Perkins-Harter: A New Oregon Classic

Perkins-Harter: A New Oregon Classic

A lot of people in the wine industry never predicted they'd have a career in wine, myself included. Many of us come to wine after starting in very different fields. Some get there after starting off in restaurant work, some come for a steadier paycheck after working in creative fields, others are fleeing the tedium of the corporate world. Shelby Perkins is no different in that sense, but her background in environmental law and policy research is certainly an outlier. After too many years in Washington, D.C. she and her husband started heeding the call of West Coast wine country, eventually landing in Oregon's Willamette Valley and planting a vineyard in the Eola-Amity Hills.

Do Shelby's years of environmental advocacy and knowledge explain her sharp vineyard skills and her precise winemaking? I don't know, but there is something unique and special about the wines she is crafting. She is making superb wines from purchased fruit, and we also have the first vintage of Pinot Noir from Perkins-Harter's own Bracken Vineyard. To make such a serious wine from these young vines is something I can't emphasize enough. You should give yourself the opportunity to try these now while they're still under the radar —because they'll only get more limited and more heralded from here on out.

View all Perkins-Harter Wines

Not surprisingly for someone with a background as an environmentalist, the Perkins-Harter Bracken vineyard is farmed using Biodynamic methods. However, Shelby has now embraced no-till farming as well, the still-controversial approach of never plowing or turning the soil. Here, Shelby is following the lead of her Eola-Amity neighbor Mimi Casteel at Hope Well Wines, as well as Dan Rinke of Johan Vineyards. Also called Regenerative Farming, this technique shows a remarkable reduction in carbon emissions, as it traps carbon in the soil and harnesses it to invigorate the microbial and mycorrhizal networks that in turn bring nutrients and minerals to the vines. Data shows that if all farming were to convert to this method, the reduction in carbon levels would be equivalent to the elimination of automobiles. It's very unlikely to happen in our modern agricultural context, but it's nevertheless a startling approach that is gaining more traction.

As for the wines, Shelby is not making the crusty hippy glou-glou you might expect from her progressive farming. Instead, her wines are classical, Burgundian sonatas, a reminder of the beautiful way that oak and healthy fruit can harmoniously elevate each other to something greater — when used tastefully. I don't have to tell you that Oregon Pinot Noir is deserving of its world-class status. As far as Oregon Chardonnay goes, that cat is out of the bag among wine professionals, but there's still enough public resistance to American Chardonnay out there that many have not yet discovered the sublime beauty that is coming out of the Pacific Northwest. Shelby's deep love of Chablis and white Burgundy is not just a talking point. Her wines genuinely show the elegance and layered sumptuousness of the finest Burgundies. 

I was very lucky to meet Shelby last summer and see the Bracken vineyard, perched high up with a sweeping view of the Eola-Amity Hills below. Her deep knowledge of not just environmental policy but geology, plants, agriculture, and winemaking made it clear to me that she would soon be a familiar name in wine circles. That hasn't happened quite yet, but take my word for it, you are getting a first crack at wines that are going to be fought over soon. Perkins-Harter is the kind of project I love to help promote: small in scale, grand in vision, no hype; just good vineyard work and clean winemaking. Oh, and deeply delicious.

Jonathan Kemp

Perkins-Harter "La Belle Promenade Vineyard" Chardonnay 2017

Chardonnay from the Chehalem Mountain AVA reaching 820 feet of elevation, this breezy, rocky vineyard was formerly a popular site for locals to pick blackberries. These are young vines, but the high-altitude fruit and the power of Chehalem are enough to overcome what would normally be a liability. Seashells and bright mineral overtones give this is high-toned feel reminiscent of Chablis. Aging in neutral oak with minimal stirring allow the fruit retain it's snappy energy. This is a one-off, sadly, as this excellent fruit is now all reserved for Marty Doerschlag's well-regarded Flaneur wines.

Buy "La Belle Promenade" Chardonnay 2017 | $45


Perkins-Harter "Johan Vineyard" Chardonnay 2016

This is not the first or last time you'll read us singing the praises of Dan Rinke, the Johan Vineyard, and the exceptional fruit he grows. Shelby Perkins uses that raw material to its full potential here. Subtle cream is matched with crackling acidity, making for a lively, elegant wine despite richness and fat on the palate. Deeper notes of lemon curd, pear flesh, waffle cone, and salty umami give this length and dimension. Similar vinification as above: neutral oak, minimal stirring, a little SO2 at bottling. A shining beacon for what Oregon Chardonnay can represent.

Buy "Johan" Chardonnay 2016 | $45


Perkins-Harter "Bracken Vineyard" Pinot Noir 2018

The first estate bottling of what we hope will be many more amazing wines from Perkins-Harter. Lip-smacking and crunchy, this is a Pinot Noir with both elegance and edge. It has the savory depth you crave from good Oregon Pinot, with a briny blueberry quality and earthy complexity. It never gets into sappy, rich territory, however, staying energetic and bouncing with life. It's the rare bottle that combines depth and vigor with such free-wheeling pleasure. 10% of the fruit is de-stemmed by hand, punch-downs are minimal, and only a small dose of sulfur is added at bottling.

Buy "Bracken" Pinot Noir 2018 | $54

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