A juicy, earthy, sustainably grown Pinot from one of Oregon's founding families – and at a good price.
From $23.99, £32.50
Elk Cove is one of the only four remaining founder families of Oregon that are still family owned and run, which means that, for this region, it's a little bit special, offering heritage as well as independence. Towing a trailer home up a gravel track in 1974, Pat and Joe Campbell arrived at their newly purchased, abandoned fruit orchard in the foothills of the Coast Range Mountains with their three children and and set to work – physically – to plant vineyards, build a winery and build their own home from scratch. Joe continued working as a GP/physician in order to put food on the table, while the two of them corralled friends and family to help them plant 2 ha (5 acres) of mostly Pinot Noir, Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Chardonnay vines. It doesn't get much more pioneering than that.
Adam Campbell was four years old at the time. There is a photo of him on the winery's website, hand-crushing grapes in a small wooden crate, in 1977. Today he oversees and makes wine from 155 ha (380 acres) of vineyards across six sites.
Although their wines are not certified organic, Elk Cove has a strong sustainability ethos. They plant clover cover crops rather than using nitrogen-based fertilisers and grass to prevent erosion, and run all their trucks and tractors on bio-diesel. Goats and longhorn cattle control invasive weeds and they only use sprays certified by OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute) for pesticide control. Vines are dry farmed (irrigation for young vines up to three years old). They have the Salmon-Safe and Oak Accord certifications to protect waterways and native Oregon white-oak woodlands, and they pay living wages and provide healthcare benefits to all their vineyard workers. In the winery, waste water and lees are recycled back to the vineyards; solar panels provide 40% of their power; glass, cardboard, batteries and shipping materials from suppliers are recycled, and they use only recycled cardboard for their packaging. Fifty per cent of their bottles are in lightweight Eco-Glass. They are also known for their philanthropy to local non-profit organisations.
Their Estate Pinot Noir is a blend of fruit from all six of their vineyard sites: The Winery Estate, Mount Richmond, Five Mountain, Clay Court, Goodrich and Windhill. The vineyards are planted with vines from seven to 45 years old and multiple clones, and represent all three major Willamette Valley soil types, so the idea is to make a wine that represents Willamette Valley rather than a single vineyard. Each block is fermented separately in small, open-top, stainless-steel, temperature-controlled tanks. They do manual punchdowns of the cap twice a day and then age the wine in French oak barrels for 10 months, after which selected barrels are blended to make this 'regional' wine. Production is relatively small, at 120,000 bottles.
A few years ago, Elaine Chukan Brown, writing about the 2015 vintage of this wine, said, 'It is hard to find such a reliable Pinot across vintages for this price, but the Elk Cove Estate Pinot carries that consistency across vintages with GV.' When I tasted the 2020, I was immediately charmed by its balance of fruit and earthier notes, a quiet undertow that took me straight to the mouth-watering, mossy dark crumbles under an old log in a forest. My tasting note described it as 'a juicy mash-up of ripe summer berries that makes me think of summer pudding, but it comes with wonderfully fragrant black-pepper fragrance and cardamom spice, a little mycorrhizal-mushroom under-earth earthiness. The sweetness of dark cherries swirls through the mid palate, picking up the furl of driftwood texture, and then slides into a silky finish.' It's a neat 13.5% alcohol, and paired beautifully with the lamb kleftiko we'd cooked to test out some Easter food-wine combos.
Amathus Drinks stocks the wine in the UK, but it's widely available in the US across states, including California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Montana, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina and Washington DC where the price range is quite startling – from $23.99 (discounted) to $54.89.
If you'd like more suggestions for delicious, good-value Oregon Pinot, see Samantha Cole-Johnson's article on 15 under-$30 Oregon Pinot Noirs and many more articles on Oregon. And check back tomorrow when Nick reviews restaurants in Portland, where Adam Campbell spends part of each week.