Hard Vintage Good News for Oregon Auction

Oregon's 2020 vintage was bedevilled by smoke taint from the huge wildfires.
© Ray Dandenau/US Forest Service | Oregon's 2020 vintage was bedevilled by smoke taint from the huge wildfires.
The Oregon fires made 2020 tough for winemakers, but it has brought some older vintages to the fore.
By W. Blake Gray | Posted Tuesday, 13-Jul-2021

Oregon's problem-filled 2020 vintage could have been a calamity for Oregon's oldest wine auction, which was always dependent on special blends of new wines.

Instead, it has turned into an interesting opportunity for you to buy cases of older Oregon Pinot Noirs that are rarely seen on the market. And it's an online auction, so you can buy these wines from anywhere. The auction will run from July 13-15.

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The auction is called ?Salud! and it's a benefit that raises money for healthcare services for Oregon's vineyard workers. The auction is 30 years old, and the online component started four years ago; right now it is totally online. Anyone can bid. The wineries will ship cases of wine to winning bidders in states where direct shipping is allowed, or winning bidders can go to Oregon to pick them up.

Normally, each participating winery creates a special blend for ?Salud!, but because the 2020 vintage was plagued by fire and smoke, some of them don't have the wine to spare. They turned a bug into a feature by instead donating cases of older wines.

The auction site is poorly organized, as some of the 32 participating wineries are apparently still deciding exactly what to donate. You can't see the full list of wines unless you register as a bidder. But I have seen a partial list and there are a bunch of goodies.

  • Bethel Heights is offering five identical mixed cases of ?Salud! cuvee Pinots Noir from 1996, 2009, 2017, 2018 and 2019.
  • Winderlea is offering five mixed cases that combine regular release Pinots from 2011 and 2013 with ?Salud! cuvees from 2012, 2013, 2016 and 2017.
  • Beaux Frères is auctioning five mixed cases of regular-release Pinots from four vintages dating back to at least 2013; as I write this story, the winery is still considering whether or not to include 2009s.
  • Domaine Drouhin is auctioning mixed cases of ?Salud! cuvee Pinots from 2003, 2004, 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2012.
  • Trisaetum is auctioning a six-year vertical of Reserve Pinot Noir from 2010-2015. 
  • Penner-Ash is auctioning a case of nine bottles of its 2014 ?Salud! cuvee Pinot and three bottles of its 2014 estate vineyard Pinot.

Other wines on offer will not be announced until the July 13 start of the auction.

Getting creative

Penner-Ash has participated in the auction for many years, and founding winemaker Lynn Penner-Ash said she was disappointed when she realized she didn't have enough good Pinot to make a 2020 ?Salud! cuvée. But that allowed her to be creative. She said that while the ?Salud! organizers ask for only five cases of wine total, most wineries make a little more than that, which is why they have older ?Salud! cuvees sitting around to work with, or in some of the instances above, to auction years later.

She said the ?Salud! cuvees are supposed to be unique blends, giving them cachet for the buyers.

"We normally put together some wine from vineyard designates that we never put together," Penner-Ash told Wine-Searcher. "We have learned from past auctions that the cuvée has to have some specific characteristics. You want a wine that shows something, that has nice fruit, that attracts your customer, so it attracts a higher bid, but it's also very good down the line, because some of these will be opened in 10 years."

Penner-Ash said the auction is important because vineyard worker health-care is crucial for the industry. Vineyard workers suffer problems from sunburn to rattlesnake bites to serious injuries. ?Salud! reaches out to vineyard employees where they live and work, and in the last year has operated mobile Covid-19 clinics.

"All of us in the winery can work remotely. People can bring me samples to my house and I can go inside and work with them," Penner-Ash said.

"Those guys don't have that opportunity. They're out in the vineyards and they're not always able to socially distance. The cause is a really good one. It hits home to all of us in the wine industry. We can't survive without our vineyard workers. This allows us to take care of our vineyard workers."

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