The Willamette Connection

By Beacon Staff

About 15,000 years ago, ice dams collapsed, shooting waters from Glacial Lake Missoula toward the Pacific Coast. Soils and huge erratic rocks tagged along in the flood, some settling in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, where that original western Montana topsoil has fostered reputable wines.

One gray erratic rock the size if a mini-van sits below the Yamhill Vineyard there. “It looks out of place on rolling hills,” says Greg Burger, owner of The Loft Wine Merchant in Whitefish. That rock became inspiration for a pet project for Burger and his wife – a special wine label called Erratic Rock made from grapes grown on 99 acres of his family’s vineyard adjacent to the rock.

“It’s the first wine for the Montana market,” says Burger. Turn the bottle on its side, and the label appears to be shaped like the state of Montana. The old vintage-style label—made by Total Label USA, a Whitefish company—features a photo of the erratic with a woman carrying a bottle of wine in her bag.

Burger bottled just under 200 cases of the Pinot Noir 2006. “It was fun to make, and it came out beautiful,” says Burger. “It’s accessible and young, but with lightly oaked dark cherry and berry flavors with forest floor overtones.”

Erratic Rock just arrived in Whitefish. It’s sold by the bottle at The Loft Wine Merchant and will be available by the glass at Tupelo Grille. Despite the high cost of growing Pinot grapes and their extreme sensitivity in the cellar, the wine retails for $20 per bottle.

Meanwhile, back at the Yamhill Vineyard in Willamette Valley, Erratic Rock Pinot Noir 2007 is in the barrel right now and also a Pinot Blanc 2007 that Burger will introduce next year.

The erratic rock, now a state park, below the Yamhill Vineyard has been a symbol of the unique Montana soil that found its way to the Willamette. “We’re proud of our rock,” laughs Burger.