Neal Martin's WA Oregon Report, your thoughts?

Neal Martin’s Wine Advocate report on Oregon wines came out last week. I’d estimate that 75% of the wines were scored in the 80’s. While two dozen wineries’ reds scored consistently in the 90’s. Two notable wineries not reviewed were Patricia Green and Thomas. One ITB person I talked to said, “there are many mid 80 scores and not what you would expect from 2012.” Neal Martin said that "…a surprising number (of wine makers) preferred the 2011 as, and I quote, ‘the style of Pinot Noir I want to make.’ " In the end of his report he states, “I would favor a cooler vintage like 2011 where I think Oregon can really make a name for itself.”

With the high expectations for 2012 in Oregon, it was a little disappointing. Your thoughts and observations?

Everyone is entitled to their own taste and opinion, but the general consumer of Oregon wines will prefer the 2012s, and write Neal off as an AFWE snob. (In truth, the average purchaser of Oregon wines has not heard of Neal Martin, and never will).
I find a lot to like in both vintages. Good producers made excellent wines in both.
Any notable WV wineries that did not make the 90 point cut?

P Hickner



I was disappointed in the general commentary. It looked like he went in thinking Burgundy was the standard to be judge Pinots by. I get that a lot of people think that, but then it puts Oregon at a disadvantage. Personally, I like Oregon better, but then again, I can’t afford (or won’t) the best of Burgundy. It would be like someone saying Bordeaux is the be all end all for Cabs and then judging Cal by that. Of course, a lot of people do, but I think does not make a fair review. That said, ignoring the points, I think the comments are quite good and probably consistent.

One other point, the only wine I have had a lot of was the 13 Sineann Zin. NM gave it 85 points. I consistently score it 92. I have no idea what Neal think of Zin, but that seemed unusual.

He’s welcome to his opinion. His scores won’t affect the market for Oregon wine in the PNW at all. I know he’s the Spain reviewer & took over Bordeaux, does he have any experience with Oregon wine at all?

2007 is one of the better Oregon vintages and was slammed by the critics. The 2007 St. Innocent White Rose is one of the best Pinots ever produced from Oregon.

If they score high, it’s point inflation. If they score low, it’s inappropriate comparisons. These guys just can’t get anything right. Right?

Curiously what makes Neal Martin “the authority” on Oregon Pinot Noirs? He is suddenly thrust into action by TWA to report on a region with which he might not be that fluent with, nor with the historical performance of the wines.

Maybe it’s because his views are in print and a handful of subscribers are willing to anoint this man as such an authority.

Anyone else?

Hank [cheers.gif]

We didn’t submit anything as all the wines were long gone by the time the request for submissions came in. Also, the first request for samples came with instructions to ship them to England (not kidding). Apparently he did do a tasting here in the states but I believe I heard about it after the fact. It seemed a little late and sort of poorly thought out and organized. I have not seen the issue.

I did do a tasting recently with David Schildnicht who is writing for an Austrian publication. And, yes, we do have distribution there and Germany so for you fluent in German there will be a decent Oregon review by Dave S coming out at some point.

Neal is an excellent critic. He is diligent and very thoughtful. He was very open about starting coverage and being a newbie for the region- this was his first published review. Given the context of his new assignment, do you expect him to be ‘the authority’ right out of the gate? He is not stating this entitlement anywhere. Gotta start somewhere right and he didn’t fall off of the turnip truck so why not give him a chance versus auto-alienation? Hey, no one seems to know him anyway so why such a fuss about his efforts?

BTW, I read it and noticed his commentary and scores for Antica Terra (of which I know and like) which ranged from 91-94 and thought about right. Especially as Neal is a more conservative grader. I will probably get blasted somehow for pasting this below but anyway, here is his writeup on Antica Terra Ceras 2012 (94pts, window 2015-2023 ) do you not see value or atleast hints of it in this type of effort?

"The 2012 Pinot Noir Ceras is Maggie Harrison’s mineral take of Pinot Noir (she actually uses the word “aerial” in her technical sheet). It does indeed offer an ethereal bouquet that is just so succinct: a carapace of dark cherry and blackcurrant fruit interspersed with cold granite, walnut and smoke scents that are beautifully defined. The palate is medium-bodied with filigree tannins, a lot of salinity and superb tension all the way through to the finish. What a wonderful Pinot Noir - the kind of wine I can guarantee you will finish to the final drop.

