The man I recently had the honor to meet in Chicago was incredibly warm and approachable. He was smart and savvy, yet humble when talking about his accomplishments. This man was Wayne Bailey, wine grower, producer, and owner of Youngberg Hill in McMinnville, Oregon.
A native Iowan, Wayne loved growing up on a farm in Oakland and those experiences are inherent in his life today. The backstory? Post college, he was a consultant for about fifteen years in the food and beverage industry with a focus on wine. When he received a three month contract to assist a variety of wineries in logistics, branding, and marketing in the French region of Burgundy, Wayne knew that he wanted to go…and after he did, he decided to linger. Those he met in France considered themselves “farmers first” and he was able to establish a wonderful relationship with the winemakers who shared the philosophy of his upbringing. His decision to stay in the area, continue his consulting, and live for a year and a half in various wineries led to (among other things)… an appreciation for the organic farming methods of the vignerons and a new found love for Pinot Noir!
During this journey, Wayne Bailey realized something he most likely already knew, but hadn’t really considered seriously. He found that (and these are his own words) “I love wine”, “I’m feeling the urge to return to farming”, and “I can do this in a socially and conscious way”. And he did.
In 2003, Wayne Bailey bought Youngberg Hill named after a young Swedish farmer who purchased the property in the early 1920s and farmed it until 1987. After having looked at various areas, Wayne knew that Oregon was where he should live and begin creating a sustainable and responsible farm. After completely overhauling the estate including vineyard management, winemaking, and the tasting room, Youngberg Hill now boasts a stunning Inn which is the site of many events. He has a lovely wife and three accomplished daughters who help share the work of the harvest (yes, they are allowed a day away from school to work on pruning, the picking line and sorting table) and the beauty of the land.
While talking with Wayne, it became obvious that the approach he and his wife are taking towards their lives at Youngberg Hill is holistic. Integrated in their lifestyle are winemaking techniques which enhance the health of the land and plants, passion for what they are accomplishing, and family – just being at Youngberg Hill is a way of life…and what a life it is! Wayne remarked that he is working twice as hard and twice as long but enjoying it twice as much!
A bonus after our chat was a tasting of delicious wine. Wayne shared four Youngberg Hill Pinot Noir wines from two different blocks, the Natasha and Jordan, and two different vintages, 2008 and 2009. After we tasted and compared the wines from the blocks, Wayne re-arranged the glasses and we made comparisons as to the years. Brilliant (but I must say that my favorite remained the same)!
The Natasha Block is of an altitude of 600 feet and its soil is of dense clay and sand. The Jordan block is on an even steeper slope, 750 feet, and has soil of volcanic rock. Only twenty five miles from the ocean, the weather is influenced by patterns coming up the Van Duzer pass from the coast. The vineyard may just be one of the two most western sites in the valley where there is more precipitation, more sunny days, cooler diurnal temperatures, and cool coastal winds during the late afternoon and early evening.
The 2009 vintage dealt with extreme high and low temperatures during the early part of the growing season yet at the end, a long autumn with some rain at harvest yielded well balanced fruit.
**2009 Youngberg Hill Natasha Pinot Noir – Fruit aromas abounded in this wine and the spice and minerality on the palate were delicious. This wine can be kept for fifteen years and the balance between fruit, tannins, acidity, and alcohol (14.4%) will be even more wonderful. This wine was aged in 25% new oak for fifteen months. Cost is $40.00.
**2009 Youngberg Hill Vineyards Jordan Pinot Noir – With a deep burgundy color, dark red fruit and coffee with some floral aromas make you want to taste…more of the same! I found some minerality in this wine most likely due to the volcanic soil and the finish was full enough to suggest a dinner pairing of a juicy steak! The alcohol content is 13.8% and it, too, was aged in 25% new oak for fifteen months. Cost is $40.00.
2008 was a stellar year for Oregon Pinot Noir. Despite the ups and downs of the weather, a bit of hand wringing on the part of anyone involved in winemaking, a long and perfect October kept sugar levels on the right track and the rest is…excellent Pinot Noir!
**2008 Youngberg Hill Vineyards Natasha Pinot Noir – I loved this wine! It was smooth, elegant, fresh, and each facet was beautifully integrated and balanced. The black fruit flavors, some minerality, and just downright delicious taste and mouthfeel were a delight to enjoy! Aged in 20% new French white oak, the cost is $50.00.
**2008 Youngberg Hill Vineyards Jordan Pinot Noir – This wine was fuller bodied and more earthy than the Natasha. Tasting like a true Burgundian Pinot Noir, the aromas were of dark fruits including cherries and plums along with some black pepper and smoke. Yet I tasted some vegetal notes with cinnamon! With a satisfying and broad finish, you can cellar this keeper for at least twelve years. The cost of this delicious wine is $40.00.
Getting to know Wayne Bailey, tasting the wines from Youngberg Hill, and appreciating his philosophies of winemaking, family, and life will remain a highlight for which I am thankful.
“I never have to get up and go to work – I get up and start living.” ~ Wayne Bailey
Cheers! ~ Cindy