When the Bailey family purchased Youngberg Hill in 2003, they knew they were getting much more than a hilltop inn. They were taking on a unique vineyard site, situated on a rolling slope that gazes out at the Van Duzer Corridor and the Eola-Amity Hills beyond. The rural McMinnvillle spot is gaining traction amid a buzzing Willamette Valley wine scene, with nearly 30-year-old vines producing organic fruit that Wayne Bailey, the vintner, finesses into Old World-style wines. Naturally, there’s Pinot Noir in the picture, but Youngberg Hill may soon be as renowned for its wonderfully balanced Chardonnay.
Hot off being selected to both this year’s highly competitive International Pinot Noir Celebration showcase and the ever-growing Oregon Chardonnay Celebration, Wayne Bailey chats about site, grape and the future.
How do you think your estate vineyard stands out most in your wines?
The weather. Being farther west and south and higher in altitude, we are on the fringe of the fringe. As a result we ripen later and longer than the norm giving the fruit more depth and complexity. What’s unique about the site? For our Aspen Chardonnay, I believe we are growing where others would have planted Pinot Noir, so we are producing Chardonnay on a better site than most. By the way, the Aspen block of Chardonnay is named after our youngest of three daughters, Aspen.
How much potential do you think Willamette Valley Chardonnay has and why?
Very high, because like Pinot Noir, growing on the fringe adds an element of character you can’t get in warmer climes. Add to that the fact that we are now working with cool climate clones, we can better ripen exceptional fruit for making great Chardonnay.
How did Burgundy, France, shape your winemaking approach?
Taking a very hands off, un-manipulated approach to let the expression of site come through with the fruit as much as possible. That allows us to produce unique and distinguishing wines without overworking our wines.
You’re about to finish your 2016 Chardonnay, from what I understand. What do you like about this wine and how is that shaping your view of your Chardonnay program going forward?
Despite being only our second vintage of Chardonnay, we are very excited at how much more developed the flavor profile is in 2016, and the richer fruit components balanced with the minerality of our site. This bodes extremely well going forward as those vines mature.