When founder of Cristom Paul Gerrie first began planting new vines on the estate in 1993, he chose to plant 1.25 acres (0.506 hectares) of Viognier and be among the first to pioneer the varietal in the Willamette Valley. Paul appreciated and admired the Calera Wine Company wines while he was living in Pittsburgh, PA prior to starting Cristom. Owner of Calera, Josh Jenson, first planted Viognier on a limestone slope in 1983 making him one of the first winegrowers in America to plant the varietal. Paul loved the Pinot Noir, Viognier and Chardonnay Calera was producing in the 1980’s and hired winemaker Steve Doerner in 1992 after his fourteen years at Calera. With our first release of Estate Viognier in 1996, Cristom became one of the first wineries to produce an estate-grown Viognier in the Willamette Valley.
The Cristom Estate Viognier exhibits the pure, and nearly textbook, characteristics of this varietal, with aromas of orange blossoms, honeysuckle, clover, and anise as well as the ripe fruit aromas of peach, apricot, and lychee. Slightly viscous on the palate, with bright and mouth watering acidity that support the fruit structure of the wine, it is well integrated and perfectly balanced.
The original vines are planted at the high density of 2,311 vines/acre (5,710 vines/ha) in 15.5 million year old Columbia River Basalt soils that are shallow and stony at the top of the hill and get deeper moving down the east-facing hillside. The shallow Ritner basalt soil at the crest of the block has a natural devigorating effect on the vines, slowing vegetative growth and focusing the plants energy on fruit production. At the foot of the hill on the eastern edge of the vineyard are very deep basalt soils called Jory, known to be mineral rich and very well draining allowing the roots to drive deep in the ground.
After several successful vintages, a planting of 1.25 acres (0.506 hectares) of Viognier was put in the ground in 2003 just below the original vines in the basalt soils. After cool growing seasons in 2007, 2008 and 2010, Cristom made the decision to graft half of the estate Syrah over to Viognier in 2011 making the total block 3.744 acres (1.515 hectares). The grafted vines extend down to the lowest parts of our hillside from 340 feet to 270 feet (104 m to 82 m) into Missoula Flood Silts directly adjacent to the Syrah plantings and are planted at a lower density of 1,210 vines/acre (2,990/ha). These Missoula Flood silts are very deep lying over basalt and are some of the most vigorous soils on the estate.
Round and viscous on the palate, the wine is drier than the exotic fruits on the nose would lead you to believe.
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 Viognier 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 Viognier 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.