Oregon Update: Johan's Big Leap Forward

Oregon Update: Johan's Big Leap Forward

New limited wines from Oregon's leading Biodynamic vineyard

Founded in 2005, the fruit from Johan Vineyards has been used to produce some of the best wines coming out of Oregon's Willamette Valley. With new hands leading the winemaking and farming operations, Johan's estate bottlings reflect the beauty of this special piece of land like never before. Katahdin hair sheep, depicted above, arrived just a few days ago.  

For the past decade it seemed like the estate-produced wines from Johan Vineyards were overshadowed by the wines made from the fruit they sold to the cool kids of Oregon’s natural wine scene: Division, Joe Swick, Maloof, Statera, Brianne Day, and many others. But with a recent changing of the guard in the winemaking and vineyard management teams and update to the label art, Johan is now in the limelight for producing some of the most forward-thinking, exciting wines we've tasted out of the Willamette Valley.Morgan Beck, head winemaker, and Elise Hansen, head of farming, are the ones pushing the estate in a new direction. A few months ago we wrote about the impressive 2019 Johan "Maceration," which turned out to be just the tip of the iceberg of Beck’s talents. A recent summer release renews our impression that she is a winemaker to watch, someone that can not only make magic from the more expected grape varieties, but is proving that some of the more obscure varieties planted at Johan are extremely well-suited to Oregon. We have tiny quantities of these limited releases and expect them to go fast: a singing Ribolla Gialla and a lip-smacking Zweigelt are the real standouts. These are delicious examples that show how Johan is taking center stage. Anyone interested in the cutting edge of Oregon wines should take notice.


I was first introduced to Johan Vineyards, an 85-acre Biodynamic-certified vineyard in the Willamette Valley, in 2014. Kate Norris of Division Winemaking Company was in town showing her latest releases, including a breathtaking bottle of 2013 Johan Pinot Noir. The next year I tasted a rendition of Johan Pinot crafted by Brianne Day. From there, the vineyard name kept popping up on the back label of so many great Oregon wines, and I knew something had to be up.

Dag Johan Sundby, originally from Norway, purchased the property nestled in Perrydale Hills in 2005. Originally focusing on Oregon’s most beloved grape, Pinot Noir, the vineyard was planted with a wide arrange of colonial material, as well as Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Grüner Veltliner. Farmed organically from day one, the estate was certified in both organics and Biodynamics in 2010. Since then, the vineyard has invested in bringing in new and exciting grape materials, looking toward a future where Oregon means more than just Pinot Noir. They have also incorporated more livestock on the property — sheep arrived this week — and have been steadily practicing a holistic and regenerative approach to farming. 

In 2016, I worked my first harvest in Oregon and visited the estate for the first time. I instantly felt what set this vineyard apart from the rest: on this warm, mid-September day, Johan was easily 10 degrees cooler than the vineyard we visited just 45 minutes earlier in the day. This unique microclimate is contributed to the maritime airflow that is pushed through the coastal mountain range, known as the Van Duzer Corridor. These cooling winds help mitigate high summertime temperatures and buffer disease resistance, as the wind speeds are up to 40% higher than the rest of the Valley. This area is in fact so special, that a separate American Viticultural Area (AVA) was created for the Van Duzer Corridor in 2019, with Johan being one of the main leaders in the push for its establishment. This unique microclimate allows for a longer growing season, producing energetic wines that are packed with character, they can be rich at times, but are always focused and refined.

With Morgan and Elise at the helm, we know that Johan is only getting better, and the wines are going to be harder and harder to get with coming vintages. With such a special vineyard, it only seems fitting.





Image of Johan Vineyards Ribolla Gialla Van Duzer Corridor 2019
Johan Vineyards Ribolla Gialla Van Duzer Corridor 2019


A native grape to Friuli, in Northeastern Italy and a new addition to Johan. Grafted into the vineyard in 2017, this is the first release of this delightful wine. In the Van Duzer Corridor's wind swept microclimate, the vines produced fully ripe fruit at very low alcohol (sub 11% in this case). Fermented on skins for 30 days, then aged in barrel for one year. Despite the extended maceration, the wine does not present as dense or tannic. Instead, it is lively and fresh, with gorgeous aromatics of linden, cherry blossom and lime zest, met by and energetic, medium-bodied palate of preserved lemon, cumquat and chamomile tea.

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Image of Johan Vineyards Chardonnay Van Duzer Corridor 2018
Johan Vineyards Chardonnay Van Duzer Corridor 2018


Oregon is producing, without a doubt, the best domestic Chardonnay right now. This is a great example of how the grape translates to the Willamette Valley. Here, three unique clones of the grape are blended together to create a wine of wonderful balance. Reminiscent of the Chardonnay's produced in the Jura more than Burgundy, it is unapologetically Oregonian. A flinty, spicy nose of ginger, meringue and a touch of toast. Textured and full-bodied, with bracing acidity, with notes of ripe yellow apple, grilled citrus and pistachio.

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Image of Johan Vineyards Pinot Noir Estate Willamette Valley 2018
Johan Vineyards Pinot Noir Estate Willamette Valley 2018


This is such a soul-satisfying bottle of wine. It's not trying hard to mess with your notions of what American Pinot Noir should be. Instead, it's just healthy, ripe, and luscious in a way that feels like a guilty pleasure. Bing cherry, vanilla, and savory viscosity that is rich without being heavy. A crowd-pleaser in every sense of the word that showcases the unpretentious confidence of Johan's winemaking team and the fruit from their thriving, sanguine vines.

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Image of Johan Vineyards Zweigelt Van Duzer Corridor 2019
Johan Vineyards Zweigelt Van Duzer Corridor 2019


Another new addition to the Johan repertoire, just in time to become you new favorite chillable red. Like the Ribolla, the wine is low in alcohol and does not taste in anyway underripe. Joyful, juicy and hard not to chug. Whole cluster freshness highlights the elements that make this wine so easy to drink. Fresh raspberry, sour cherry and black pepper, layered in the nimble, high toned frame. I look forward to see what the estate does with this grape, and to drinking many bottles, in the vintages to come.

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