Eyrie Vineyard's David and Diana Lett established their winery in 1966, naming it for the red-tailed hawks that made their nest (EYE-ree) in the fir trees at the top of the vineyard. It was the first planting of Pinot noir and Chardonnay in the Willamette Valley, and the first Pinot gris in America.
David and Diana's son, Jason, took the reigns with the 2005 vintage. A little from Jason about that experience: "In my late 20s, a winemaker scared the hell out of me. It was at a tasting at a friend’s house in Burgundy, after which we dispersed onto the shaggy sheep pasture that passed as a lawn. The afternoon moved to drinking, not tasting. Roman made a beeline towards me, and he started asking pointed questions: “when will you take over the domaine? Is your father ready for that? What will you do if he doesn’t “rendre” (surrender!)?
I can’t remember how I answered, but I remember the statement that all his questions had been leading up to. “If a son does not take the domaine before he is 35, then he will never be a great winemaker. After 35, he is too soft, he will listen too much to his father. The domaine will never move ahead.”
I knew my father (whose veins ran with Pinot) would not happily “render,” nor would I ask him to. As I moved into my thirties, Roman’s deadline of 35 loomed closer, and I turned away from winemaking altogether.
Then my friend John Davidson gave me an unexpected gift: he asked me to make wine any way I wished, with any Pinot I wished, at his winery and from his vines. He believed I had potential but he offered no advice, just a space and a blank slate. The wine turned out better than I could have believed. That first vintage became the 2002 BlackCap Pinot noir.
I learned most of what I know about winemaking from my dad, but John taught me to trust what I learned."
When I describe Eyrie's Original Vines wines, I often sum it up this way: this wine, these vines, are largely responsible for putting the Willamette Valley on the map as a world-class wine growing region.
That's a lot to put on a wine, and a lot to put on the person in charge of growing and making it.
That person is Jason Lett and from my standpoint, he's one of the few people on Earth who's capable of doing it. He has an extraordinary mind. I forget how many conversations I've had with him over the years - hundreds - but every time, that's every, I learn something new. And I almost always laugh.
Jason is essentially two winemakers; he is carrying on the family tradition at Eyrie while establishing his own wine voice through Eyrie. He's the head of a relatively large winery, with distribution all over the country, and he's an indie winemaker with a tiny, boutique label. He deserves incredible respect for accomplishing it all, and for being a true ambassador of Oregon wine. - Marcus