Ask any Oregon wine insider about great winemakers and the name John Paul Cameron comes up in hushed and reverent tones. His eponymous Cameron Winery has been around since 1984, but its legendary status often does not resonate outside Oregon because of the very limited distribution of these wines. Moreover, his fanatical attention to the farming and the winemaking leaves little time for marketing and fancy wine dinners among his devoted followers.
John Paul Cameron rarely accepts winery visits, and after driving up, I immediately understood why: he was busy making a compost pile with his tractor, leaving his assistant winemaker Tom Sivilli to show me around the vineyards and the modest winery and cellar. Since 1984, Cameron Winery has produced organically and dry-farmed Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Blanc. (He also makes some fine Nebbiolo - planted in 1994 - inspired by previous visits to Italy’s Piedmont region).
Their estate vineyard, Clos Electrique (cheekily named for the electric fence that encloses the estate to ward off foraging deer), consists of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Nebbiolo, and a smattering of Italian white grapes. Farmed organically, each block of vines is planted to multiple clones; this increases the complexity of the resulting wines and enhances the vineyard's resilience in the face of various of climatic pressures and predatory insects. Cameron also sources fruit from Abbey Ridge (one of the oldest vineyards in the state) and Arley's Leap in the Dundee Hills AVA; recently it added Pinot Noir from Foster Farms and Armstrong Vineyard in the Ribbon Ridge AVA. Production is about 3,000 to 4,000 cases, the majority of which gets immediately absorbed by Portland restaurants and retailers.
Cameron's vineyards are among the healthiest in the Willamette Valley. Clos Electrique literally buzzes with biodiversity: bees fly around to pollinate cover crops; grass grows between rows of vines to reduce vine vigor; chickens eat grubs and nourish the soil with their waste products. Most importantly, Cameron refuses to irrigate. As a founding member of the Deep Roots Coalition, the winery is committed to bringing wines that reflect terroir and geological complexity by having the roots dig deep to extract water and nutrients.
For someone who keeps a low profile, John Paul is one of the smartest winemakers I’ve encountered (he came to winemaking after receiving his Ph.D. in Marine Biochemistry). He's also one of the most opinionated (check out the “News and Rants” section of his website as well his laughter-inducing video newsletters). Nevertheless, John Paul’s fanatical commitment to organic farming and hands-off winemaking ensures that he’s among the standard bearers for Pinot Noir in the Willamette Valley, but also for the rest of the United States. Jonas Mendoza
Sourced from Abbey Ridge Vineyard, this savory white blend is mostly Pinot Blanc with a splash of Chardonnay and Pinot Gris. With wet river rock minerality, Bartlett pear, and white floral aromas on the nose, this succulent white entices with crunchy peach and white grapefruit pith flavors and a waxy texture on palate. Perfect with roasted summer zucchini or some fat, fleshy oysters. Jonas Mendoza
Cameron's newest Pinot Noir is a blend from two small vineyards within the Ribbon Ridge AVA: Dijon clones from a vineyard from Foster Farms and a mix of Pommard, Wadenswil, and various other clones from Armstrong Vineyard. More structured and darker fruited than its Dundee Hills counterpart, blackberry and black cherry flavors mingle with dried mushroom and game undertones. Despite the warmth of the 2014 vintage, this wine possesses finesse and elegance. Jonas Mendoza
A blend of Abbey Ridge (60%) and Cameron's Clos Electrique (40%) vineyards, this Pinot Noir shows complexities and subtleties that simply don't exist at the $40 price point for Oregon. I hate comparing red Burgundy to Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, but the comparison to Chambolle-Musigny aromatics and Vosne-Romanee flavors are quite apt. With a light red ruby robe, there's ripe red raspberry aromas on the nose with subtle meaty and dried herb undertones. On the palate, there's a silky texture that envelops the palate with Bing cherry, black raspberry, violet, clove, and cinnamon flavors. Jonas Mendoza