J K Carriere, Vespidae Pinot Noir 2019 Willamette Valley

The JK Carriere estate sits surrounded by vines at the top of a hill in Oregon's Chehalem Mountains AVA.

An elegant Oregon Pinot with a back story and a future.

From $34.98, £35.68

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It is often evident, when tasting with a small-production winemaking team, which vintages and varieties fit a winemaker’s style. Though quality can be high across the board, there are varieties that offer slightly more complexity and certain vintages that seem to marry a winemaker’s intent. At J K Carriere in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, Pinot Noir is Jim Prosser’s variety and the cooler, wetter 2019 vintage showcases his preference for making wines of elegance and moderation.

Prosser did not always want to be a winemaker. In fact, the way he tells it, the winery is the result of what many might call a mid-life crisis. Within a three-month period, he was fired from a job in commercial real estate, got divorced, and joined the Peace Corps, ending up in Lithuania. He decided that whatever job he took next, he wanted to work with both his head and his hands.

Jim Prosser stands among the barrels at JK Carriere, his winery in Oregon's Chehalem Mountains AVA.

When Prosser returned home to Oregon, he went to work for winemaker Dick Erath. He then chased vintage to Villa Maria in New Zealand, back home to Domaine Drouhin, to Australia for TarraWarra and T'Gallant, and to Burgundy for Domaine Georges Roumier. From 1999 to 2001, Prosser held three jobs: working for Doug Tunnell at Brick House, for Harry Peterson-Nedry at Chehalem Winery (before it was bought out by Stoller), and MacGyvering his own winery out of a 100-year-old barn. Growers were willing to sell him fruit because of the people he’d worked for and he was able to call those same people with any questions he had regarding winemaking. During this time, he began working with both Temperance Hill and Gemini Vineyards, contracts that he is unwilling to give up even now that he owns his own vineyard.

Finding that vineyard was no easy task. Prosser began looking for property in 2003. Twice, he was too slow. The first time the land became Bergström’s La Spirale, the second, Colene Clemens Vineyards. The third time, in 2007, he nearly walked out on a deal because the property was 40 acres (30 more than he wanted) and unplanted. But the thought of another winery on the land closed the deal. J K Carriere’s St Dolores Estate, in the Chehalem Mountains AVA, was born.

Prosser’s property rests at 150–210 m (500–700 ft) in elevation on a south-facing slope. Currently, he’s planted 26 (10.5 ha) out of the 40 acres (16 ha), and he plans to plant more. The soils are decayed volcanic material high in iron oxides. The silty clay-loam soils are fairly nutrient-poor, and, while they have better water-holding capacity than sedimentary soils, they’re still not the easiest to dry farm. Prosser persists without irrigation because, ‘to use a resource you don’t need is generally called waste’. He has farmed the vineyard organically since the beginning, though he came around to getting it certified only last year.

St Dolores makes up the core of Prosser’s portfolio and provides over 80% of his fruit. His 2019 Vespidae – the wine I’m recommending you go out and buy a case of – blends the earthy elegance of St Dolores Pinot with the red-fruited herbal lift of Gemini Vineyard and the old-vine structure of Temperance Hill.

It is made much like his other Pinot Noirs: Prosser completely destems the fruit, and adds a bit of SO2 before fermentation gets going; he uses a cold soak to extract more aromatic compounds before a warm fermentation (maxing out at 30 °C/86 °F). He and his winemaking team of Lucas Ehrhard and Drew Herman taste every tank, every day, to decide on extraction technique. Free-run is separated from press wine, and all the Pinot Noirs spend 18 months in barrel (around 20% new oak).

While this wine isn’t cheap, it is more affordable than his single-vineyard wines, and no less ageworthy. Three years in, this 2019 is still fresh and primary, only beginning to unwind. The structure of the wine, with its linear acidity, slightly sandy tannins and layers of earthy complexity, suggest that it will happily last a decade. Prosser, like the Oregonian he is, recommends pairing it with grilled salmon steak (though his favourite pairing is Girl Scout Thin Mints).

JK Carriere, Vespidae 2019 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

The 2019 Vespidae Pinot Noir is still in stock with a few purveyors in the US, and the ever-impressive A&B have not only the 2019s that just landed in the UK, but also a few 2018s.

If you're looking for well-priced Oregon Pinot, Samantha can help you find the best Oregon Pinot Noir under $30.