From the onset we felt that Lenné was destined to be a great site. In the Northern Willamette Valley, great sites are characterized by well drained, low vigor sedimentary and volcanic soils. They also tend to be steep hillsides between 300 and 600 feet elevation, with a southerly aspect. It doesn’t mean that great wine can’t come from other sites in certain years, but consistently great Pinot Noir in this part of the world comes from steep sites with shallow soils at the right elevation and orientation.
We really didn’t really choose Lenné; it chose us. After eight months of looking for properties a friend told us about a hillside plot that might soon be available. The owners were descendants of the Laughlins, one of the original Yamhill county families, and the property was formerly a sparsely-grassed pasture that was part of the Laughlin's 1500 acre dairy farm.
The site was ideal, and less than an hour after we set foot on the property in April of 2000, we knew that our vineyard search had ended. This steep, south-facing slope perfectly fit our criteria for making great wine. We also liked the neighborhood; sharing a ridge with Willakenzie Estate, Deux Vert, Shea, Solena, Roots, and Penner-Ash. Soter and Beaux Freres are also close by.
After purchasing the property we did some initial ground work and in the spring of 2001, we laid out the first eleven acres to plant in three blocks of Pommard, and two Dijon clones, 777 and 115. The grapes were planted tightly-spaced, with 7 foot rows and vines 3 feet apart, and no irrigation. The site proved to be diﬃcult from the beginning, and the poor soil stressed the young vines, producing a high mortality rate. Nearly 35% of the young vines died the first year. The steep slope also proved diﬃcult to work safely, and destruction from deer impeded young vine growth.
By the third year most vineyards are producing, but at Lenne our new vines were still struggling to send roots and drawn nutrients from the rocky soil, and the greenery was hardly tall enough to reach the "fruiting wire" of the supporting trellis. While the first planting was still maturing, we planted another 2.5 acre block of Pommard behind what is now the tasting room. The timing was poor, and thanks to record spring and summer heat in 2003, all but a handful of plants were lost. We replanted there in 2004, and further up the hill we added an additional 2.5 acre block of the 667 and 114 clones.
In 2004 the vineyard produced a minuscule amount of fruit, but the quality was good. The harvest increased further in 2005 and the grapes were excellent, but it wasn’t until 2006 that we had a large enough fruit set to to start vinifying each clone separately. In 2007, we produced our first normal fruit set, seven years after planting.
Now that the vineyard has matured, the vines have sent roots deeply into the subsoil, where they pull water and nutrients capable of sustaining them from deep below the surface. The vineyard is healthy but the poor soil does its work in limiting canopy growth and produces exceptionally small clusters. The benefit of the soil is intensely concentrated flavor, and a unique mocha aromatic and distinct mid-palate texture which are the two signatures of Lenné's terroir.