Most simply put, it is a white wine grape variety of the species vitis vinifera.
Thought to be a mutant clone of the pinot noir variety, it normally has a grayish-blue fruit, accounting for its name (gris meaning “gray” in French) but the grapes can have a brownish pink to black and even white appearance. The word pinot, which comes from the word meaning “pine cone” in French, could have been given to it because the grapes grow in small pine cone-shaped clusters.
The wine produced from this grape also varies in color from a deep golden yellow to copper, and even a light shade of pink, and it is one of the most popular grapes for orange wines.
The clone of pinot gris grown in Italy is known as pinot grigio. Pinot gris is grown across the globe with the “spicy” full-bodied Alsatian and lighter-bodied, more acidic Italian styles being most widely recognized.
The Alsatian style, often duplicated in new world wine regions such as Marlborough, Tasmania, Australia, Washington and Oregon, tend to have more moderate to low acidity, higher alcohol levels and an almost “oily” texture that contributes to the full-bodied nature of the wine.
The flavors can range from ripe tropical fruit notes of melon and mango to some botrytis-influenced flavors. In Italy, pinot grigio grapes are often harvested early to retain the refreshing acidity and minimize some of the overt fruitiness of the variety, creating a more neutral flavor profile.
This style is often imitated in other old world wine regions, such as Germany where the grape is known as rulander.
One of my favorite pinot gris is from Oregon Ponzi vineyards. The 2013 Ponzi pinot gris has aromas of marzipan, Key lime, white tea and magnolia preceding the full mouth with hints of lemon meringue, verbena and white pepper.
The juicy acidity keeps the perfect balance of lush fruit and bright freshness. The growing season started with a warm spring bringing an early bud break. From that point the growing season remained warm and dry leading the winery to believe it would have an early uneventful harvest.
All went as planned until the last week in September when the tail end of a Japanese typhoon dropped close to 6 inches of rain on the valley and completely saturated the vineyards. This is when it got interesting.
The winery had seen many wet vintages, so they had some ideas on how to handle it; using helicopters to dry the vines, multiple picking passes, extensive sorting before de-stemming and very careful winemaking among other methods.
October saved the winery with three long weeks of dry, breezy days, allowing the fruit left on vines to reach optimum flavor without any dilution from rain.
In the end the white wines, which were mostly picked before the rains, show the traits of a warmer vintage with lush fruit to balance the vibrant acidity.
Dick and Nancy Ponzi moved their young family to the Willamette Valley in the late 1960s with a spirit of adventure and a passion for making world class pinot noir.
After many research trips to Burgundy and an extensive search for the ideal location, they purchased 20 acres on a small farm just southwest of Portland, Oregon.
It was a daring risk — at the time, the Pacific Northwest was not thought to be a place to grow pinot noir, but Dick and Nancy realized the northern Willamette Valley’s climate was ideal for cool climate varieties. Pinot noir cuttings were planted and the winery was founded in 1970 in the lush valley.
Ponzi vineyards is now internationally acclaimed for producing some of the world’s finest pinot noir, pinot gris, pinot blanc, chardonnay and white Riesling, as well as arneis and dolcetto, two rare Italian varietals.
Ponzi Vineyards continues to set the standard for Oregon’s viticultural innovation while maintaining an unwavering commitment to a tradition of winemaking excellence. For more than two decades, this philosophy has been carried by the Ponzi family’s second generation: winemaker Lisa Ponzi and director of sales and marketing Maria Ponzi.
Behind every bottle of Ponzi wine is more than four decades of winemaking discovery and innovation. The facility was designed by Dick Ponzi and completed in 2008. The new Ponzi vineyards winery is a sustainable, four-level gravity-flow facility atop one of the Chehalem mountains slopes.
The facility maximizes the natural contours of the site for light, temperature control, gravity-flow processing, water retention and recycling.
The facility name was born Collina del Sogno — “hillside of our dreams.”
This was one of the first Oregon facilities awarded the live winery certification, meeting live specifications for an eco-friendly building and sustainable winemaking practices that drives the concept that the variety must match the “terroir” and climate.
Ponzi Vineyards continues to set the bar for Oregon and remains at the forefront of the nation’s top wine producers. This wine can be found on the chop239 wine list for $12 a glass or $48 a bottle. Enjoy.
Marco Porto is the owner of Chop239 at the Esplanade. He is a wine connoisseur and a regular contributor to this column.