- Rating: 93 out of 100
- Tasting Fee: $20-$30, depending on flight choice
- Accepts Reservations: Yes
- Reservation Required: false
Salem, OR 97304
Bjornson may not be a winery you think of when you hear Eola Amity Hills, but it needs to be. The wines and wine ambassadors are capable of entertaining both wine novices and afficionados. This may be the winery my cousin and I enjoyed the most equally. For me, I was intrigued by the odd varietals (e.g. Gamay, Auxerrois) and the differing styles of Pinot why my cousin and her husband enjoyed the stories behind the wines and found appreciation for each by connecting them to the stories. Whichever side of the spectrum you fall on, I guarantee that you’ll find a good, educational time at Bjornson. And if you get Coach Barb as your wine ambassador, consider yourself lucky. She’s awesome.
When I head out wine tasting, I love co-locating my tastings to minimize the amount of driving. Smart, right? Visiting Bjornson Vineyards was a side-effect of that methodology; it was a Eola Amity Hills tasting day. The nice thing about that style of tasting is that you get to stumble upon wineries you normally wouldn’t go out of your way to visit. Bjornson was that winery on this day trip and I am glad it was. It’s just north and a little east from other well-known wineries in the region (e.g. Cristom), but when you get there, it feels like a world away. You literally can’t hear anything getting out of your car on the property. And that is a great feeling…
Bjornson Vineyards is a relatively new winery - it’s first official vintage release was in 2009. The vines were planted a few years before that and were producing fruit before the winery building was built and opened. But from the portfolio of wines on their order form, you’d think they’ve been around for 30+ years. The tastings are good QPR value; I think their cheapest tasting option is 6 wines for $20. I was able to taste a couple other wines as I went for the more expensive option, but I think you’ll be happy with the wines no matter your choice.
I always say that most important factor to a good tasting experience (besides the wine) is the quality of your wine ambassador. And if I had a ranking system for them, Coach Barb would be near the top. After a career coaching in Collegiate Women’s Basketball, Coach Barb moved to Portland and began working with her second love: wine. I’m jealous of her career and the fact that she followed her heart afterwards. But her stories, her energy, her love and care for the topic all made us that much more interested in the wines, their character, and yes we all bought a couple bottles to go home with.
The one thing I picked up from Coach Barb (and I believe it) is that when people come visit the winery and do a tasting with her, they 99% of the time fall into one or more of four categories of wine drinkers: (1) The socializers that are at the winery as a social activity rather than for the wine itself; (2) The learners that are engaged and inquisitive and ask tons of questions all over the map; (3) The technical wine drinkers who want all of the winemaking decisions and fact sheets, whether or not they are talented enough tasters to track those decision in the profile of the wines; and (4) The palate hunters that don’t want to talk or do anything except taste and decide if it’s good or bad. I definitely fall into many/all of these categories, but it’s interesting to listen to how she handles and tailors the tasting to each type of person. Another lesson on my road to (hopefully) a future wine ambassador.
The winery’s descriptions of the wines can be found on Bjornson’s website HERE. My tasting notes are below:
- 2018 Auxerrois ($22)
- Fermented in Acacia barrels and described as “Chardonnay’s sassy, flirty sister”. Lemon, lime, some heat with other lighter yellow fruit (apple) on the nose. On the palate, mouthwatering medium(+) acidity that is forward on the tongue and some alcohol burn on the cheeks. Flavors of zesty, ripe lemon, cooked yellow apple, and unripe green pear. The wine finishes crisp/clean, but the rebound comes back and flirts with you. A very interesting wine that could use some time for integration.
- 2014 Family Cuvee Pinot Noir ($29)
- Vintage that was hot late in the season. Light garnet in color. Bright but rich red fruit flavors of ripe cranberry, ripe strawberry, and cranberry. The generous, candied red cranberry opens up over time. Medium(+) intensity with aromatic lift. The palate has that red fruit in lower intensity, with earth, minerality, toast, and baking spices that is integrated with the alcohol providing most of the finish. A lighter-bodied Pinot that will keep you warm on a cool spring day.
