noir with notes of spice but light on the palate with a soft acidic finish. As I sipped this beautiful Pinot, I instantly began to visualize the dishes that I would pair it with and the number of them surprised me. I love when a wine leads you to new discoveries about yourself and how a wine can transform the status quo of food pairings.
The gang is all here in this Estate Pinot Noir, with each estate clone being represented; 667, 777, 115, 113, and Pommard. Brad says that this is about as even of a blend as you can get from the five clones. On both nose and palate you discover hints of blueberry, vanilla infused with baking spices, wood, and the sweet note of tobacco. A wonderful well balanced Pinot that can be paired with a smoky BBQ dinner or sipped alone by the campfire on a summer evening.
At Ayres Vineyard & Winery the Pioneer Spirit is Alive and Well.
Winemaker Brad says this Pinot Noir is made “in honor of the journey of the pioneer” and once you have tasted it’s bold and beautiful flavor you will want to join the ‘wagon trail’ and head to Oregon. A Single clone 667, Pinot Noir that is the darkest made by Ayres. Produced from small berries that have a longer skin to juice ratio, this is a masculine Pinot that could stand against any Cabernet Sauvignon with a steak. Deep and full of the aroma and taste of dark blackberry fruit, earth and clove. A second smell introduces vines swaying in the breeze on a warm summer day and the next sip releases another layer of flavors alive with elements of each vine and smoky charcoal. This wine is simply intoxicating in all the right ways.
To better represent the complexity of this Pinot Noir I am taking the Notes right from Ayres’ Website. “This wine represents the single best fermenter of the 2017 vintage. It is 65% clone 777, 25% clone 667, and 20% clone 115. The fermentation was 30% whole cluster, and this Pinot Noir is the only Ayres wine to have whole cluster influence.” Did you get all of that? Only 100 cases of this 2017 One Pinot Noir was produced and at $79 a bottle it is a much higher price point than the other wines in the flight. That being said this wine will catch your heart with its beautiful jewel tone color and wonderful blueberry aromas and flavors. Smooth and balanced with a fantastic Herbs de Provence, vanilla and tobacco finish on the palate. This wine is a true example of a top shelf Oregon Pinot Noir, made with patience and a true appreciation of the Terrior found on Ribbon Ridge. I cannot recommend trying this Pinot Noir more than to say I would gift it at Christmas to those I appreciate most. Stellar is a perfect word to describe this wine.
I would encourage you to visit the cellar at Ayres for an intimate tasting with winemaker, Brad McLeroy. Ayres is open by appointment only, and tastings are scheduled between 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. Tastings are $20 per person, which can be applied to the purchase of wine (one tasting per bottle). You can visit their website https://ayresvineyard.com/visit to book a tasting or call 503.538.7450. Ayres Vineyard & Winery is located at 17971 NE Lewis Rogers Lane, Newberg, OR 97132.
(Photo supplied by Kathleen McLeroy.)
Supporting Boutique Wineries is a passion of mine. With so many challenges facing small wineries, from limited production, to distribution and the struggles with marketing, it is clear that boutique wineries succeed with a strong customer base and word of mouth. So, this is my shout out to Ayres and their exceptional wines. Ayres has an excellent Case Club Membership and their wines are available to order by contacting them on their website at https://ayresvineyard.com/contact .
All Images © Drink In Nature Photography and Drink In Life Blog.