- Rating: 96 out of 100
- Tasting Fee: $50 for the Cristom Experience, $15 for Traditional Tasting
- Accepts Reservations: Yes
- Reservation Required: Yes for the Cristom Experience, No for Traditional Tastings
Salem, OR 97304
There are many exciting wineries to visit in the Portland / Willamette Valley area. Although not as famous as Domaine Drouhin nor Argyle, Cristom is undoubtedly one of my favorites in the region, if not my absolute favorite. Everything about Cristom screams family – from the shape/structure of the tasting room, to their candor and joy while conducting their tastings, to the accessible prices of their wines and your ability to taste anything (with the right appointment), to even the way they named the winery (named after the co-owners - Christine and Thomas).
I happened to visit Cristom at a busy time too as they were in the middle of re-grafting a large section of their vineyard. They were generous enough to bring me out into the field and explain their rationale for why they were changing their varietals and clones. After walking through the fields and their storage facilities with their estate Viognier and Pinot in hand, we finally got to the main tasting event inside.
Or so I thought. We were interrupted by the owner of the winery himself who heard that I was dropping wine knowledge to my cousin and her husband. He introduced himself, asked how I heard about Cristom (blind Pinot Noir tasting with WSET students), and asked what I thought about their operation. I forgot my resume at home, but needless to say that we got along swimmingly. We even took a picture together (see below). There was no pretentiousness at this winery whatsoever, which is not to say other places I visited were - it’s just that everyone felt so relaxed and happy just drinking the wine. This was only possible because the wine was that good…
I don’t know if this was the actual lineup, or I got a few extra bottles because of the picture above, but I got to taste basically the entire inventory that Cristom had available at the time:
- 2015 Estate Viognier ($30)
- 2015 Mt. Jefferson Cuvée Pinot Noir ($35)
- 2014 Estate Pinot Noir ($50)
- 2014 Eileen Vineyard Pinot Noir ($65)
- 2014 Louise Vineyard Pinot Noir ($60)
- 2014 Jessie Vineyard Pinot Noir ($60)
- 2014 Marjorie Vineyard Pinot Noir ($70)
- 2014 Carter Vineyard Pinot Noir ($55)
- 2014 Hirschy Vineyard Pinot Noir ($55)
- 2014 Canary Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir ($55)
- 2014 Estate Syrah ($50)
Unfortunately, I lost a lot of tasting notes from my trip to Oregon this past year. But my biggest regret is losing the tasting notes for Cristom, because the Pinot Noirs were all so wonderfully diverse. The best were the four ladies - Eileen Vineyard, Jessie Vineyard, Louise Vineyard, and Marjorie Vineyard. With vines that average over 20 years in age and are rooted in mostly 10M+ year old Basalt soils, there is just so much complexity that develops on the vines.
Combining that with whole-cluster fermentation techniques observed in Burgundy, the Pinot Noirs here have character that is unique in the Willamette Valley. The flavors are more traditional (e.g. red fruit that is lighter than cherry, but not unripe by any means) but different compared to Burgundy (e.g. on one of the wines, I clearly observed tomato leaf as an aroma). As someone who enjoys cerebral wines, this had me running around in circles. Though I know others with an open mind could just enjoy the wines as well.
Wine & Spirits Magazine found that Cristom is the “#1 Pinot Noir on restaurant wine lists in America” for two years running. I’m not lucky enough to have restaurants near me with this on the menu, but I do imagine they would be fun to pair foods with. To be safe, I walked away with a case of their wine - choosing several bottles of the Jessie and one of each of the rest I liked. If you are in the area, Cristom needs to be on your list of wineries to visit. It may be 15-20min south of the larger group of wineries, but you need to make this trip. If you do and enjoy the wines as much as I do, be sure to tell them that Jeremy sent you. Cheers!!
Rating: 96 out of 100