Posts Tagged ‘Bethel Heights Southeast Block Pinot Noir’

When we planted it in 1979, the Southeast Block looked just like the other two Pinot blocks planted that year on the newly cleared east side of our vineyard, with cuttings from Dick Erath’s Pommard clone Pinot noir stuck directly into the ground without benefit of phylloxera-resistant rootstock.

But soon after these three look-alike Pinot blocks started producing fruit, differences in their soil depth began to assert themselves. The South Block was always a bit overly vigorous; the Flat Block was always a bit weak.  The Southeast Block was always Just Right, and was clearly destined to be Goldilocks’ favorite.

To top it off, in 1998 the famous French geologist Yves Herody, consultant to many of Burgundy’s biodynamic vignerons, declared that our Southeast Block was created by a different geological event than the blocks next to it, giving its parent rock a Unique Mineral Content.  By then it had already become our glory hog.

During the ‘80’s, when we were still selling most of our fruit to other wineries, the Southeast Block was the Chosen Block of Domaine Drouhin Oregon.  After 1991, when we started bottling our own Southeast Block designated wine, it regularly got the highest score of all our Pinots.  It was almost always our Featured Wine at the International Pinot Noir Celebration.  It usually provided our Chosen Barrel for the ¡Salud! auction.

Always a prima donna, unwilling to share the spotlight, the SEB has never been a component in our Casteel Reserve.

In 2006 the Southeast Block was the Chosen Block for the Cellar Crawl Collection, a “best block” fruit trade experiment between Bethel Heights, Penner-Ash, Ken Wright, Cristom and Solena.

This year the 2008 Southeast Block was selected as the only Oregon Pinot for the inspiring wine list at Boston’s new Legal Harborside Restaurant, a collection of only 50 wines from around the world “whose personality originates from an individual place, wine whose identity reflects a single family’s connection to the particular parcel of earth that it tends.”

As Ben described it for the Harborside Collection, “The roots of these own-rooted vines have grown down and explored our rocky volcanic soil for over thirty years, and in doing so have produced wines that are defined far more by their place, than by vintage or by the hand of the winemaker.  Since my father first started bottling wines from the Southeast Block as single-block designates in 1991, this block has given us wines with a firm backbone combined with robust savory fruit and a deep minerality that is unique to this place.”

The Southeast Block is thirty-two years old this year. There are signs that phylloxera has finally discovered its unprotected roots, but Mimi’s worm tea is being liberally applied to boost its immune system, and we believe its best years may still be ahead.  Certainly the 2007 and 2008 Southeast Block Pinots are two of the most glorious and ageworthy wines we have ever produced.

If the Southeast Block were a person, who would it be?

Ted:  Spencer Tracy or Humphrey Bogart  (a bit rough on the outside, but solid intellect and sweet heart on the inside)

Mimi:  Robert Redford (good when young, great when old)

Ben:  Paul Newman (better than Redford, same reasons)

Kate:  Katherine Hepburn

Mimi:  SEB can’t be a woman, but if it were, it would be Katherine Hepburn

Pat:  Sean Connery (tough but smooth, becoming more interesting with age)

Mimi:  Not Sean Connery.  SEB can’t have an accent.

Terry:  Jamie Tombaugh (because if the SEB has anything, it has character)

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“Bethel Heights’ most recent collection is uniformly outstanding.” Thus spake Dr. Jay Miller in the October issue of The Wine Advocate.

Eight 2008 Pinots rated 90 or above. Four current release whites “represent excellent to outstanding value.” We could have said it ourselves, but it’s so much nicer when someone else says it for us. Check out the reviews!

The entire 12-bottle Uniformly Outstanding Collection is ready to ship as a holiday package with $10 flat rate shipping through December 1.  A wine for every celebration of the season, so no one has to be “that guy” who comes to dinner without the Bethel Heights.    Quick, before the curtain falls on our shipping window!


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Don, New Kate, and Mimi smiling on Pinot

Another long and very satisfying day:  25 tons of gorgeous Pinot noir, including all of the Southeast Block and South Block, harvested under sunny skies.   6:45 pm:  Sun setting, Moon and Jupiter rising, and everyone is still smiling tonight as the work goes on.

Ted, Marilyn and Ben smiling on lunch

What the crush crew had for lunch today:  beef kebobs with chanterelles over risotto, and a side of Caesar salad – Marilyn is spoiling us, but no wonder everyone is still smiling!   We have TWO chanterelle hunters on our crush crew this year, our brand new Kate and our good old Alex.

Jack hanging in there

Jack is home from the kennel, cannon shell-shock averted.  Now that harvest is underway, he can head for the winery at daybreak (cannon-break) and spend the day under the table in the office until Ted turns off the cannons and it’s time for a moonrise walk!


