May 11, 2021|In Winery Spotlight

Cristom: Oregon Ascending

Wine & Spirits Magazine: "Top 100 Wineries of the Year" in 2020, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2012, 2011

Oregon is the most dynamic wine region in the US right now. Even though the first pioneers planted in the 60s, there is still a sense of discovery and opportunity that has the region buzzing. The ongoing progress and passion are reflected in the wines, and consumer appreciation has spread fast. Thanks in large part to one of the earlier risk takers leading the Oregon charge: Cristom Vineyards.

This winery holds a special place in our collective Dhall & Nash heart – it was our very first imported American wine over 12 years ago! What a glorious first step on the path to exalting these wondrous Dhall & Nash Wondermakers.

Created in 1992 when Oregon was not even a speck on the wine map, Cristom have helped put Oregon at the forefront of the world of fine Pinot Noir, and arguably they produce some of the best available. The winery is still in family hands today and is now run by the founders’ children.

It was the potential of making great wines in an undiscovered region that first drew Paul and Eileen Gerrie, owners of Cristom Vineyards, to Oregon. They conceived of a place where the succulent Pinot Noir grape could achieve its fullest expression – complex, hand crafted wines that are bold, yet balanced; both powerful and elegant. Their ideal was to make fine wines that evolve as they age, revealing ever greater richness and complexity with time.

The abundance of soils and slopes in the hills of Oregon defined the Gerrie’s vision of world class Pinot Noir. Since the inaugural vintage in 1992, the Gerries, along with winemaker Steve Doerner, have been producing wines that are considered the benchmark in Oregon and have made Cristom a veritable household name.

The Cristom flagship wine, the value-driven Mt. Jefferson Cuvée Pinot Noir, was recognized in 2018 as the #1 Pinot Noir on America’s best wine lists by the Wine & Spirits Magazine Annual Restaurant Poll and “The Most Exciting Wines of 2018” by Decanter Magazine.

The Cristom Story:

Today we could call Cristom an Oregon Pinot Noir dynasty. It is a team that started off great and keeps getting better and better.

This is how the dynasty began: Cristom was founded by Paul Gerrie, a petroleum engineer and researcher who had a passion for wine. On his many travels to France, he found the traditional growing practices of Burgundy to be fascinating and realized that soil and site, the mainstays of ‘terroir’, were key in producing complex and unique Pinot Noir.

Whilst attending the 1991 International Pinot Noir Celebration in Oregon, he met Robert Parker’s brother-in-law and Beaux Freres winemaker Mike Etzel. He hired Mike to find him some vineyard land in Oregon. They settled on the abandoned Pellier Winery site in the Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley. Now he was definitely committed and inspired enough to risk leaving the East Coast with his family in tow to pursue his love of Pinot Noir in Oregon’s nascent wine country. Paul and Eileen named their new winery Cristom, after their two children, Christine and Tom.

Immediately, Paul made two crucial signings. Mark Feltz, a local man with an intuitive feel for farming and the land, became Vineyard Manager. Whilst Californian Steve Doerner, was appointed winemaker. A University of California Davis Biochemistry grad whose passion for Pinot Noir was inspired by working for 14 years at the legendary Pinot specialist Calera Vineyards with owner Josh Jensen. And also studying under Jacques Seysses of Domaine Dujac in Burgundy. Although Paul Gerrie has now retired, his son, Tom, carries on as the current proprietor and manager. Then in 2019 the team was joined by talented Daniel Estrin, who had worked at Craggy Range, Burn Cottage, Bodega Chacra, and other wineries but most notably, 7 years at Littorai with legendary Pinot Noir winemaker, Ted Lemon. The dream team continues in their quest to make wines of excellence.

“Cristom is right at the top of the Oregon tree in terms of quality.” – Dr. Jamie Goode, Wine Anorak

The Vineyards & Terroir:

Today, Cristom Vineyards consists of nine distinct vineyards on 65 acres in the prestigious Eola-Amity Hills of Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Originally, only one block was suitable to producing good Pinot Noir, so the rest were re-planted between 1993 and 1996. Under Tom’s initiative and with the guidance of viticulturist Mark Feltz and Daniel Estrin they now practice meticulous biodynamic farming methodologies and are certified sustainable.

The Estate is situated roughly 15km north of Salem and a similar distance west of Dundee, the estate lies between the Pacific coast (70km to the west) and the Cascade Mountains to the east. Cool afternoon breezes blow in from the Pacific, following the Van Duzer Corridor – a break in the coastal range – to provide a cooling effect on the vines after warm summer days, locking in that essential acidity in the grapes. This is optimal cool climate wine-growing country.

“My work is influenced by the seasons and by a constant desire to meld the art of winemaking with the terroir of the Willamette Valley.” – Steve Doerner, Cristom Winemaker

Cristom has four specially selected Pinot Noir single vineyard sites: Eileen, Jessie, Louise, and Marjorie, named for Gerrie family matriarchs – each possess natural variances in soil, elevation, and exposition. As well as Pinot Noir they have planted Syrah, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, and Viognier. There are 95 acres of vine throughout the 240-acre property. About 10,000 cases of wine are produced annually, of which about 80% is Pinot Noir.

