On a recent trip to the Willamette Valley, the first visit I scheduled was Domaine Nicolas-Jay. I was initially interested in tasting at Nicolas-Jay because I had heard wonderful things about the quality of the wines, but as a young winery, I haven’t seen many bottles on this side of the U.S. The winery is a partnership between Jean-Nicolas Meo of the famed Domaine Meo-Camuzet in Burgundy, France, and the indie music exec, Jay Boberg.
In 2011, Boberg approached Meo about making wines in Oregon, and Meo was intrigued with the idea of making wines in a different terroir with the knowledge he had gained from the production of grand cru wines in Burgundy. The wines are made with a similar approach to those of Meo-Camuzet, including 100% destemmed grapes and use of the same coopers and barrels that Jean-Nicolas uses in Burgundy. The difference, however, is down to the fruit. The wines of Nicolas-Jay are the product of years of tasting wines from multiple vineyard sites throughout the AVAs of Willamette Valley. Meo and Boberg were impressed with the expression of the grapes from the Bishop Creek vineyard in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA, and ultimately purchased the vineyard in 2014. The other vineyards that Nicolas-Jay uses to source its fruit are farmed organically and/or biodynamically, with the Bishop Creek vineyard also 100% organic.
Bishop Creek is made up of old vines that were planted in the 1980s, using own rootstock. The site has clonal diversity, something that is especially interesting given the near-devotion to certain clonal types that is still present in Willamette. Adding to the Bishop Creek terroir is the range of elevation for the fruit – vines are planted predominantly north to south, between 270 and 600 feet in elevation. The soils of Yamhill Carlton AVA are mostly marine sedimentary and sandy loam.
Being such a small and young winery, I was initially a bit unsure I had the address right for the appointment when the directions led to a craftsman style home on a quiet residential street in Dundee. The winery does not yet have a winemaking facility to accommodate visitors, so instead Nicolas-Jay owns a home that they use for tasting visits. This was a rather different tasting experience and had a homey, friendly feel to it. That friendliness and collegiality is one of the hallmarks for the Oregon scene in my mind. Never far from mind though, is that the roots of this winery are in Burgundy and the Burgundy map is omnipresent over the tasting table.
(Inside the Tasting Home)
The wine that kicked off the tasting was 2017 Pink Vinyl, a pretty rose made from Pinot Noir grapes sourced from Bishop Creek. The nose was an expression of crushed cherries and flowers. This was a quaffable rose, both serious and fun. This is Recommended, but good luck trying to find this wine as it is made in very small quantities and most of it is consumed at tastings and by the winery.
A Look at the Pinot Lineup
Next up was the 2016 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. The fruit for this Pinot comes from high elevation sites in the Eola-Amity Hills, Dundee Hills, and McMinnville AVAs, as well as from Bishops Creek. A true Willamette Valley mix of fruit, aged in 33% new French oak barrels. The nose showed darker cherries and an earthiness that rings through. On the palate, I also found rich cherry, with persistent minerality on a lengthy finish. Recommended
2016 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
The last Pinot of the tasting was a 2015 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, but it serves to include the notes here as a comparison to its 2016 counterpart. Like the 2016, this fruit saw 33% new French oak. On the nose, I had brighter cherry notes compared to the 2016. There were also spices that was present here that I did not find on the ‘16. The palate also shows the juicy fruit from the nose, with refreshing acidity and more refined tannins. Like the 2016, the complex minerality of the palate is evident on the finish. Recommended, and right now this is drinking a bit better than the 2016.
The first of the single vineyard wines in the lineup was the 2016 Nysa Vineyard Pinot Noir. The Nysa vineyard is located in the Dundee Hills AVA, with vines at 600-700 feet in elevation and planted to the Pommard clone. The soils are jory volcanic, with blue basalt underneath, and this is a dry farmed vineyard. The vineyard is also own-rooted, but is suffering from phylloxera. As a result, very little fruit is produced at less than 2 tons per acre, but it is expressive in a lighter, more elegant Pinot. On the nose the cherry notes are bright and rich, with cranberry and rose petals as well. The palate is a bit more lean and acid-driven, with fine tannins. The cherry and berry fruits persist on the palate. It is surprising that this wine can be so fruit-forward and delicately floral despite seeing 50% new French oak. This is also Recommended, but given that less and less fruit from these vines is produced each year, it may not be easy to find (or even possible to find in the near future). Only 80 cases were made in 2016.
The next wine in the tasting was 2016 Momtazi Vineyard Pinot Noir. Located in the McMinnville AVA, the vineyard sits near the Van Duzer corridor, an area through the mountains of the region that allows coastal air to enter the Willamette and cool the vines. The block of vines for Nicolas-Jay located at 740 feet in elevation. The vineyard is comprised of large basalt (a volcanic soil) and marine sediment. Momtazi Vineyard is biodynamically farmed. The grapes are also aged in 50% new French oak. In the glass, this Pinot is an amazing contrast to the Nysa Pinot. The nose shows cherry and herbal scents. I also found spicy pine and shades of pepper in the bouquet. The palate is mineral-driven, with great acid and grippy tannins. Highly Recommended, also at 80 cases of production.
The last of the single vineyard wines in the lineup was the 2016 Bishop Creek Vineyard Pinot Noir. It was immediately apparent that this Pinot was the most deep and brooding of the wines in the tasting, though like the other single vineyard bottlings, this is aged in 50% new French oak. There was dark, black cherry on the nose. Spices, tobacco, and pepper were also showing through. On the palate, there is good acidity, and I noticed richer tannins compared to the other wines. The tobacco, pepper and spices also follow the nose to the finish. Highly Recommend, and 100 cases of production.