On a recent visit to South Willamette Valley, I discovered Iris Vineyards. The winery’s production facility is located in Cottage Grove, but Iris’s tasting room is situated about 20 minutes from both Cottage Grove and Eugene. The drive is well worth the visit because of the spectacular views. Perched atop a knoll, the tasting room affords an incredible view of the valley and vineyards below. The tasting room reminds me of a Tuscan winery with its warm welcoming ambiance.
The story of Iris revolves around a love of wine that Richard Boyles and Pamela Frye discovered when they meet at the University of Oregon. For Richard the passion started as a child, knowing his grandmother grew grapes. His father would press those grapes and make wine. Following in his father’s footsteps, he started making wine as a teenager. Richard’s career path took him in a different direction but having grown up in Oregon he and his wife had the need to return. In 1995 they purchased the property, an 870-acre estate that includes the Chalice Vineyard and their home. In 1996 the vineyard was planted and in 2001 they released their first vintage.
My visit began at the Iris production facility, where I was treated to a harvest luncheon for the winery staff. The casual demure of sitting and chatting over a home-cooked meal while sampling the wines ingratiates one into the winery quickly. I enjoyed the easy-going luncheon prepared by retired fireman, Paul Eckstine. The meal included an excellent pork loin accompanied by Brussel sprouts.
Winemaker Aaron Lieberman
It was during this luncheon that I met Iris’ winemaker Aaron Lieberman. Originally destined to become a veterinarian, Aaron discovered soil science. He opted to change his major and graduated from Oregon State University with a degree in this field. Shortly after, Aaron left for Guatemala and joined the Peace Corps. Upon his return, he began working at Amity Vineyards. With stints at De Ponte Cellars, Walnut City Wineworks, and Owen Roe, Aaron finally landed his job in 2008 at Iris.
Aaron says he plays a traditional winemaker role in producing wine. He relies on his team, but the creative process is all Aaron. His goal is to create bright fruit-forward wine that instills a sense of Oregon with crisp acidity and low alcohol.
The Iris Vineyards
The vineyard consists of 43 acres planted with primarily Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Noir and called Chalice because of its bowl shape. They also purchase grapes from the Willamette Valley, Applegate, and the Rogue Valley in Southern Oregon.
Iris produces their estate-frown Areté Collection which includes Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Sparkling wine and Pinot Noir. This brand represents Iris’s premium wines where Aaron is striving to continue his pursuit of excellence in the wine. The name Areté means excellence of a kind and this excellence is connected with the concept of living up to one’s full potential. For Iris, it has two meanings. Aaron as a winemaker is maximizing his full potential of creating these wines and in the case of the wine, it is living up to its full potential with reference to the terroir and vineyard.
Iris 2018 Viognier: A favorite at my winery luncheon and one I later purchased. I found the Viognier bright with flavors of pear.
Iris 2017 Pinot Noir D block Willamette Valley: This wine comes across as a very structured wine but it has aging potential.
Tasting Room Wines
Areté 2018 Pinot Gris: Find a sweet and savory wine that displays fruity qualities yet is dry on the palate.
Iris 2018 Rosé of Pinot Noir: Another favorite of the wines I samples, the wine displayed aromas of florals and cherry, while on the palate flavors of cherry and strawberry.
Areté 2016 Chardonnay: On this particular wine, I could smell the oak yet enjoyed the flavors.
Iris 2014 Chardonnay: Also, a favorite wine I tasted due to its fruity qualities of apple and pear.
Iris 2017 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley: I found a bright and fruity yet elegant wine that emphasizes flavors of raspberry.
Areté 2016 Pinot Noir: Combining Wadenswil, Pommard, 113 and 115, and aged in 25% new oak this wine also displayed a bright elegance with flavors of raspberry.
Iris 2017 GSM Rogue Valley: Consisting of primarily Grenache with Syrah and Mourvédre, I found a marvelously light yet elegant GSM.
Iris 2017 Merlot: This Merlot exuded flavors of strawberry
2017 Iris Syrah: I found a spicy wine with flavors of barbeque underneath licorice and sassafras.
Iris Cabernet Franc: This, too, was a winner with bright flavors of cherry.
While visiting Iris Vineyards, you will discover that the beauty of the vineyards and the place are imbued in each bottle of wine. It is part of what makes the Iris wines special.
Note: Common to the wine industry, this writer enjoyed hosted wine samples. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure.