In June 2020, we tasted two Lenné Estate Vineyard barrel-selection Pinot Noirs, and right away, we knew we’d visit the vineyard once we started traveling again. One year later, during our road trip to Oregon wine country, we indeed stopped by. Subsequently, we tasted five different Pinot Noirs, and a Chardonnay as well. Above all, we met with co-owner and winemaker Steve Lutz, who explained why his wines are so unique. Read on to find out about the Lenné story and wines.
In 2000, Steve and Karen Lutz purchased a 21-acre property in the Willamette Valley near Yamhill, Oregon. Next, in 2001, they planted Pinot Noir on 15.5 acres in their new Lenné Estate Vineyard. The name of the hillside vineyard pays tribute to Karen’s father Lenny, who helped with the down-payment but sadly passed away in 1999. Finally, in 2007, Steve realized his dream, opened the tasting room and started selling his initial estate wine from the 2004 vintage.
Lenné Estate Vineyard Soil
In the Lenné tasting room, a display case containing vineyard soil takes center stage. This soil is mostly peavine, comprised of silt, sandstone and clay. Most importantly, this rocky soil gives Lenné’s grapes a unique character and sets the wines apart from other Pinot Noirs in the Willamette Valley. According to Steve, “this soil is about as bad as they come. It’s mostly peavine and when you dig into it you wonder how anything grows.”
However, he notes, Pinot Noir excels in difficult locations. The poor soil results in small clusters and berry size, which in turn create wines with density. Steve’s wines are often described as full-bodied and bigger than other regional Pinot Noirs.
Steve describes his grape-growing and winemaking style as minimalist; in other words, the vineyard is dry-farmed and sustainable, with minimal oxidation and minimal use of non-organic chemicals.
Chardonnay and five distinctive clones of Pinot Noir thrive there: Pommard, and the Dijon clones 114, 115, 667 and 777. In addition to winemaking, Steve focuses on wine education, which includes blind tastings, vineyard tours, and education-focused wine club events.
Lenné produces 1,500-2000 cases annually of Pinot Noir. Steve’s wines feature a distinct mid-palate texture and a signature mocha aroma. He poured six for us – a Chardonnay and five Pinot Noirs, none of which we previously tasted. We appreciated all of them, but we took home his finest wine called cinq élus, as well as Kill Hill Pinot Noir. Here are more details about the wines we tasted.
Scarlett’s Reserve Chardonnay 2019 ($55)
First, we tasted Steve’s third vintage of Scarlett’s Reserve Chardonnay. Fermented and aged in French Oak Puncheons (2.5 times the size of a barrel) for 11 months, this white wine was then transferred to stainless steel for another eight months. The oak is subtle, which is probably why we like this Chard so much. Aromas of pears and brioche are mirrored in the flavors of this pretty wine.
Jill’s 115 Pinot Noir 2017 ($55)
Jill’s 115 is a single-clone bottle named for Karen’s mother. The 115 clone comes from the block right outside the front door of the tasting room. This is a silky, soft Pinot Noir, with the fine-grain tannins characteristic of this clone. The 115 also evolves into an opulent wine with bottle age. Red fruits dominate, both on the nose and the palate: cherries, currants, strawberries and raspberries, in addition to savory and spicy notes.
Karen’s Pommard Pinot Noir 2017 ($55)
Named after Steve’s wife and Lenné co-founder, Karen Lutz, the Karen Pommard is also a single-clone bottle. The Pommard grows on the highest elevation of the vineyard, in the northwest corner. Pommard is one of the original clones planted in Oregon. Steve says Pommard creates more structure, depth and power, evident in this outstanding wine. We really liked this full-bodied Pinot Noir with aromas and flavors of cherries. But decant it for 1-2 hours to unlock the beautiful flavors.
Sad Jack 777 Pinot Noir 2018 ($55)
Steve named Sad Jack after Sadie and Jackson, the first vineyard dogs. This is a single-clone Dijon 777 Pinot Noir. Steve says it’s a departure from his typical style, made with indigenous yeasts. “It stands apart from the other Lenné 2018s in a number of ways. More acidity, less barrel spice and none of that chocolatey finish. What is there is pinpoint focus, tight, lightly grainy tannins and a finish with a hint of herb. This is a wrapped and sculpted style that needs more time to open up.”
Kill Hill Pinot Noir 2018 ($60)
We adore this wine for so many reasons. First, Kill Hill grapes grow on the rockiest, most stressed soils on the highest elevation of the vineyard. Steve says this area has “the highest vine mortality rate.” As a result, he calls it his “wild child.” Next, Kill Hill blends Dijon 114 and 667 clones, creating flavors of black cherries, currants and raspberries, plus a “wet stone” minerality and spicy notes. Steve says this is always his biggest wine. We took it home to pair with a juicy steak.
Lenné cinq elus Pinot Noir 2018 ($85)
Finally, in exceptional vintages, Steve crafts their finest wine called cinq élus, a blend of the best barrel of all five of his Pinot Noir clones. Cinq Élus means “five select” in French. This Pinot has the wow factor, evident by the layers of richness, flavors and textures from all five clones. Steve recommends at least six years of aging to let the five personalities merge into one. We brought home this beauty to open on a special occasion.
In conclusion, we really appreciate the unique wines of Lenné Estate Vineyard. The rocky soil gives these grapes a different character — more full-bodied and bigger — than other Pinot Noirs in the Willamette Valley. We have now tasted seven of Steve’s wines, and can easily recommend every one of them. Moreover, Lenné wines are primarily sold through their tasting room and online.
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Margot and Dave