Long before Sideways, years before it was fashionable to drink Pinot Noir, there was Tony Soter. The Oregon-born Soter founded Etude Wines in 1982, and became a famous winemaker and sought-after consultant in the Napa Valley. Etude eventually grew into a brand in its own right, a winery that produced Napa’s trademark Chardonnay and Cabernet, but Soter’s first love remained Pinot Noir.
In 1997, when he was still at Etude, he founded Soter Vineyards northwest of Portland. It was a tiny, boutique operation at first, barely turning out 1000 cases from purchased fruit. In 2001, Soter sold Etude to Beringer, a move which allowed him to purchase the 30 acres of the Mineral Springs Vineyard which is the core of his winery today. After his five-year contract with Beringer expired, he was finally able to devote all his time to his own venture.
His North Valley Pinot Noir ($28) is the entry-level wine from Soter, made from fruit purchased from his neighbors. Its earthy texture is reminiscent of a Village Burgundy, with luscious black cherry fruit emerging in the mid palate and continuing on the finish. Beacon Hill ($55), Soter’s first single-vineyard Pinot Noir, is dense, rich and ripe, filled with black fruit flavors and serious tannins. His signature wine is the Mineral Springs Pinot Noir ($60). The texture is rich and meaty, similar to a red from Morey St-Denis, and the wine displays high acidity and vibrant black cherry flavors which linger on the exceptionally long finish.
Consumers who are alert or fortunate (or both) may be able to snag a few bottles of his exceptional Beacon Hill Brut Rosé ($50). This methode champenoise sparkling wine spends three years aging on the lees, and is disgorged with a minimal amount of added sugar. Haunted by flavors of red berries, vanilla and spice, it makes a wonderful aperitif as well as a fine accompaniment to seafood, poultry or game.
Perhaps the best treat of all is meeting the thoughtful Soter, who has three decades of winemaking experience to liven the conversation. Should you be travelling in the Northwest, visitors are accepted at the winery, by appointment, during the summer months (www.sotervineyards.com).