Had the privilege to meet with winemaker Aaron Lieberman of Iris Vineyards recently, and taste through some of his wines from the Willamette Valley in Oregon. To make Lieberman’s trip more worthwhile I encouraged him to invite fellow wine blogger, collector and administrator of the popular Friends Who Like Wine in the Glass Facebook group, Steve Roebuck, to join us. (Roebuck’s extensive tasting notes, one of his specialties, are below.) I will share my interview notes and then Roebuck’s tasting notes.
Though we don’t always see a lot of Pinot Noir on wine lists – Cab and Chard always have a bigger presence – Lieberman and Roebuck feel that Pinot is much more food friendly than some people (myself included) think.
ARETÉ, the name of their premier label, is only made with Estate grapes. Lieberman said that the name means “continual pursuit of excellence” and they keep the production between 100 to 200 cases per year.
They use screw caps for some wines, and a technical cork for the others. Lieberman said that the manufacturer guarantees these corks to be TCA free.
Learned a bit about Oregon Pinot Camp of which Lieberman is on the steering committee. There are 52 wineries that nominate “campers” to attend – all of which must be wine retailers or restaurateurs. (Lieberman is on the Willamette Valley Winery Association Board of directors and Oregon Pinot Camp is a function of this association.) Oh to be a fly on that wall and learn all about winemaking in the Willamette Valley!
Lieberman takes great pride, as he should, in his wines. These are not value or picnic or porch pounder wines, no matter how accessible the pricing may be for some. I found all of the wines to be fresh, with a nice mouthfeel and lingering finish. Many were cellar worthy.
One of Lieberman’s current challenges has been getting enough non-estate grapes. Since the fires of 2020, prices have gone up; newer vineyards may have better pricing, however Pinot Gris grapes sell for less so no one is planting them. (Iris Vineyards only experienced some smoke taint in 2020.)
What Lieberman will do when he retires, maybe by age 70: hang out in his garden with his dogs. I guess you can’t take the farming life away even from a retired winemaker.
You can find wine from Iris Vineyards in both retail shops and restaurants in California and restaurants in Nevada. For other states check their website for their current distribution, or buy directly from the website, if your state allows shipping. You can also plan a visit. They have a wine bar, live music and it’s on Springfield’s historic Main Street.
Tasting Notes Courtesy Stephen Roebuck
NV Iris Vineyards Willamette Valley Brut Sparkling Wine
Score: 91 Points. Location: Willamette Valley, Oregon. Blend: Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay.
Wafting from the glass was an elegant bouquet of lemon meringue, shaved almonds, white peaches, pears, and a soft spray of brine. The wine had a nice level of acidity with a touch of chalky minerals and limestone that harmonized nicely with hints of orchard fruits, brioche, flint, lemon, and lime. This is a very pleasurable sparkling wine that is refreshing and pairs beautifully with food. Highly Recommended! Tasted: June 15, 2023.
2022 Iris Vineyards Willamette Valley Pinot Gris
Score: 95 Points. Location: Willamette Valley, Oregon. Blend: 100% Pinot Gris.
This wine had an alluring bouquet of poached pears, white peaches, white flowers, lemon, pineapple, and crushed minerals. The wine had a nice level of acidity with a palate painted with hints of guava, pears, white peach, nectarine, crushed gravel, and lemon oil. There is a seductive quality to this wine as it is beautifully balanced, empowering the orchard fruits to harmonize perfectly with the minerality and crisp acidity that is subdued by a savory citrus oil on the finish. Extremely Highly Recommended! Tasted: June 15, 2023.
2021 Iris Vineyards Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
Score: 91 Points. Location: Willamette Valley, Oregon. Blend: 100% Pinot Noir.
This elegant wine had a bouquet of strawberries, tart raspberries, forest floor, soft savory spices, and a delicate hint of blueberries. The wine had a nice level of acidity with rounded tannins that gave way to a lovely palate showing hints of ripe red berries, juicy pomegranate, pinesap, dried leaves, char, and baking spices. The wine is extremely approachable now and is well balanced; thus, enjoy it now, and it pairs nicely with food. Recommended! Tasted: June 15, 2023.
2021 Iris Vineyards Estate ARETÉ Pinot Noir
Score: 96 Points. Location: Willamette Valley, Oregon. Blend: 100% Pinot Noir.
A magnificent bouquet of cherries, ripe raspberries, cocoa powder, dried forest leaves, soft brine, graphite, and smoldering herbs. The wine had gripping but integrated tannins that gave way to a luxurious palate painted with hints of tart cherries, raspberries, cranberries, crushed granite, graphite, soft herbs, and a slight hint of orange blossom on the finish. This wine is brilliantly balanced with a nice level of acidity caressing the fruit and earth that harmonize perfectly together. The wine is approachable now but will reward those with the patience to cellar it for 8 to 10 years. Extremely Highly recommended! Tasted: June 15, 2023.
Link to Steve’s Facebook post is here. My notes: I agree with Steve, my only addition is that all of the wines we tried were lovely all the way through to the finish, and I look forward to ordering any of them whenever I see them on a restaurant wine list.
About Aaron from Iris Vineyards Website
Aaron’s interest in the Oregon wine industry started in 1990 while studying soil science at Oregon State University. After graduation, he spent three years in Guatemala with the Peace Corps. There he taught farmers how to improve crop yields through plant and seed selection. In 1996, Aaron landed a job at Amity Vineyards. He has managed and/or planted several notable vineyards in the Willamette Valley. In 2001, Aaron began working in commercial wine making starting with a harvest at De Ponte Cellars in the Dundee Hills under winemaker Isabelle Dutartre. In 2002 he began making wine for his own label while working at Walnut City Wineworks. Aaron accepted the assistant winemaker position at Owen Roe in the spring of 2003 where he worked with David O’Reilly through the 2007 vintage. Aaron was informed of the opportunity to work as the first winemaker at Iris Vineyards by a long time industry friend in the spring of 2008. Going into his fifteenth vintage at Iris, Aaron has a well-developed knowledge of the estate vineyard as well as the best ways by which to coax the most flavor from the grapes and into the glass.
Eve Bushman has a Level Two Intermediate Certification from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), a “certification in the first globally-recognized course” as an American Wine Specialist ® from the North American Sommelier Association (NASA), Level 1 Sake Award from WSET, was the subject of a 60-minute Wine Immersion video (over 16k views), authored “Wine Etiquette for Everyone” and has served as a judge for the Proof Awards, Cellarmasters, LA Wine Competition, Long Beach Grand Cru and the Global Wine Awards. You can email Eve@EveWine101.com to ask a question about wine or spirits.