Just a decade after their very first vintage and two years since producing the first full vintage in their own facility, Nicolas-Jay has very quickly built a reputation that is world class. Some would say this isn’t too surprising given that the “Nicolas” in Nicolas-Jay is none other than Jean-Nicolas Méo, winemaker and owner of Méo Camuzet, one of the very best wineries in Burgundy.
However, exceeding lofty expectations in a highly competitive and increasingly finicky wine industry is a significant achievement, regardless of wine pedigree.
After interviewing Jean-Nicolas and co-founder Jay Boberg via Zoom during the global pandemic, followed by a meeting with Associate Winemaker Tracy Kendall last year during our first visit to the winery, we’ve become undeniable fans with the same rapid speed that they’ve skyrocketed to the top of wine critic lists.
What’s become very evident to us over the past 3 years of getting to know the winery, is that the commitment to quality extends far beyond their wines. Each one of their team members at every level of the business, whether viticultural, winemaking, or in the tasting room, leave an indelible impression that they genuinely love what they do, and where they are doing it.
Our most recent interview was with Noah Roberts, Assistant Winemaker to Jean-Nicolas and Tracy, who was added to the team when Nicolas-Jay bought their Newberg property and built their new facility.
Touring through the winery, it’s a remarkably simple design perfectly suited for the slow, meticulous process that is Nicolas-Jay’s winemaking signature. When the fruit is picked, it’s sorted and processed at the crush pad outside, then brought in from the sorting line onto the de-stemmer through the large roll-up door. The mobile fermenters are placed under the de-stemmer to catch whichever hose is being used and then the fermenters are moved into the middle room for fermenting. It’s fully gravity flow up to the point of doing pump overs.
Noah initially started out as a home brewer then gradually got into the world of wine through tastings.
He did his very first vintage at the Carlton winemaker’s studio and was immediately hooked on the process. A friend of his convinced him to do a harvest and it was love at first sweat, “I think I worked like a 12-hour shift and just washed barrels all day long and I had no idea what I was doing! My feet were soaked because I was wearing just regular shoes, and just loved it.”
After working another harvest in Australia, he got hired into a full-time position at Adelsheim where he eventually met the Nicolas-Jay team. When it was time for a change, his appreciation for the Nicolas-Jay style of wine and knowing Tracy from working side-by-side at the Adelsheim facility, it seemed the logical place to go for the next stage of his winemaking journey.
A logical and also wise move given his love for Chardonnay, both his favourite variety to work with and favourite to drink. Nicolas-Jay’s exceptional Chardonnays are among the best in the valley, helping it rival Pinot Noir as a reason to put Oregon wine on your must-have list.
The first vintage at the new facility was in 2020, which resulted in a lost vintage due to the forest fires that wreaked havoc on the Willamette Valley harvest that year. They made a small amount of Chardonnay as the fruit had been picked earlier, but no Pinot Noir was produced.
2021 marked the first full vintage made in the new Nicolas-Jay facility and Noah relayed to us his excitement at seeing that vintage being bottled.
As one can imagine, a new facility brings with it numerous learnings along with some very unique opportunities: “One of the beautiful things about having a brand new facility is we haven’t ever added yeast in this facility, so whatever came in off those grapes is what came in. So, whatever our house yeast is, it’s a blend of whatever was out there [in the vineyard] …we hadn’t added yeast before, but we were at commercial facilities where commercial yeast was being added, so some of that’s coming in, to an extent.”
As for the winemaking team’s overall thoughts on the 2021 vintage, consensus is that it was excellent: “We were gifted a good one after the worst vintage in Oregon history…a warm summer, everyone remembers there was this giant heat spike in the middle of the summer, but that was way before the grapes had achieved any sort of ripeness, so they were pretty well protected.”
“What we really noticed was sugar accumulation mixed with phenological ripeness. Normally those two things are going away from each other so you have to pick that perfect spot to where you can sort of grab that fruit at the best place that you can get it at. What we saw in ’21 was the acids just kind of remaining and not respiring and the sugars going up. So we were able to pick at a sugar level that we wanted and at an acid level that we wanted, both in sort of the exact chemistry we would pick if we were asked, which is nearly impossible and extremely rare.”
As a result, the 2021 wines show lots of fruit, combined with the team’s preferred alcohol level (13%) and preferred acid levels in (3.5pH). In his words, “the chemistry was perfect.” So perfect that they believe the 2021 vintage has what he called ‘extreme’ age ability.
