- Rating: 95 out of 100
- Tasting Fee: $20 for Public, $55 for Private Tasting
- Accepts Reservations: Yes
- Reservation Required: No, but Recommended
Salem, OR 97304
Willamette Valley is a fantastic place to find and drink great wine, but most wineries there don’t have the picturesque views that are common in other wine regions. Bethel Heights is the exception to that statement. Not only that, they have some of the highest-rated wines in the region and the tasting fee is unbelieveably good compared to the quality/quantity of wines you get to taste. And if that’s not enough to convince you, their wines have a ripeness that reminds you of the Russian River Valley in Sonoma. It was a fun change of pace to enjoy these wines after a long day of tasting. So even if you think the price point of the bottles are out of your desired range, I highly recommend visiting, especially if you have a camera.
Bethel Heights is a family-run winery between the Casteels and Dudleys. Although it’s only in its second generation (established in 1977), that still makes Bethel Heights one of the oldest vineyards in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA. The vineyards are planted on south-facing slopes and benches that are predominantly volcanic, which give the wines their ripeness and minerality. The Van Duzer Corridor brings cooling winds from the ocean through the area, preserving the acidity in the grapes during the evenings. And with nearly 50 acres planted, they have a lot of fruit to choose from when making their wines. All of these factors contribute to the winemaker’s ability to make really enticing wines that are well worth their price tag.
The most exciting piece of their vineyards for me is the drastically different Justice Vineyard. Here, the volcanic soil is at its thinnest. Underneath are layers of marine sediment, not unlike the hallowed soils of Burgundy. You can taste the difference in these wines compared to the other blocks. Paired with the ripeness Bethel Heights is able to achieve and you get delicious elixirs that are unlike any wine you have probably had before. Even if you aren’t a wine geek, I’m confident that as you taste the wines on their tasting list, you’ll be able to pick out subtle differences that will have you liking some and loving others.
The tasting room itself is simple but well done. The patio and view are where it’s really at though. It’s hard to predict the weather in Willamette, but I highly recommend that you do your utmost to visit on a sunny day. Once you take a seat in one of the lawn chairs, you’ll understand why. I normally enjoy my tastings and leave as soon as I’ve finished typing my notes, but I caught myself staring at the view for a good 15-20 minutes after my tasting was over. If you also love a good view, I would plan to spend some additional time here. Probably the best view from a balcony I’ve seen in the Willamette AVA. NOTE: The number of lawn chairs and benches outside are pretty limited though, so you may need to be patient (or get their near opening) to secure your spot. See my numerous pictures for further evidence of said view.
While tasting the wines, you can read the scores from wine critics on their tasting menu. A subtle hint to visitors that they are recognized nationally for their quality. And their wines are as good as their scores suggest. If you like white and black pepper in your Pinot, you are going to like these wines. I personally don’t, but understand the quality of these wines. The chardonnays were very nice, but the best QPR buy may be their off-dry, $20 Riesling. While Riesling is known in Washington and some vineyards are trying to grow it in Oregon, theirs is really good in spite of the fact that the vines are a little young. And please note that we were here on Memorial day (a Monday), so the place wasn’t packed, but I would expect this place to be full on normal days. On those days, your ability to enjoy the winery may be a little compromised, so please plan appropriately.
Without further ado, the wines!
- 2016 Pinot Noir – Justice Vineyard ($56)
- Scored 93pts by Wine Advocate. Deep nose of baked raspberry pie, black raspberry, red cranberry, and red currant. Medium body, medium(+) acidity, and medium tannin. While the palate does lead with the red fruit, the combination of white spice, baking spices and alcohol take over and increase the heat in your mouth. The palate is also less ripe than the nose with plenty of green/stemmy character, which accentuates the brightness and spice character. I would pair this wine with some lighter meat if the spice character feels a bit strong, which I’m guessing it will for a good number of people. I was surprised to find no whole cluster fermentation with this wine – I thought that’s where the green/stemmy character came from, but I guess not.
- 2016 Pinot Noir – West Block ($60)
- Scored 93pts by Wine Spectator. 42 year old vines from the oldest part of the vineyard. Similar nose to the Justice, this wine has even more acidity on the palate while also being a tad riper in its flavor profile on the palate. The black pepper is still present but less intense and better integrated with the red fruit. Intense, complex, but also very enjoyable. I much prefer this to the Justice Vineyard and think this will also improve over time.
- 2016 Pinot Noir – Casteel ($75)
- Scored 94pts by Vinous. This pinot is riper and more brooding than the West Block, giving off notes of black raspberry and black cherry in addition to the red fruit. The white pepper adds some complexity and zest on the nose. On the palate, the flavors are just as integrated as the West Block, but slightly more intense. The tannins are a little rougher, but I think that means this wine will age longer than the other two. The white and black pepper builds on the palate after every sip, begging for some charcuterie to pair with. And the cranberry peaks out at the end so the wine finishes brightly.
- 2016 Chardonnay – Justice Vineyard ($56)
- Scored 94pts by Wine Enthusiast. Cool climate chardonnay coming off the front of the property. 40% new French oak. On the nose, you get pronounced notes of yellow apple, yogurt, cream, butter and vanilla. Medium acid, medium body and medium(+) alcohol. The secondary flavors are less pronounced on the palate, giving way to the fresh yellow fruit flavors (lemon, apple) and other citrus/zesty flavors.
- 2015 Chardonnay – Casteel ($75)
- Scored 94pts by Wine Advocate. Their barrel-select chardonnay, similar in style, selection method, % of new French Oak, and aging time as their Casteel Pinot Noir. The richness on the nose and palate are elevated compared to the Justice. There is less yogurt, but more butter and focused yellow fruit on the nose. On the palate, everything is better integrated and clearly delineated. While the Justice had complexity, this wine feels like it’s already been integrated and has a theme. I’d be interested to see this one age because it feels like medium acid, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was higher and I just couldn’t detect it due to the integration with the body.
- 2016 Estate Riesling ($20)
- Grown at one of the owners’ vineyards on a high elevation plot. Young vines, the wine is fermented to 0.5% residual sugar (RS), so it’s not sweet, but definitely off-dry. Ripe stonefruit and tropical fruit (melon, pineapple) pop with medium(+) intensity. On the palate, the high acidity of the Riesling reverberates and cuts through the ripe stonefruit flavors. There are hints of tropical fruit, but not as pronounced as the nose. The alcohol and acid do combine to burn a bit on the finish, but this wine is just really nice. It is far better than its price would suggest.
Again, I highly recommend visiting Bethel Heights if you have the chance while in the Eola-Amity Hills area. There are so many reasons to say “Yes” and nothing to preclude you other than their availability and how crowded the winery is. I would love to hear what you agree that this seems to be a hybrid of RRV and Willamette. Especially over a bottle of the Casteel, haha. Cheers!!
Rating: 95 out of 100