Soter Singing Harmony Instead of Solos with New Series

Soter Vineyards recently announced the release of the first vintage of its new Estates Series: the 2018 Soter Vineyards Estates Pinot Noir. Co-owner Tony Soter told Vintner Magazine the “Estates” concept was built around a 19-year-old vineyard and two additional property acquisitions in Oregon’s Northern Willamette Valley, and the early releases in the new series will be made from grape blends from all three of these vineyards.

“The ‘estates’ concept is built around the new property acquisitions. It’s a vehicle to take to market what we have acquired in new grape sources that we can control as our own,” Soter said. “Our goals are to drive the grape growing to organics, crop for quality-not-quantity, no-compromise high standards farming.

“The Estates wine is also a deliberate blend. There is fun and creativity in that there is some latitude to roll with the punches of wine growing year to year.”

The vineyards involved are Soter’s flagship Mineral Spring Ranch, which has been featured in previous vintages for the past two decades, and the recently acquired Ribbon Ridge and Eola-Amity Hills.

The launch of the Estates Series is led by the Pinot Noir and will be complemented by both an extended elévage Chardonnay and a “méthod champenoise” Brut sparkling wine debuting in spring of 2022. 

“We will see the blend shifting a bit year to year depending on the vintage,” Soter said. 

How each vineyard gets utilized in each vintage is determined given the contributions from each site. And single vineyard designation bottling remains the ultimate goal.

“It’s not a mathematical model,” Soter said. “Our highest use for these sites will ultimately be to highlight each with a single vineyard designation bottling. But quite frankly, we are not ready for that so in the meantime these sources will play harmony together rather than singing solos.”

Single vineyard bottlings from each vineyard will follow in the years ahead when vines reach appropriate maturity as they have at Mineral Springs Ranch.

“We take single vineyard designations very seriously.  I only want to see them on wines that come from distinguished sites with the potential to be thought of as among the Grand Crus of new world Pinot Noir,” Soter said. “We will spend 10 years or more trying to prove that proposition for each of our vineyards before we bottle designated wines.

“We expect the work to take several years and that means experience to learn the site, the clones, the variations in soil,  the best techniques to capture and compliment the inherent characteristics of the site. We don’t have a one size fits all recipe for making great Pinot Noir.” Age of the vines is definitely taken into consideration when producing a vintage. 

“I have made seductive wines from young vines, but rarely ones with the depth and profound phenolics that give the structure to age well.” Soter said. “The answer is that it takes time to prove to the vines (and the winegrowers) are worthy and capable to render the best the site can express. 

“I am old enough to want to hurry, but wise enough to know not to rush the process.”

The Mineral Springs Vineyard — the first of the bunch — was first planted in 2002, and Soter said he had been pleased with the wines they have produced. 

“I am not about to brag about them but let’s say I am willing to stake my remaining days on the proposition that it’s a distinguished place for growing Pinot Noir … and Chardonnay, as we have learned of late,” Soter said. “It has nearly perfect elevation, and exposures and profoundly well drained soils of ancient marine sediment. The wines speak to that in quality, with a unique signature of character and reliability year in and year out — one of the marks of a great site in my eyes.”

The Eola-Amity Hills property has just five acres producing at the moment, but it will eventually produce 25. Soter called it “a diamond in the rough.”

“We just cleared the rocks from what was an old Christmas tree farm that has been fallow for several years and planted 12 more acres on some perfect south-facing slopes with great volcanic stony soils to our favorite root stocks and clones,” Soter explained. “The excitement in a new planting is in part anticipation that someday the vines will reveal the real voice of this rocky slope.”

Eola-Amity Hills location in relation to where it is to other productive vineyards is auspicious.

“If I couldn’t spot a good place to plant a vineyard because I was blind, I might still know it had the potential just for knowing the neighbors: Cristom on two sides and the new star, X Novo, owned by my good friend Craig Williams, formerly a partner in the Phelps winery. And a stone’s throw to the west is Zena Crown Vineyard, where we have been buying fruit for many years — it is always one of the standouts of our cellar for its purity, restraint and depth.

Soter said the third site, Ribbon Ridge, contained more clay-laden sedimentary soils that produce “fleshy, rich wines with voluptuous texture with nice dark fruit and spice.”

“Our sites are relatively established so I hope it will only be a couple more years before we have a grasp of what we think is the best expression, but at the moment it’s still to be proven,” Soter said. “We also have some replanting to do that will take years to come to full potential but offer some creative potential too.”

With an expected 100 acres producing before the end of the next decade, Soter Vineyards’ goal is to eventually bottle between 10,000-12,000 cases annually.

“Some people can do the math and wonder why the number isn’t higher. To start, low yields are necessary for top-tier wine that tastes like where it comes from, not how it’s made,” Soter explained. “We always have in the budget 10-15% for declassification nearly every season. You are fooling yourself if you think every vine you touch will make great wine…they might make good wine or even passable wine, but that will be for other labels.”

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