Based on the conversations we had on our visit with Noah and several other local winemakers, the 2023 vintage has so far been unusual but is shaping up to be another excellent one in the Willamette Valley. It started with a very cold, long winter then when straight into summer temperatures.
“We had bud break really fast because we had the super wet and rainy weather, and then all of a sudden it was 80 degrees and just stayed like that. So, our bud break was really fast and now we’re hitting bloom right now [first week of June] which is one of the shortest periods Oregon has ever seen between bud break and bloom.”
Nicolas-Jay currently produces about 5,000 cases per year. That is expected to increase to 6,000-6,500 in 2023 but is not expected to extend beyond 7,000 cases in future.
Typically, with a winery getting the kind of ratings and reviews that Nicolas-Jay is getting, it would soon become nearly impossible to get your hands on a bottle if you weren’t a wine club member. But Nicolas-Jay firmly believes in a distribution model and the importance of being accessible to anyone interested to taste it. Lucky for fans of wine, one third of the wine they sell is distributed via wine shops and restaurants.
Should you come across a bottle of their Chardonnay or Pinot Noir, you’ll immediately be rewarded with wines of quality and substance. As you’ll see from our tasting notes below, not one of their wines we rated below ‘excellent’. Better yet, visit the tasting room in person to enjoy the full experience of their stylishly comfortable room or patio and exceptional hospitality.
2019 Nicolas-Jay L’Ensemble Pinot Noir
L’Ensemble comes from vineyards located in 4 different AVAs within the northern part of the Willamette Valley (Dundee Hills, Yamhill-Carlton, Eola-amity & McMinnville) that they’ve been working with since they established the winery. Medium red in colour, we get dark cherry mixed with baking spices on the nose. The body is medium with medium+ acidity. As the wine develops in the glass more earthy notes come to the fore and a nice mineral streak shows through on the long finish. Already complex, but further development is surely on the way!
2019 Nicolas-Jay Own-Rooted Pinot Noir
Vineyards that remain planted on their own rootstocks remain a rarity in the wine world. To stop the spread of the phylloxera louse, most of the vineyards of the world have been re-planted with phylloxera-resistant American rootstock and then had local clones grafted on to them. Oregon still has a few own-rooted vineyards and Nicolas-Jay is sourcing fruit from them: Nysa, their own Bishop’s Creek, and Dundee Hills. This is an exceptionally poised wine showing the finesse and elegance that could turn the head of the most die-hard Burgundy fan. Tremendous balance between the structure and the fruit gives you the sense of a wine that is light on its feet but still very powerful. Think gymnast, not linebacker. Black Cherry fruit aligned with brown spices and hints of forest floor. Delicious!
2019 Nicolas-Jay Momtazi Vineyard Pinot Noir
We were instantly struck by the earthy aroma that greets our noses far above the glass. That earthiness evokes something wild and feral in a completely delicious way. Dark fruit notes of plums, blackberry and raspberry are joined with notes of spice, earth and hints of violet. Detailed and complete, this is an outstanding wine. The intensity of the fruit along with the medium+ structure of the wine assures this wine will develop over the next decade or longer. A triumph of New World Pinot Noir.
2021 Nicolas-Jay Spirit Hill Vineyard Chardonnay
This vineyard is a large bowl at the top of the Eola-Amity Hills AVA, located at 700-800 metres. Gorgeous notes of green apple and citrus fruits swirl together in the glass and mix in with the wet stones and mineral character. The vineyard’s elevation helps to give it a bit more cool-site character. Medium+ body and medium+ acidity bring structure and definition to this wine. Wonderful complexity and a terrific juicy freshness make this wine perfectly balanced with its powerful body. Everything about this wine says breeding and class. In our opinion, as good as new world Chardonnay gets.
2021 Nicolas-Jay Affinités Chardonnay
Sourced from vineyards in Eola-Amity Hills, Yamhill Carlton, and Spirit Hill this is a wonderful representation of just how terrific Oregon Chardonnay can be. Deeply intense, the layers of fruit hold centre court and conceal the 20% new oak. The panoply of flavours include apples, orchard fruits, mineral and wet stones. While further development is likely, it very fresh and just so damn good, why wait? Textured and round, the mineral and acid streaks deftly define the body of this exquisite wine.
11905 NE Dudley Road
Newberg, Oregon 97132
*Tastings by reservation only
T: (971) 412-1124