This year marks a significant anniversary for the modern Oregon wine industry: the first planting of pinot noir in the Willamette Valley by David Lett on Feb. 22, 1965. Lett’s Eyrie Vineyard Pinot Noirs set the mark for Oregon and won international recognition for the fledgling Oregon wine industry. He became so revered by his peers that he was affectionately called “Papa Pinot.”
David Lett grew up on a farm in Utah. After graduating from the University of Utah in 1961, he arrived in San Francisco waiting to begin dental school when a road trip to nearby Napa Valley wine country led to a life-changing epiphany. He enrolled instead in a two-year viticulture course at the University of California at Davis. After graduating in 1964, he became interested in cool climate grape-growing and found Northwestern Oregon an appealing location despite the sentiment of the time that Oregon was not suitable for the successful cultivation of European variety wine grapes.
At the tender age of 25, Lett gathered 3,000 grape cuttings from certified vineyards in California and traveled north to the Willamette Valley in February of 1965. He started planting his cuttings on a rented nursery plot near Corvallis on Feb. 22, according to his personal journal. This was the first planting of pinot noir in the Willamette Valley.
After finding an ideal vineyard site in an abandoned prune orchard in the Red Hills of Dundee, Lett relocated his vines. Inspired by red-tailed hawks that made their nest (eyrie: EYE-ree) in the trees on the vineyard site, Lett, along with his new spouse, Diana, christened their new winery The Eyrie Vineyard.
Lett honed his winemaking through a career spanning almost 40 commercial vintages. He held the distinction of producing a single vineyard pinot noir longer than any other winemaker in the U.S. at the time of his passing in October 2008 at the age of 69. Throughout his career, he remained faithful to a consistent theme of classically styled pinot noir that ages incredibly well.
Lett’s son, Jason, who assumed the winemaking and vineyard management in 2005, noted on this momentous occasion: “David took the risk, and we hope the reason for it is clear in every glass of Eyrie Pinot Noir.”
For more information on The Eyrie Vineyards, visit eyrievineyards.com.