by Fred McMillin
for December 1, 1997

The Lett Legend

Prologue: Against the advice of his enology professor at U.C. Davis, graduate student (B.A. in philosophy) David Lett chose Oregon's Willamette Valley as the site for his vineyard. Based on his visits to outstanding European wineries, David believed the area had the best potential for making "great American Pinot Noir." He liked its "marginal climate," just warm enough to ripen the fruit by the end of the harvest season.

...from "American Wine" by Anthony Dias Blue

The Rest of the Story: It was 1970 when David and wife Diana established the only winery-vineyard in the Willamette Valley. Pretty scary stuff, in view of the caveat from his mentor. So, how did it work out?

We'll let another academic figure answer that. Author of three wine books, Prof. John Baxevanis in "Wine Regions of America" concludes that "the Willamette Valley is without question the most successful area in the nation for the production of Pinot Noir."

By 1975, the Lett's Eyrie Vineyard was in full stride. A bit later, the noted Roy Andries De Groot attended a blind tasting in Portland and recalled, "One wine almost knocked me out of my chair. It was a 1975 Pinot Noir made by the small Eyrie Vineyard in the Willamette Valley." Little wonder. That '75 was then entered in the French International Olympiade and won against a number of prestigious Burgundies. The NEW YORK TIMES headline announced that the Lett wine "...Measured Up to the Noble Reds of Burgundy."

How does David make 'em? We agree with critic Bob Thompson who says that from the beginning "David's idea was to tone down the perfumes, strip away the baby fat, and leave a firm core exposed. He has not wavered since, and still makes Oregon's sternest Pinot." My eleven tasters just tried the 1995...more power and character than anyone expected...the Lett legend is not over.

The Wine:
1995 Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Eyrie Vineyards
McMinnville, Oregon
Contact—Winery: (503) 472-6315; East Coast: Matt
Egan, (212) 888-7575

Postscript: For much more about Eyrie, including the origin of the name, see the Aug. 8, 1997 WineDay, "The Prince of Pinot."

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College and is Northern California Editor for American Wine on the Web. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

Read more articles by Fred McMillin in the eGGsf

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