Our recent Youngberg Hill visit with winemaker/owner Wayne Bailey was both educational and fun, as we learned about his 31-year-old biodynamically farmed vineyard and his non-intervention winemaking process. Back in March, we tasted some of his wines and were so enamored, we just had to take a road trip to Oregon wine country. Just 10 minutes from downtown McMinnville, Youngberg Hill sits on a 50-acre hilltop with spectacular views. Read on to find out about their story, wines and beautiful inn.
Youngberg Hill Visit with Wayne Bailey
We sat down for an hour to chat with winemaker/owner Wayne Bailey during our Youngberg Hill visit in June. His passion for holistic farming practices, and a natural (non-intervention) winemaking process, was evident immediately and throughout our time together.
Wayne grew up on a small farm in Iowa. His career began in mechanical engineering, moved to sales and marketing in the food and beverage industry, and then he spent time on a consulting job in Burgundy, France. In Burgundy, his three-month job turned into two years learning how to grow wine grapes. At the same time, he discovered his love for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
“My influence is Montrachet, so that is my guide. The first Chardonnay I tasted was in Burgundy and it was all downhill from there,” he laughed.
For many reasons, Burgundy shaped his winemaking approach. For example, he discovered that the grape growers and winemakers defined themselves as “farmers first.” He related to this, of course, because of his farm experience in Iowa. He also discovered that Burgundy is legally not allowed to irrigate. In 2011, Wayne started practicing biodynamic farming with no irrigation. In addition, he stopped tilling in 2016 for the health of the soil, “because tilling breaks up the soil and nature has to start over.”
Consequently, he practices holistic farming and natural winemaking “to allow our wines to express where the fruit is grown on our hill, in different soils and weather of that growing season. Our goal is for life on the farm including the soil, the vines and all other plant and insect life to be healthier 50 years from now than today.”
Wayne didn’t tell us, but we later discovered that Wine Industry Network named him one of ten “Inspiring Wine Industry People of North America” in 2018.
Youngberg Hill Story
Established in 1989, the Youngberg Hill vines first sourced fruit to Oregon Pinot heavyweight Ken Wright at Panther Creek Cellars. Subsequently, the first wine labeled as Youngberg Hill was made in 1996. Moreover, in 2003, Wayne and his wife Nicolette purchased the property, and transformed the land into a sustainably farmed wine estate and inn.
Youngberg Hill sits in the McMinnville AVA on a 50-acre estate of volcanic rock and marine sediment soils. Its 20 acres of vines include 30-year-old Pommard and Wadenswill clones, and 10-year-old Dijon 77 clones.
Youngberg Hill’s vineyards experience a significant maritime influence. They produce four distinct estate Pinot Noirs each year, plus estate Pinot Gris and Chardonnay. As well, the winery crafts a Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc from sourced fruit. And in 2016, Wayne also began creating sparkling wine.
Today, Wayne and Nicolette live on the property with their three daughters, Natasha, Jordan and Aspen. Natasha and Jordan’s names, along with the Bailey family name, represent three distinct vineyard blocks of Pinot Noir. Their youngest daughter’s name graces the Aspen block of Pinot Gris and Chardonnay.
Youngberg Hill Bed and Breakfast Inn
We stayed for one night at this nine-room bed & breakfast Inn and understand why it is highly recommended by Sunset Magazine. Unfortunately, we arrived late in the day, so we couldn’t sip a glass of wine on the deck and enjoy the picturesque setting. However, the next morning, we experienced phenomenal views of the vineyard, the Willamette Valley, the Eola-Amity mountain range and the Cascades.
The Inn’s decor reflects the outdoors with exposed wood, clean slate, and neutral tones with pops of bright color. Our visit came in the middle of a heat wave, but our room was thankfully very cool in addition to tastefully decorated. And the staff delivered a delicious breakfast of a yogurt parfait and eggs to our room. It was a lovely way to start the day.
Youngberg Hill Wine
Molly Allen — a “wine experience creator” — poured us seven outstanding wines during our Youngberg Hill visit. The lineup consisted of a Rosé, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and four unique Pinot Noirs. Molly knows her wines and did indeed create a memorable, informative experience for us. We had already tasted three of these seven wines in March, so it was nice to see how they’ve evolved in the glass over the last few months. And we are happy to say we recommend them all.