- 2015 Bjornson Estate Pinot Noir ($29)
- Hottest vintage on record but with late rains that lightened the concentration of the fruit. The intensity of the red fruit (especially the ripe/partially baked cranberry) and the light white spice is slightly more intense than the 2014 above, but not quite pronounced. The red fruit and white spice is the dominant force on the palate, with the minerality and toast just beginning to show. Medium(+) acidity with a medium(+) finish. This wine may lack complexity now compared to the 2014, but I would bet that this will be the better wine in 3 years.
- 2016 Bjornson Estate Pinot Noir ($29)
- Released April 2019. Hot growing season with late rain right before harvest. Brambly/Barnyard character that wasn’t there on the previous two. This may be the least intense of the three, but may have must been the most cloying as well. Red fruit, fleshy plum, white spice, and some ripe tomato on the nose, but all balanced and fairly well integrated already. Bright medium(+) acidity, medium(-) finish but length that extends across the tongue. This has a lot of potential, but I have no idea what it will look like in a few years.
- 2014 Pinot Noir BW#21003 ($45)
- The only wine they still co-ferment and cold soak. The very first label they made in 2009 from their first block of vines with many different clones since they were still figuring it out (Pommard, Dijon, etc.). They couldn’t agree on a name for the wine, so they used their bonded winery number since it shows the breadth of what they are going for. They made this wine as early as they did to beat a law bill that would have restricted them from building a tasting room if they weren’t producing wine by a certain point. There is a complexity and depth on the nose in this vintage that easily surpasses their Estate Pinot. There are additional notes of black fruit like cherry and raspberry, but not fully ripe with baking spices, cedar, and toast also on the palate. Medium(-) body, but with medium(+) acid and medium tannin providing structure.
- 2015 Pinot Noir Magnus ($60)
- Made from the Top 5 barrels of the vintage. If the winemaker doesn’t think the quality is up to par for the vintage, they won’t make the Magnus. This is the only vintage during which they’ve made it (that I know of). Similar depth on the nose as the BW#21003, but a bit brighter with its red and black fruit (mostly red). The flavors cover the entire palate and focus on the red fruit, baking spices, and cedar notes, but should evolve over the next 5-10 years thanks to the medium(+) acid and tannin. The palate doesn’t have the same depth as the nose, but I’m hoping the development of tertiary flavors will add to that. The finish lasts for a decent 20-25 seconds.
- 2016 Reserve Chardonnay ($35)
- The Reserve Chardonnay spends 9 months in neutral oak, 5 months in once-used lightly toasted oak, then in twice-used lightly toasted oak. It is almost as if they are gently massaging the oak into the wine. On the nose, bright yellow fruit that feels fresh and just hints of MLF (butter and cream). The palate emphasizes the fruit, cream, but not much vanilla or other barrel notes. I was surprised to learn that this was all wood aged since it’s fairly reductive and has bright yellow fruit flavors. Not quite as concentrated or viscous as others, but very enjoyable.
- 2016 Gamay Noir ($29)
- Strong cherry notes, raisins, baking spices, other bright red fruit on the nose. No bubble gum makes me think that this is Cru Beaujolais in style and not carbonic maceration. There is some underlying yeast and citrus notes along with the strong red fruit. The yeast/brioche detracts from the theme of the wine though, clashing with the cranberry and light cherry on the palate. Without the yeast and with slightly more vanilla to go with the toast this has, this could be very nice.
With affordable wines like these, I see no reason not to stop by when you are in the area. I highly recommend you find a way to try the Magnus as it’s quite a wine that would rate comparably to the best of them in Willamette. I certainly will be stopping by here again in the future (next time, not by chance) and I hope you do too! Cheers!!
Rating: 93 out of 100