The Pinot Noir vineyards include:

Marjorie Vineyard (the only one kept on its own roots with the original spacing of 605 vines per acre), all but Marjorie Vineyard are planted to high density (about 2300 vines per acre) and therefore have extremely limited quantities. The Marjorie Pinot was the first single-vineyard wine to be released in 1994, the vines were planted twelve years earlier in 1982. Named after Paul’s mother, this is the smallest production of the single-vineyard wines.

Also, in 1994 the Jessie Vineyard (named after his paternal grandmother) was planted on the steepest slope of the entire property and it produces the most Burgundian wines using Pommard and Dijon clones 115, 114, 667 and 777.

Paul’s maternal grandmother was honoured with the Louise Vineyard, part of whose slope spends the latter part of the day in shade, which means there is a nice contrast of rich, riper fruit from the lower slopes which have seen more sun and fresher, more restrained fruit from the shadowed upper slope. Planted with Dijon clones 113, 114, 115, 77 and Pommard in diverse soils.

Then there is the eight-hectare Eileen Vineyard, named after Paul’s wife, which was the last to be planted (1997) and sits at the highest point of the estate, where it’s a little cooler, and the fruit can ripen more gently. Planted with Dijon clones 114, 115, 777, Pommard 4 and Wädenswil 1A.

Another Pinot Noir vineyard, to honour the owner, the Paul Gerrie Vineyard, was acquired in 2012.

Tom Gerrie & Steve Doerner

In the Winery - The Doerner Philosophy:

We all know that Pinot Noir winemakers are notoriously driven, eccentric, zealously passionate and committed to riding the vintage merry-go-round come what may. And Steve Doerner is the epitome of one of these kind of guys. Here is an intuitive winemaker who shared owner Paul Gerrie’s vision of “letting the land make the wines”.

“I’ve been making Pinot Noir for 30 vintages now”, shares winemaker Steve Doerner. “I want to maintain the best part of Pinot, which is its elegance”. He adds that, “it’s an uphill battle to convince people that finesse is good”.

Cristom Vineyards is a rarity among Oregon wine producers in that every varietal produced offers uncommon excellence and consistency year in and year out. Particularly though, it has been the Pinot Noirs that have caught the hearts and minds of the wine-loving public.

Over the years, Steve has tailored a very precise cellar approach for making wine from Cristom’s unique Estate Vineyards and has not been afraid to use the wines of Burgundy as their model. The Old World traditions of using native yeast ferments with whole clusters have been their standard operating procedure for almost three decades. Both of these concepts are now considered ‘obligatory’ for many of America’s most progressive Pinot Noir producers.

Cristom’s dynamic wines are recognizable by their hallmark style of whole-bunch* fermentation by native yeasts. There is no filtration, have minimal racking, utilise gravity flow for gentler extraction and light egg white fining for clarity. New oak is very judiciously used and never dominates. They have always applied this minimalist low intervention winemaking approach – which they sum up as “more about the land than the hand”!

The resulting wines are stylistically gentle, delicate almost, yet with a discreet intensity of flavour and real length. As the vines have grown older, the wines have become more complex. They have true elegance and structure.

*A bit of geek-talk on the ‘Whole-bunch (cluster)’ method – there are 2 major advantages of whole-bunch fermentation: having intact berries and then using the stems as a ‘sponge’. When there is little destemming after harvest, the majority of the berries are virtually intact prior to fermentation. When fermentation begins, it does so within the berry, and then they burst. Even with this brief intra-berry fermentation they capture aromas better and it results in better extraction of flavours. The stems absorb unpleasant bitter tannins like a sponge. In short, the wine will be more refined with a more elegant structure and better aromas.

“My goal is to make wines that have balance, wines that have weight and power and finesse and elegance.” – Steve Doerner, Cristom Winemaker

For us at Dhall & Nash, what sets Cristom apart is the intensity of the flavours they are able to derive without the wine coming across as extracted or heavy. They manage to deliver powerful aromas and flavours without sacrificing the light silkiness on the palate that is the hallmark of great Pinot Noir. There is always elegance, depth, balance, and consistency. Even when Steve’s wines are powerful, they possess power in proportion, giving the elements context and telling an always compelling story. It is a story of family, vision, stewardship, and commitment. The beauty of Cristom wines is that they continue to be a unique blend of tradition, modernity, and finesse.

Cristom Vineyards was once again honoured by Wine & Spirits Magazine as a 2020 Top 100 Winery. This recognition is Cristom’s 8th in the past 10 years, an achievement that we are all immensely proud of and a beacon of the brand’s true staying power and consistent outstanding quality.

The Cristom Wines:

The Cristom ‘Mount Jefferson’ Pinot Noir is the most approachable of the Cristom Pinots and is a terrific introduction to the Cristom style. It is a blend of the Cristom Estate Pinot Noir vineyards along with fruit that has been sourced from neighbouring vineyards in the Willamette Valley. Each vineyard site adds to the character, fruit, and structure of the wine, giving Mount Jefferson its deserved reputation as one of the most stylistically consistent Pinot Noirs in the world. This is Cristom’s Flagship wine.