2020 Pinot Noir Rosé (SRP $40)
We first tasted this delightful Pinot Noir Rosé in March, and our notes at that time still hold true today. This rosé is terrific regardless of the season. Keeping it in the family, the Natasha Block, named after their oldest daughter, sourced the pinot for this rosé. But it’s more than pretty – this is a serious rosé. It showcases a perfect balance of juicy red fruit and acidity, and features a clean finish – similar to their Pinot Gris. Yes, this is definitely a summer sipper. But it also pairs well with salads and fresh fruit all year long.
2020 Aspen Pinot Gris ($35)
Named after their youngest daughter, Aspen, this Pinot Gris is like a breeze, sharp, crisp and clean, and much less sweet than most Pinot Gris we taste, which we prefer. The vines grow in marine sedimentary soil, and the fruit is fermented in 100% stainless steel. Consequently, this Pinot Gris is refreshing, with tantalizing aromas of stone fruit, pear and grapefruit, leading into flavors of more stone fruit and pineapple. While the nose and flavors are as captivating as when we tasted this Pinot Gris in March, a few extra months bring more substance and body to it. This wine would complement dishes with spicy or bold flavors.
2020 Aspen Chardonnay ($45)
When Molly poured our first taste of 2020 Aspen Chardonnay, we immediately remembered Wayne’s love of this grape began in Burgundy. In this Chardonnay, the marine sedimentary soil brings earthy and mineral notes that appeal to both of us. Champagne gold in color, this is an elegant wine. Aromas of hazelnut and apple lead into flavors of honeydew, lemon rind and oak, and a delicate minerality and smokiness. Pair it with chicken or pork.
2017 Cuvée Pinot Noir (SRP $35)
The Pinot Noir fruit for this wine comes from the namesake Bailey block in addition to fruit from Yamhill Vineyards. Hence the name Cuvée. This blend results in aromatics of cherries and graphite, while flavors of cherry cola, rhubarb and strawberry follow. This is more of a food-friendly table wine, suitable pouring for large groups to appreciate. In other words, it’s a crowd pleaser. We previously tasted the 2018 vintage, which was noticeably lighter-bodied. Pair this Cuvée with salmon, turkey or pizza.
2018 Natasha Pinot Noir (SRP $60)
The 2018 Natasha is a complex and classic expression of Pinot Noir. Its power comes from Pinot Noir clones – 60% Pommard and 40% Wadenswill – from older vines planted in 1985. Its earthy nose of boysenberry, cherry and clove turns to raspberry, cranberry, minerality and more cherries and boysenberries on the palate. Subsequently, this is a foodie wine. Pair it with lamb meatballs, turkey, duck, goose or even mild blue cheese or brie.
2018 J-Block Pinot Noir (SRP $60)
The J-Block is also known as Jordan Block, named after their middle daughter. At 800-foot elevation, its volcanic soil benefits from a coastal breeze. The Pinot Noir clones and the vintage mirror the Natasha. However, those J-Block volcanic soils result in different fruit than the marine soils of the Natasha vineyard. The flavors of cherry cola and vanilla are reflected in the aromas. This younger Pinot will soften up with time. Meanwhile, its juicy acidity pairs with lamb stew, grilled skirt steak, chicken or chocolate and strawberries.
2017 Bailey Family Wines Pinot Noir (SRP $115)
In 2017, Wayne introduced Bailey Family wines as its own label, representing the most elegant and exclusive wines in Youngberg Hill’s portfolio. They are available by allocation only. Bailey Pinot Noir is sultry and succulent. It is big, bold, beautiful and powerful, as well as tantalizing yet subtle, with balanced complexity. Aromas of mushrooms, cedar and even campfire lead into layers of flavors of cherries, blueberries and dark plum, with a hint of cocoa. We love this wine!
Youngberg Hill Visit Summary
In conclusion, we highly recommend a visit to Youngberg Hill winery and Inn. Take in the breathtaking views, taste these stellar wines and relax in the comfort of your surroundings. And if you can’t travel right now, we suggest buying these wines and enjoying them at home. Of course, we brought a few bottles home with us to do just that!
Previous story on Youngberg Hill
Margot and Dave