The second stop of the third day of my adventure through the Oregon wine country was at Benton Lane Winery in the southern Willamette Valley, near the village of Monroe. The site was originally an old sheep ranch called “Sunnymount Ranch”
Located on the west side of the valley with hillsides sloping east by southeast, it has a perfect orientation for planting Pinot Noir. Because they are east of some of the highest peaks in the coastal range they receive what climatologists refer to as the “rain shadow”. In effect, these high peaks part the marine cloud layer that flows in from the Pacific Ocean, creating a unique microclimate that receives more sunlight than the surrounding area, hence the name Sunnymount. These unique conditions provide the potential for earlier ripening of grapes which improves the ability to complete the harvest before the normal arrival of fall rains. In addition, the soils in this vineyard are deep, well drained, Bellpine and Jory clay-loam soils, which are ideal for grape cultivation.
In 1988 Steve and Carol Girard purchased the Sunnymount Ranch and began planting Pinot Noir the following year. The name Benton-Lane is derived from the fact that the vineyard straddles the border between Benton and Lane counties. Since then the vineyard has grown to 138 acres predominantly planted to Pinot Noir with 7 distinct clones on a wide variety of rootstocks carefully matched to the planting location.
In 1992 Benton-Lane produced their first vintage was which was custom produced at another local winery. This custom production process continued until 1997 when the winery facility was constructed.
Until 2003 Benton-Lane exclusively produced Pinot Noir but then they began producing limited quantities of Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc from small 1 and 2 acre experimental plantings of each in the Benton-Lane vineyard. These wines were then sold exclusively in the tasting room. In 2004, the winery began full-scale commercial production of Pinot Gris from grapes purchased from carefully selected Willamette Valley growers.
From time to time the winery has also produced a Rosé made from 100% estate grown Pinot Noir. Then in 2009 the winery produced its first Chardonnay that is also only available at the winery.
While visiting I sampled the following wines:
My first wine was the 2011 Pinot Gris. This wine has medium intense aromas of honey crisp apples, melon, peaches, and lime. On the palate the wine is crisp with refreshing acidity. This wine sells for $24 a bottle.
The second pour was the 2010 Pinot Blanc. Almost Chardonnay-like, this wine exudes aromas of apples, caramel and a very distinct hazelnut character that lingers on the finish followed by toasted marshmallows on the return. It reminds of a barrel fermented Chardonnay and yet it is lighter in body and does not have the heavy oak or butter. I really liked this wine and brought two home for $18 per bottle.
The third wine was the 2009 Chardonnay. This wine displays golden raisins, hints of stone and tropical fruits followed by faint notes of butter and toasted nuts. On the palate it is medium bodied with additional notes of crème brûlée, it is silky and yet has sufficient crispness as well. This wine is competitively priced at $28 a bottle.
The fourth wine was the 2011 Pinot Noir Rosé. This wine has subtle aromas of strawberries, rose water, and spice. On the palate it is dry, medium bodied, crisp and tangy with a hint of spice on the finish. A competitively price wine at $15 a bottle.
The fifth pour was the 2009 Pinot Noir Estate. This wine has layered aromas of Bing cherries, blackberries, with underlying notes of strawberries. On the palate is lively with medium (+) acidity, soft with medium (-) tannins, and is light bodied. It doesn’t have the earthiness I have come to expect from Oregon Pinots and so it seems like a $35 Russian River Pinot Noir and yet it sells for only $26 a bottle.
The final tasting was the 2009 First Class Pinot Noir. This wine is a major step up from the previous Pinot in boldness, intensity, complexity and the “wow” factor. On the nose this wine displays pronounced aromas of blackberries, cola and a subtle floral component followed by a waft of spice, tobacco and herbs. On the palate it is really well balanced with medium tannins and abundant acidity (medium +) followed by a lengthy (medium +) finish. An absolutely fabulous wine for $48 a bottle, I brought one home.
To visit or for more information:
Benton Lane Winery
23924 Territorial Highway
Monroe, Oregon 97456
Phone: 1-541- 847-5792