Oregon Sparkling Wines

6th June 2023

Oregon Sparkling Wines

Argyle Winery of Dundee-Willamette Valley, Oregon was the vision of winemaker Rollin Soles who earned his vinous chops via hard work, and sojourns from France to Australia. In South Australia, Soles worked with the highly regarded Brian Croser, Petaluma Wines owner. Croser demonstrated the single vineyard expressions of what Clare Valley and the Adelaide Hills could offer. To receive Soles wine training under Croser’s Petaluma Wine brand, was the equivalent of receiving a grapevine viticulture doctorate, plus the Pope’s blessing. With so much talent in Oregon, Rollin Soles had quickly established himself as a real player in the Willamette Valley wine game with Croser in tow. Soles was a kindred spirit to Croser’s winemaking style.

Unfortunately, the Willamette Valley’s originally planted grape vineyards were primitively researched, and the initial grape varieties were planted to warmer climate appropriate grape clones that required summer’s heat for ripening, unavailable in cool climate Oregon. Sparkling wine requires the grape vintages acid tension that only a cooler region can deliver, combined with the underlying dynamic grape tensile flavors.

Dick and Luisa Ponzi established their eponymous winery, planting vineyard acreage in 1970; so valuable and prescient was their vineyard insight, France’s Bollinger Champagne bought the Ponzi Winery in 2021 gambling on Oregon sparkling wine’s potential success. The Bollinger family was established in 1829, with a penchant for a full bodied Champagne style that provided legions of fans the sought after rare vintage R.D. Champagne.

After years of fine print negotiations, Bollinger finalized the purchase, lending technical expertise and overseeing, but will not be involved in the day to day business operations. According to Anna Maria (sales and marketing) and Luisa (viticulture) the Ponzi founders’ two daughters; Bollinger is an ideal partner.

Argyle, under Rollin Soles, began 35 years ago as the first commercially distributed Oregon sparkling winery in the Willamette Valley. Their launch was well distributed on the West Coast, and through the extended affiliates across the US’s key urban markets. The Argyle modern foil cap bottle finishing and label design is appropriately eye-catching for retailers boasting Argyle’s shelf appeal. Sparkling wine houses must demonstrate consistency to develop a track record and brand loyalty.

Sparkling wines showcase the best, and worst qualities in wine grape flavors through the yeasts bottled autolysis flavor expressions. Oregon’s decades-long Champagne & Dijon grape clone varieties experimental vineyards promising research, with the yields rigorously tracked, the ripeness tested, and tasted to build an equivalent Oregon success. Argyles grape sourcing is provided by Cal Knudsen’s vineyards (formerly Knudsen-Erath winery), these are delicious estate still wines, but the vineyards anticipated wine on original rootstock didn’t translate as effectively to the sparkling wines.

The Argyle Winery believes they can produce an exceptional sparkling wine, and be a traditional still wine house whereby Argyle built an early fan base in the 1990’s, especially the cheekily labeled Argyle Nuthouse Pinot Noir brand. The Willamette Valley 2021 Nuthouse Pinot Noir is described by the winery as having “exquisite aromas of ripe cherry and blackberry fruit and subtle earthy notes carry through on the palate picking up hints of spice and toasty oak all lingering beautifully on the finish”.

Beautiful Oregon vineyards do not possess Champagne’s historical limestone success (nor the cold Goldridge mineral soils of California’s Russian River Valley that provide Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes their firm backbone flavors). Instead Oregon possesses volcanic Loess soil, a more subtle expression (Austria’s Wachau region is famous for Loess) based on dusty topsoil that gently cradles the vines.

The Argyle Brut 27$ non vintage is a consistent value sparkling wine celebration that has achieved wide US distribution from Miami, Florida to Seattle, Washington.

Argyle Ruby Brut 40$ 2019 is another consistently allocated release, tasting according to Uncorked:

“A slightly tannic, mineral with coffee and notes of dark berries, and ripe cherries. Perfectly suited to meat dishes, savory vegetarian dishes, fine cheeses, and nuts.”

Where Argyle has built a reputation for excellence is the yeast contact extended tirage sparkling wine bottlings, aged for up to a decade to ensure freshness before the riddling yeast disgorgement based on sales demand. Argyle’s Tirage Library in Dundee has sparkling wines (still aging on the yeast) dating back to their first 1987 vintage!

Argyle’s limited production, currently priced website offerings (regrettably, Argyle doesn’t provide tasting notes for the Extended Tirage line):

Argyle Extended Tirage Knudsen Blanc de Blancs 115$ 2010

“Bottle fermented and aged ten years on the yeast, Argyle Extended Tirage Knudsen Vineyard Blanc de Blancs is among the rarest wines made in America today, and the culmination of our founding ambition to create wines that endure. One of our most limited releases ever, we produced only 65 cases of this wine.”

Argyle Extended Tirage Knudsen Blanc de Blancs 115$ 2010

Argyle Extended Tirage Brut Rosé 105$ 2011

Argyle Extended Tirage Knudsen Brut 115$ 2011

Argyle Extended Tirage Brut 85$ 2011

Argyle Extended Tirage Brut 85$ 2012

Argyle 35th Anniversary Brut 85$ 2012

“… which received an eye-popping 97 points from Wine Spectator, this special sparkler spent extended time in tirage allowing it to develop added complexity. A stunning wine, it displays the perfect harmony of racy acidity and toasty brioche.