Never judge wine by the look of the winery. Pulling up outside Antica Terra, there is no sign indicating that this austere, drab warehouse in downtown Dundee is de facto home to some of Oregon’s finest, most thoughtfully and meticulously produced wines. Winemaker Maggie Harrison’s rise from assisting Manfred and Elaine Kankl at Sine Qua Non in California, to Antica Terra in Oregon, has been well documented by my predecessor. It is clear that Manfred’s philosophy permeates her own vision toward winemaking, and vision here is the most appropriate word, even if stylistically the wines are not contiguous from Manfred’s. Maggie’s personality is tangible from afar. You sense the energy before seeing the person: petite with a mass of corkscrew black hair and large 1980s spectacles that confer an air of erudition that is realized as soon as you embark in conversation. During our exchange she came across as a person who contemplates not just wine, but its central place within life. Ergo our ping-pong conversation had a tendency to spin off tangentially and revert to wine with unerring frequency.

Not wishing to sound banal, but my immediate impression of Maggie’s wines were that they were “interesting,” insofar that these are not wines you simply want to drink, but wines that halt you in your tracks and subliminally say: “Hold on a minute. Think about me. Then knock me back and enjoy.” There is an intellectual dimension to Antica Terra’s fermented grape juice allied with a meticulous approach that I suspect is uncommon not only in Oregon, but anywhere. I asked her how the two vintages differed in terms of her own perspective…

“In 2011, there was a moment earlier in the year where it felt you were not going to get your fruit ripe,” Maggie explained. “So much was uncertain, so there was a huge amount of risk in taking decisions earlier. We dropped fruit before flowering so there is a large risk - but you get the biggest impact. Even having dropped the fruit, you did not know whether you would get there. If you told me I would get these Pinot Noir or Chardonnay I would have stopped crying. In 2012, it was the first time when there was a lot of conversation about alcohol and so forth, but I did not want to force it into something that it didn’t want to be. You had to be unafraid what the vintage gave you and lavish attention on it and that was super-exciting."

Tasting through Antica Terra’s current releases, one has to approach each on their own merit because there no leitmotif runs through her range, save for attention to detail and complexity. For want of a better phrase, these wines have something to say, whether it is the transparency of the “Botanica," the intensity of the “Antikythera,” or the precision of the “Aurata." Yes, there is terroir expressed in these wines, yet there is strong guidance in the winery, a kind hand ushering them toward their personalities in the glass like a child being guided gently into the correct classroom on their first day at school. For example, the rosé, under the name “Angelicall” is inspired by the Pinot Noirs of Northern Italy, fermented on the skins for a week until there comes a day when the bouquet seems to explode, at which point the juice is drawn and transferred into barrel. It’s a wine that crosses genres and you spend time deliberating upon whether you are drinking red or rosé. I’ve encountered very few wines cut from a similar cloth and it was quite bewitching.

Overall, these wines might not come cheap, but you often get what you pay for. Apart from the eye-catching labels, the wines inside are strongly recommended. Even so, you have the feeling the Antica Terra has only finished its first chapter. I look forward to reading the rest of the book."

To my reading, Martin was shockingly presumptuous in offering advice to Willamette Valley producers, especially for someone with such limited experience with wines from the region. Much of the introduction consisted of him passing judgment on various practices that he concluded were common in the valley:

Producers are too focused on terroir and, in some cases, ignore obvious flaws.
Producers concern themselves too much with clones and approach clonal selection improperly.
On winemaking, Martin wrote (in bold face type): “Oregon winemakers must strive for less manipulation in the winery.”

Martin also concluded that Oregon is not capable of producing world class Riesling.

He may or may not be correct about these points–each is certainly open for debate–but stating these conclusions so boldly after his first visit to the region and having not tasted many OR wines previously seemed like excessive hubris to me.

Finally, his reviews of Marcus Goodfellow’s wines at Matello and Goodfellow missed the mark completely, at least for my palate. I have tasted at Matello in the past year and drank many bottles of various 2011s and 2012s. They are beautiful and balanced wines. The 2012 Hommage is a downright steal at $26. I guess I should be selfishly happy with Martin’s uncomplimentary reviews of these wines. They are certainly not going to lead Wine Advocate readers to chase them down and encourage a price escalation. And yet, these are some of the most fairly priced wines in all the valley, and Marcus was extraordinarily kind and generous when I met him for the tasting. This is one winery I would not begrudge increasingly its prices.

