In the early 1990s, when Boston's restaurant renaissance was first in its glory, Bill Sweat and his future wife, Donna Morris, were Fidelity Investments managers by day and passionate food-and-wine explorers by night. Their discoveries, both in Beantown and abroad, led to a life-changing relocation to Oregon's wine country in 2006.
Today, the couple owns Winderlea Vineyard & Winery, a boutique, small-production winery located in the Willamette Valley -- America's hottest region for crafting distinctive, outstanding Pinot Noir.
On Thursday, May 2, Sweat and Morris will be among 50 Willamette Valley winery owners exhibiting unique wines in Boston's first-ever "Pinot in the City" tasting extravaganza. The Willamette Valley Wineries Association event will be held in The Castle at Park Plaza exposition center from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Tickets start at $90 and can be purchased at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/pinot-in-the-city-boston-tickets-52721981867.
For Oregon Pinot lovers, this is Boot Camp 101.
Sweat's 2014 Winderlea Vineyard Pinot Noir and 2015 Dundee Hills Pinot Noir -- expressive, elegant, balanced, food-friendly -- as well as the 2015 Winderlea Chardonnay (92 points, Wine Enthusiast) will be among 150 wines displayed. Other notable wineries include: Chehalem, Colene Clemens, Domaine Drouhin, Erath, Evening Land, Lingua Franca, Penner-Ash, Sokol-Blosser and Willamette Valley Vineyards.
"Pinot in the City" events have sold out in Denver, Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago and New York, so excitement is high.
"It's great to get to other cities and show our wines," said Sweat, a Bates College grad. "All 50 of us -- owners and winemakers -- are traveling together to Boston. We'll be the people pouring the wines and talking to you."
Whether one prefers ripe, higher alcohol, New World-style Pinot Noir or Old World Burgundy-esque elegance and restraint, Willamette Valley's varied and dynamic "sense of place" (terroir) is bound to surface in each glass of these handcrafted wines.
"Pinot Noir is such a risky, finicky, difficult grape to grow, but when it's done right, it's exceptional," said Sweat. "That's what attracted us to Pinot Noir and to Oregon."
Second- and third-generation winemakers like Sweat are following in the iconic footsteps of 1960s pioneers Dick Erath, Dick Ponzi and others who sowed the seeds for Oregon's wine potential. And it's working. The number of wineries has soared from less than a dozen to 800, including 500 in the Willamette Valley AVA, where Pinot Noir is king.
Coming off three stellar vintages (2014, 2015, 2016), Willamette Valley Pinot Noir sales were up 17 percent in the U.S. in 2017, according to a recent Wine Spectator article. Sweat believes it's only the beginning.
"The collegiality and collaboration of winery owners is incredible. ... We realize that if a Willamette Valley wine achieves success, we can all benefit from it," he said.
Sweat and Morris are among Oregon's leaders for implementing biodynamic and sustainable farming methods, as well their charitable work. In 2015, Winderlea became only the fourth winery in the world to earn B Corp business certification for social and environmental performance, accountabilility and transparency. Also, a portion of Winderlea's annual profits are set aside to fund health-care programs for vineyard workers and charitable causes.
So what can Pinot fans expect from Winderlea? Sweat said, "We want our wines to be elegant, perfectly balanced and taste alive. We want people to sense our special place in the Dundee Hills -- the red fruit character, bright acidity and different layers of flavors ... black tea, mushroom, spice. ... These are wines people can enjoy with food."
While Oregon wine is now their lifeblood, Boston remains in their heart and soul. Sweat said he and his wife, a Boston College grad, visit Massachusetts frequently to see family and friends. Plus, they root religiously for the Red Sox and Patriots.
"Your team is your team when you are 8 years old until whenever," laughed Sweat.
If Pinot Noir is your wine, this event shouldn't be missed.