With only 80 cases produced to celebrate for our 35th Anniversary, these are some of the most exclusive wines that we’ve created.”

Argyle Spirit Hill Vineyard Blanc de Blancs 60$ 2017

“The Spirit vineyard planted in the Eola-Amity Hills of Willamette Valley from mature vines have yielded a vivid and energetic Blanc de Blancs with enticing layers of lemon cream, spring floral blossoms, oyster shell minerality and saline-driven length and precision.”

Argyle Knudsen Vineyard Blanc de Blancs 60$ 2018

“… this wine displays glazed apricot, ground cardamom, and almond biscotti, refined by layers of delicate precision and volcanic tension. Fermented and aged in our oldest, neutral oak barrels expands its middle palate depth and builds upon its taut, savory length.”

Argyle Estate Reserve Brut 50$ 2018

“Feathery brightness and tiny bubbles create a luxurious and playful texture. While there is a lot of sweet baking spice such as nutmeg, cinnamon and pie crust, the small addition of Chardonnay lends to the Mcintosh apple freshness to keep things light and easy.”

Argyle Estate Reserve Brut Rosé 50$ 2019

According to Wine Enthusiast tasting notes, earlier vintage similar cuvées displayed: “… tasty and surprisingly young, with tart apple and peach flavors dominant, along with light custard and some lovely toast.”

Argyle Vintage Brut Rosé 30$ 2020

“Brioche framed around a creamy center and long, elegant finish.”

Argyle Vintage Brut 30$ 2018

“Orchard fruits, citrus peel, and toasted brioche are framed around a creamy center and long, graceful finish.”

Argyle Art of Sparkling 100$

“This assembly Includes three bottles of our 2019 Vintage Brut. A classic modern vintage, the 2019 vintage in the Willamette Valley is abundant in character. Golden apples and Anjou Pear flavors influenced by Knudsen Vineyard fruit add to the natural weight and brightness, while vanilla and toasted cake crust sneak into the flavor mix adding to the opulence of this blend.”

Argyle Knudsen Vineyard Brut 150$ (1.5L Magnum) 2013

“Planted in 1974 and at 900 feet elevation is where you’ll find the Pinot Noir that makes up the core of the Knudsen Vineyard Brut. This combination of old vines at high elevation creates a unique dynamic of vibrant acidity and deep, textured complexity. Along with the four years of aging on lees before disgorgement, the neutral wood barrel fermentation and aging helps build layers of savory intricacy playing off of the wild cherry, cranberry, and ginger root freshness and energetic length.”

Argyle Knudsen Vineyard Brut Rosé 150$ 2016 (1.5L Magnum)

“The 2016 sparkling wine vintage in the Willamette Valley was generous, showcasing the enticing allure and focused definition the region has to offer. Blended between our two high elevation vineyards, 2016 Brut Rosé displays the delicate refinement of the Dundee Hills and the mineral tension of the Eola-Amity Hills. Bright, medium salmon-pink hue in color and perfume of rose petal, spring blossom and cardamom lead to an elegant, supple structure, and ginger-laced finish.”

Argyle Knudsen Vineyard Blanc de Blancs 150$ 2013 (1.5L Magnum)

“Planted in 1990, at 850 feet of elevation, the Dijon clone Chardonnay planted in Julia Lee’s Block furnishes this year’s Blanc de Blancs with white peach, lemon zest, and hints of cocoa refined by layers of delicate creamy precision. The late September picking and well below average crop yield has led to a sparkling wine of generous concentration, while still allowing the volcanic tension of the Dundee Hills to shine. Fermenting and aging in our oldest, neutral oak barrels expands its middle palate depth and builds upon its taut, savory length.”

Tony Soter of California Carneros’ Etude Wines Pinot Noir fame, enamored with Oregon’s cool climate grape ripening and nervosite balancing acid (in California is often overlooked in lieu of fruit). With Soter’s fin de Siecle relocation to Oregon, he began a more personal micro-wine project: the 1,000 case Soter Mineral Springs Brut Rosé 75$ 2018 also has an extremely user friendly drop-down website with a laconic tasting note format that is as modern, and without pretense as is Soter’s aesthetic design, to whit:

AROMAS: Blood orange, apricot, shortcake

PRIMARY FLAVORS: Strawberry, cherry, peach

SECONDARY FLAVORS: Berries & cream, orange blossom, cinnamon

FINISH: Bright, creamy

Argyle may have been the first pioneer Oregon sparkling wine producer, but with an anticipated two dozen releases from established, and new upcoming wineries, the horizons sparkling wine train is coming to Oregon!

Image Credit

Peter Birmingham

Restaurant General Manager, Corporate Beverage Director, & Hospitality Consultant, with these qualities he represents a Triple Threat: a culinary tableside historian, an accomplished wine taster with the casual ability to make flavor relationships and beverage quality value accessible.