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"Just a normal September"

Since Pat and I returned from vacation on September 1st, the softening and coloring of the fruit has moved from 10% to 99% in the vineyard,  as the weather has shifted from cool and showery in week one to warm and dry in week two and then back to cool and showery in week three – a normal September.

We have been here before on many occasions. We are actually behind on rainfall compared to normal and compared to last year at this point.
Given the lack of serious weather events, I would like to single out a section of our vineyard that has a special story worth telling – it is our old vineyard Scott-Henry.  This includes our old vines in the West Block (planted in 1977), and our east side Pommard blocks, planted two years later.  These sections of the vineyard include many of our oldest vines, planted on their own roots (not on rootstock), which are moderately vigorous, and are wide-spaced by current standards (535 vine/per/acre.)  To provide a sense of where we are now at Justice Vineyard, 1930 v/p/a is our new norm.
To maximize the performance of our old vines, we have divided the canopy, vertically, using a technique developed by an old friend from the Umpqua region to our South, to improve canopy quality and produce world class grapes on these moderately vigorous vines. A significant part of our old Pinot plantations are now arrayed on the Scott Henry trellis. Four canes are deployed on two wires, separated vertically, to create a 8’ canopy that is narrow, balanced, and capable of producing reserve wines of very high quality.
Scott’s canopy innovation was intended to take vines that were overwhelmed by the power of river bottom soils to make decent or better Pinot.  I would like to think that we have borrowed his concept to elevate the quality of hill soils planted at wide spacing to produce wines of the highest quality.  Our Southeast Block has produced reserve quality Pinot noir on the S-H for almost a decade, and our South Block has become the most important component of the Casteel Reserve.  Is it because of their senior status or the trellis choice?  I am convinced that both are important contributors to wine quality.
Thank you Scott.
Ted Casteel

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Tom Miller and Mallie (born in 1999)

Last week I received this email from our old friend Tom Miller of Birmingham, Alabama:  

Pat, Please share this with the gang.  I am SSSOOOOOOOOOO glad my little girl was born in 1999 AND I had money back then.

1999 Bethel Heights Southeast Block Reserve Pinot noir: (13%); pulled and poured; After figuring out that I had not opened a bottle of this wine since purchasing it in 2002, I decided it was about time.  Crystal clear, medium dark ruby color; on the nose, hints of dark cherries and maybe a touch of menthol or eucalyptus (?); on the palate, there is a eruption of dark fruits balanced with nice acidity and integrated tannins…the eucalyptus is still present but adds a certain nuance to the overall experience; after 45 minutes, the eucalyptus blew off, tears of extract were running down the glass and the finish lengthened nicely.  Why did I wait so long?  Fortunately I have many 750s, six magnums and one three-liter left of this beauty…woo hoo!  Simply exquisite with the coriander crusted salmon topped with a fennel crab salad… [3-4-09]

I am also proud to say that the first wine we had in our new house back on April 11, 1998 was my second to last bottle of 1991 Southeast Block Reserve.  Fortunately, I still have a bottle each of the 1991 and 1992 Southeast Block and Flat Block Reserves (with the old school labels) left in the cellar…but I’d better drink them up I’d guess.

My best to all, Tom

Thomas H. Miller

Depletion Specialist, Just Pinot, LLC  


Tom Miller has been a friend of Bethel Heights and a great ambassador for Oregon wines since he started coming out here for the International Pinot Noir Celebration, way back in the late 80’s.  Over the years he has had a lot to do with making Birmingham one of the great Oregon Pinot towns in the country – no exaggeration! He has also had much to do with the great success of Birmingham’s TumTum Tree Foundation Wine Auction, now in its 20th year benefiting the children of Alabama.  www.tumtumtreefoundation.org

Tom’s personal wine cellar includes a remarkable collection of Oregon Pinot noir going back to the early 90’s, and he keeps good notes on the wines he opens.  His reviews on some of Bethel Heights’ older vintages will soon be posted on our website.

Pat Dudley 

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Bethel Heights Southeast Block Pinot Noir on July 28, 2008

Bethel Heights 2008 Southeast Block Pinot Noir on 7/28

The 2008 vintage in the Willamette Valley is about three weeks behind “normal” this year, due to an extremely cold spring.  We had snow in March and cold rain into mid-June.  Here at Bethel Heights, bud break didn’t happen until April 20, and bloom didn’t begin until the twenty-first of June. Happily, very intense summer conditions pushed us through bloom in a heartbeat, giving us a good fruit set and reducing our concerns about the end of the season.   The vines have been making up for lost time by growing so fast you can practically see the shoots elongate, if you don’t blink.

 We had a late beginning like this in 1999, 91 and 93, and they turned out to be excellent vintages with great aging potential, thanks to prolonged Indian Summers lasting well into October.  Needless to say, we will be thinning the crop very energetically in the next few weeks, to hedge our bets. 

Ted Casteel  

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