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Sultry and subtle, bold and dark, spicy and aromatic — for centuries, pinot noir has teased, allured and tempted drinkers and winemakers alike. Its rich flavors and complexities have inspired sane men to seek out remote corners of mountain tops, plant roots in rare soil and wager their livelihoods and reputations in the quest to produce the perfect pinot harvest. It’s well known as the most fickle and finicky grape to produce; chance, risk and skill play all play equal roles in the final product’s failures and triumphs. The winemaker must have intimate knowledge and control of every step and condition of its journey from vine to bottle. Truly, no other wine has induced quite as passionate a love affair.
As pinot aficionados no doubt know, Oregon, and the Willamette Valley in particular, produces some of the world’s best pinot noirs, and in Passion for Pinot: A Journey Through America’s Pinot Noir Country (Ten Speed Press, 2009, $30), Jordan Mackay gives us a wonderfully guided tour of the Valley’s most unique and distinguished pinot-producing vineyards. From the Dundee Hills and McMinnville regions to closer to home pinot hot spots like King Estate and Willamette Valley Vineyards, Mackay reveals the history, character, charm and quality of the Oregon (and California) wine scenes.
While pinot is a relative newcomer to Oregon, it’s enjoyed incredible successes — it now makes up 75 percent of the state’s wine industry. Vineyards dotting Valley hillsides are not an unusual sight, and Mackay gives the casual or serious wine enthusiast a veritable checklist of must-visit sites, all within a few hours driving distance of Eugene.
Set against gorgeous, full spread photographs by Andrea Johnson and Robert Holmes, Mackay’s casual style informs and engages the reader in Pinot 101. If by the end you don’t want to invest in your own estate, or at the very least pop open a bottle of red, you haven’t been paying attention. — Katie Kalk