Estate Pinot Gris
Cristom Vineyards planted 5.1 acres (2.06 hectares) of Pinot Gris vines on the estate in 1993 on a gentle east-facing slope. The vines were planted at the lowest elevation on the property greeting visitors at the driveway and rising from 200 feet to 350 feet (61 m to 107 m). Planted at a high density of 1,815 vines/acre (4,485 vines/hectare), the Pinot Gris block often produces a lifted floral and citrus-tinged wine that typically combines zesty, mineral driven accents with a distinctive creamy finish. Cristom has been producing a single expression of estate-grown Pinot Gris since 1996.
The Cristom Pinot Gris planting is distinctive on the estate because it is entirely planted over ancient flood deposits known as Missoula Flood silts and marine sediments. These soils greatly impact the growth and vigor of the vines and the ripening of the fruit.
Our Pinot Gris block can be divided into two, roughly equal halves, a west side and an east side. The west half of the Pinot Gris has two different glacio-lacustrine Missoula Flood soils known as Helmick and Woodburn. Glacio-lacustrine sediments are the siltier Missoula deposits that can be found mantling the foothills to about 330 feet (100 meters) above sea level.
The western half of the block has been predominantly classified as Helmick. Helmick soils have a silty surface with a subsoil of clay of more mixed mineralogy composed mainly of smectite clays. The clay proves to be a viticultural challenge because smectite clays have high shrink-swell property, that is they swell when wet and shrink and crack when they dry out, more so than other soils on the estate. These soils hold a lot of water in the winter and spring, and tend to be droughty in late summer, so they can stress the vines and lead toward riper fruit. To grow the highest quality fruit possible in these soils, we felt we needed irrigation to control water late in the season and we retrofitted the vineyard in 2002. Due to the silty soil with a heavy clay layer that dries out early in the season, the west half of the Pinot Gris is almost always the first fruit to be picked each vintage.
In the southwest corner of the Pinot Gris block, vines are planted in a nutrient-rich Willamette Silt, named Woodburn. Woodburn soils series are young silts left behind from the floods caused by ancient Lake Missoula at end of the last Ice Age around 15,000 to 13,000 years ago. Vines can be vigorous in these rich soils and we work hard to manage the canopy and use cover crops to slow the vegetative growth and direct the vines’ energy into the fruit. We have chosen two different devigorating rootstocks to plant over the different soils to help us manage these viticultural challenges.
The east half of the estate Pinot Gris block is planted in two different marine sedimentary soils that range from moderately well drained to somewhat poorly drained Alfisols named Wellsdale and Dupee. Lying atop mother rock of fractured sandstone and siltstone, the Wellsdale soil on our site has some of the Missoula Flood sediments in the upper foot or two, but the main part of the soil profile is formed in an older soil that we call a paleosol. These older soils are more weathered than the flood deposits, and contains material derived from the marine sandstone and siltstone parent rock. The Wellsdale on our site is loamy and very deep, and the sandy nature of the upper horizon of the soil profile allows water to drain reasonably well and promotes early ripening.
Dupee soil is significantly more clayey than Wellsdale, and it runs down the middle of the eastern half of the Pinot Gris and up to the northern edge of the block. The uplifted marine sedimentary rocks of the Oregon Coast Range underlie the Willakezie soil series and its cousin soils such as Wellsdale and Dupee. The Dupee mapped at our site is also very deep, but because these soils are transitional to Helmick soils where the substratum is smectitic clay, they can dry out early in the season and progress ripening. Picking typically starts in the western half of the Pinot Gris in the Missoula Flood Silts and progresses down the hillside as the marine sedimentary soils quickly catch up and ripen the fruit early in the season.
Bright citrus-blossom aromas that range from tangerine zest to lime blossom are often noted on the palate.
The maritime climate at Cristom Vineyards has moderately warm days and especially cool nights, allowing the vines to retain acidity and produce intense and fragrant aromas and flavors. The estate Pinot Gris is planted on the lower slopes of our site and is significantly impacted by the cool Pacific Ocean breezes that flow through the Van Duzer Corridor. The corridor allows cool marine breezes to flow east into the Willamette Valley and moderates high summer temperatures, cools the vines, and moves air through the canopy to reduce disease pressure. This cool ocean air results in lower average temperatures at night than the northern Willamette Valley, and helps us to maintain good natural acid structure in the wines. Still impacted by the winds, the estate Pinot Gris is partially protected by a tree-line that separates the lower and upper hillsides on the estate.
Due to our altitude and location on the 45th parallel, there is a high diurnal temperature variation at our estate – meaning that there is a significant difference (often 35 degrees or more) between the daytime high and nighttime lowest temperature during the growing season. This significant temperature shift helps to preserve natural acids in the grapes by allowing the vine to shut down at night, slowing the ripening process, often resulting in more hang-time on the vine and later picking dates.