Walter Scott was part of the tasting during his visit to Oregon and we were very happy with his reviews of our wines.

Neal is an experienced wine reviewer, though one with little Oregon experience, so because of that, he offers a fresh POV without preconcieved ideas from past visits and tastings.

His overall market report was an interesting read and challenged many of my views while confirming others.

Likewise, his reviews of specific wineries and wines challenged some of my views and will motivate me to buy and try some specific wines.

Each reviewer and publication offers their own specific POV including whatever history they bring with them. Each offers a perspective and hopefully everyone can find one that reflects their palate, be it for Oregon or elsewhere.

FWIW - It would be fascinating to witness a “Panel Discussion” among the primary Oregon Wine Reviewers; I imagine there would be little agreement!

I guess I read his write up differently, as I recall he was urging Oregon winemakers to make wines not like Burgundy but more like Oregon and blaze their own trail with their own style and not emulate other regions.

Thanks for sharing that, Luke. Very well written.

I’m an American ex-pat who moved from San Francisco to London in 2003. I met Neal in 2004 when he was a poor, starving wine blogger writing out of passion for wine and music. I’ve been to dozens of wine tastings and wine dinners where he has been in attendance. He has always been a humble and friendly person…very open to other view points on wine. He’s also extremely dedicated and knowledgeable. He didn’t change when he was approached by Robert Parker and joined TWA.

He is not only the Bordeaux reviewer for TWA but he also reviews Burgundy for TWA. Of course, Oregon PN is very different from red Burgundy, and he would be the first to admit it.

I do understand the reasons for many of the comments above that are critical of some of his statements. In the world of wine, it’s entirely understandable to have a different view than someone else and also to question whether someone has sufficient experience with a region to speak with authority on it…but I would also urge everyone to be patient.

I have always had a lot of time to listen to Neal’s views. Neal brings dedication, intelligence, objectivity and integrity to the field of wine writing. We can’t have enough wine reviewers with those qualities, even if we don’t always agree with them.

The old WA model involves too many regions per reviewer. Neal has Burgundy, Bordeaux, Beaujolais, South America and Oregon. In the 1970s and 80s…maybe. Not in 2015. The regional growth and changes are too dynamic.

Unless the reviewer gets their boots on the ground and cultivates a meaningful understanding of the producers, regional characteristics, history, vintage details, strengths and weaknesses (which can NOT be adequately done over a couple of vintages)…what the public will get is a ton of quick snapshots (provided in a mysterious context, known mostly to the reviewer) and a warp speed finger painting…no matter how talented Neal is. It’s how Sierra-Car-crashes happen, not to mention blowing the call on new directions, many delicious wines, or even whole vintages.


I’ll chime in on that. Besides visiting for his piece on Oregon for the Austrian publication Vinaria, David Schildknecht is also writing an article on Oregon Riesling for Wine and Spirits magazine. So I guess thier opinions differ on that above point. That is a pretty irresponsible conclusion at which to arrive without better knowledge of the Region and its Producers (I don’t know whose wines he tasted or reviewed). Believe me, I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think Oregon could produce world class Riesling and would be happy to debate Neal Martin on the subject.


Interesting, which Riesling from Oregon would others consider world class, are a range of styles available?

Spot on, Richard.

Hank [cheers.gif]

I think this is an excellent, thoughtful, thorough first effort. He is completely upfront about his experience (or lack thereof) with Oregon, but he has done a very good job talking to a lot of winemakers and vineyard managers and the massive amount of information in the report is as much a base from which we can work, as, I presume, one from which he can work.

Exploring questions about Southern Oregon AVAs diversity (smart marketing advice to focus, while still giving leeway for 10+ years of discovery) or clone types (dijon v pommard v selection massale) or vine age in more than just a cursory way was enlightening to me, but also I’m sure will be something we can watch him follow in subsequent reports. He was also framing the internal discussions within Oregon. You can hear that in the different quotes that he chose in the report.

One of the best things a reviewer can have is a point of view that you can pinpoint. NM has that. We can read his reviews and scores and understand from where he’s coming. And yet I agree that maybe he should give riesling more of a chance and not just dismiss it because he had a great donnhoff at lunch…especially when he said he wouldn’t be doing the same thing with Burgundy and Oregon pinot noir. Maybe he’s right though. I’ll certainly look forward to reading more from him about the region.