The history of Chehalem (shuh-HAYlum) actually dates back to 1982, before the winery was even founded. That’s when Harry Peterson-Nedry planted the 55-acre Ridgecrest Vineyards, introducing wine grapes to the Willamette Valley’s Ribbon Ridge. From the beginning, Harry made conscious farming choices that best express the flavors of the vineyard’s singular terroir while demonstrating a reverence to the land.
The word chehalem comes from the native Calapooia tribe and means “gentle land” or “valley of the flowers.” When Harry started the winery in 1990, he felt the word aptly described his intent to produce wines that express what the vineyard created. This year, Chehalem reached a milestone of sorts as it released its 2009 Ridgecrest Vineyard Pinot Noir and the 2009 Reserve Pinot Noir which represent the 25th harvest from Ridgecrest Vineyards. These most recent releases are continued proof that Chehalem is a winery that produces single vineyard wines that express the true qualities of its land. The Ridgecrest Pinot is characteristically elegant, well structured, and briery, with dusty black fruit elements, at times bordering on currant or cassis, all hallmarks of Ribbon Ridge wines. The Reserve Pinot Noir, Chehalem’s top tier Pinot, comes as barrel selections from Ridgecrest also. All Chehalem wines are estate bottled, coming from Ridgecrest, Stoller, and Corral Creek, representing three different soil types: Willakenzie, Jory, and Laurelwood.
“The 2009 vintage may be one of the best,” Harry says. “With nice balance in all ways for both reds and whites—very good quality and yields, as well as good ripeness and acids.”
After this milestone vintage, Chehalem began work on an intriguing new label design. “We loved our label, but we had it for 20-some years and we’ve evolved. Chehalem is fuller and richer now,” Harry says. The new label is an eye-grabber with photographs of the wines’ vineyards of origin, and a good amount of detail about each wine, plus pairing ideas written in a journalistic style. “We’re excited about this radical change, but,” Harry promises, “we will not change what’s inside the bottle.”