2017 Cristom Mt. Jefferson Cuvee Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
“An attractive array of rich red to dark cherries that delivers a fine layer of perfume and a wealth of bright raspberries and red cherries. The palate is subtly earthy and gently spicy with a very plush and assertive core of blueberries and red cherries. Smooth, supple, and very energetic. Drink over the next six to eight years.” 93/100 points James Suckling (September 2019)

“Pale to medium ruby-purple, it’s scented of red and black cherries, red currants, crushed stone, warm earth, and dried leaves with a soft framing of spice. The medium-bodied palate features restrained, spicy fruits, a softly chalky frame and good freshness on the long finish. It was made with 47% whole clusters and aged 11 months in 20% new French oak.” 91/100 points Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate (April 2020)

“Displays aromas of ripe red berries and cherry, along with subtle cola, woodsmoke and Asian spice nuances. Sweet and penetrating on the palate, offering juicy, spice-laced cherry and raspberry flavours that flesh out and deepen slowly on the back half. A smoky note emerges on the penetrating finish, which features fine-grained tannins and lingering red fruit preserve and floral qualities”. 91/100 points Vinous (June 2019)

 

Cristom Jessie Vineyard Pinot Noir
“A very distinctive nose with a wild array of red berries and a thread of blue fruit, too. There is a dried wild-rose perfume and a violet-like thread with subtle, herbal-based notes. It’s a moving target in the glass with incredible complexity. This has a gift of revelation. The palate has a very assertive edge with a powerful core of intense tannins that carry a spicy thread of rich dark cherries and dark plums in a defined, savoury, and athletic stance. A star of the vintage.” 97/100 points James Suckling, 2017 vintage

“The 2018 Pinot Noir Jessie Vineyard was made with 46% whole clusters and aged 17 months in 51% new French oak. Medium ruby, it has an incredible perfume of broody earth, licorice, and lilac with concentrated blueberry and cranberry fruit. The medium-bodied palate is silky and expansive, offering loads of perfume and powerful fruit in a seamless, feathery frame, finishing very long. What a beauty!” 94/100 points Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate (EB) (December 2020), 2018 vintage

“Limpid ruby-red. Ripe red berries, cherry cola, exotic spices and a hint of potpourri on the deeply perfumed nose. Chewy and focused on the palate, offering spice-tinged black raspberry, cherry liqueur and rose pastille flavours complemented by subtle licorice and mocha nuances. A smoky quality builds with air and carries through a long, youthfully tannic finish that echoes the cherry note.” 95/100 points Josh Raynolds, Vinous (August 2020), 2018 vintage

“Jessie is an 11-acre vineyard that’s among the Willamette’s steepest. In 2018, the wine leads with a smoky, austere expression of those shallow soils, viewed through a lens of cluster spice. But bright, warm cherry flavour comes bursting through the austere frame, mouth-filling and delicious. This is still far from peak expression; cellar it.” 93/100 points Wine & Spirits (PJC) (October 2020), 2018 vintage

 

2017 Cristom Louise Vineyard Pinot Noir
“Enthralling aromas of muddled cherry and sous bois. Very juicy, with vivid flavours of purple and black fruits and spice. Impeccable balance, with an energetic and extremely long finish. Choose any superlative you want. I fell hard for this one that was still enchanting when tasted the following day from a previously opened and recorked bottle.” 96/100 points PinotFile

 

2018 Cristom Eileen Vineyard Pinot Noir
“Deep scarlet. A complex, highly perfumed bouquet evokes spice-tinged raspberry liqueur, cherry and potpourri, along with a deeper cola nuance and a hint of smoky minerality. Velvety and seamless on the palate, offering expansive red and blue fruit, lavender pastille and spice cake flavours underscored by a vein of juicy acidity. Shows impressive delineation and finishes extremely long and spicy, with polished tannins and resonating floral and cherry notes.” 95/100 points Vinous (JR)

“The 2018 Cristom Pinot Noir ‘Eileen’ Vineyard was made with 48% whole clusters and aged 17 months in 57% new French oak. It has a medium ruby colour and savoury prosciutto and aniseed-laced rhubarb and cranberries plus loads of latent spices. The medium-bodied palate is fresh and silky, its juicy uplift is an excellent foil for its broody, spicy fruits, and it finishes long.” 92/100 points Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate (EB)


Our full Cristom range:

2019 Cristom Estate Viognier
2018 Cristom Eola-Amity Hills Chardonnay
2018 Cristom Eileen Vineyard Pinot Noir (also in 375ml bottles)
2018 Cristom Jessie Vineyard Pinot Noir
2018 Cristom Louise Vineyard Pinot Noir
2019 Cristom Mount Jefferson Cuvée Pinot Noir

If you’re interested in finding out more or would like to place an order, send us an email at orders@dnfinewine.com.