AWG Correspondent

Rob Boss

Bella Vida Photos

Bella Vida Review

Regions: Willamette Valley AVA, Dundee Hills AVA, Oregon

Reviewed: September 4, 2014 by Rob Boss
Published: January 5, 2015

(Photos by Jai Soots)

One of the more interesting tasting flights is also one of the hardest to get to: Bella Vida Vineyard sits high atop a hill, overlooking the Dundee Hills. Signs at the bottom of the disconcertingly steep driveway say, "Keep Tires on Concrete," which serves as an ominous start to a hair-raising climb. However hard it may be to get to (and our Corolla seemed to be at its limits), the immediate payoff is the view, and it's awesome. At various times in our tasting room adventures I've noted that my favorite wines come from very steep hills. There might not be any real correlation—there aren't enough examples yet—but it has shown up in my notes (Bryn Mawr is a fine example). So I was keenly interested in these wines as we walked into Bella Vida's quietly elegant but beautiful tasting room.

Proprietress Allison Whiteside greeted us at the door. She offered me a sheet of tasting notes for her wines, which I turned over until I'd written my own—always a fun game, and we had a nice chat about that toward the end. She explained that the wines are made from estate fruit, and a bit about their business model: Bella Vida sells or trades 60% of their fruit to other wineries (Penner-Ash makes a vineyard designate, which is a mental green light), while retaining 40% for their own production. A portion of the trade goes to winemakers who in turn make wine for Bella Vida. This turns out to be an excellent bit of bartering: the fruit is excellent, draws some truly fine winemakers and offers three expressions of a top flight vineyard.

The first pour was the house white, called Gris-Ling. It seems like an odd blend—80% Pinot Gris and 20% Reisling—but on many levels it works well. The wine showed tart, food-ready acidity and green apple flavors. The quality was superior, though not to my taste, but I could think of plenty of friends who would love it.

Next, Allison explained that among the Pinot Noir wine makers, "we have a Conservative, a Gambler and a Stradler." The Conservative tends to pick fruit early, so as not to get caught by rain or over ripeness. The Gambler likes riper fruit and risks waiting "just another day or two," entering Oregon's rainy season. Finally, the Stradler picks some of both, early and late.

We started with the Stradler: 2011 Tardy, made by Jacque Tardy of Torii Mor. The nose was intense, with vanilla, spice and crushed cherries. On the palette, dainty, pretty cherries. I got a maple note on the second taste (Allison's notes said broullée.) It needs more bottle time to tame the tannins, which was the only rough edge to an otherwise very elegant wine.

Up next was the 2011 J. Christopher, made by Jay Sommers, their Gambler. This one showed a smoky nose, with crushed fruit. I've enjoyed this fellow's wines a number of times and thought it wasn't showing well, but it still had some nice, round cherry flavors. Last in the lineup was the 2011 O'Donnell, made by Brian O'Donnell of Belle Pente. O' Donnell is the Conservative one at harvest time, which turned out to deliver the softest wine of the three. A spicy, crushed fruit nose was followed by bright, red cherry and younger fruit flavors.

There was a bottle of 2010 O'Donnell open, from which I eagerly accepted a bonus taste, then revisiting the 2011 and trying them side by side. The 2010 was a bit lighter, with crushed fruit and floral notes, followed by ripe cherry and raspberry flavors. It was an eye opener, as far as how well the wines will age. My notes say, "A glorious wine," and I bought one.

Worth climbing hills for? Absolutely. (Getting down isn't as scary as it looks—you can even coast into another great winery across the street—Maresh Red Barn.) With three winemakers working from the same vineyard, Bella Vida makes for a thought-provoking and illuminating tasting experience. Tasting both the differences of the styles while enjoying the common thread of the fruit is intriguing. Tasters will come away knowing a little bit more about the art of winemaking—and probably a bottle or two of some very good wine.

Address & Contact Information: 9380 NE Worden Hill Rd. Dundee, Oregon 97115. Telephone: 503-538-9821, email:, website: Tasting Hours: Memorial Day-Thanksgiving: Thurs-Sun 11:00-5:00 and by appt..

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