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Tony Soter’s name is an iconic one within the context of North American Pinot Noir production. He probably made his name as the founder of Étude wines in California, but has also been involved in the winemaking of a whole host of wineries such as Viader (qv), Spottswoode, Araujo, Dalle Valle, and Shafer to mention but a few. California may be where he made his name but Soter Vineyards represents a kind of homecoming for him and his wife, Michelle: Oregonians both.
Soter Vineyards began in 1997 when Tony and Michelle Soter bought the Beacon Hill vineyard in the Yamhill-Carlton district of the Willamette Valley. This was the source of their first Pinot Noir and sparkling wines. Since then, Soter Wines has become established at the Mineral Springs Ranch near Carlton, a 240 acre property of savanna-like woodland and grazing land that includes a 30 acre planting of vineyard: it is home to 500 sheep and 50,000 vines.
The wines are made in a refurbished barn that dates back to 1943. All tirage, riddling and dégorgement of the sparkling wines takes place here. There are underground caves in the hillside next to the barn which serve as the winery’s barrel room and a recently constructed fermentation room completes the winemaking facilities.
While in the Napa Valley Tony Soter was a leader in organic farming and instrumental in establishing vineyards for his clients that were based on those principles. This philosophy remains at the heart of his winemaking. All vineyards farmed for his wines are certified by LIVE (Low Input Viticulture and Enology) and Salmon Safe standards of vineyard practices. The winemaking facility is also certified carbon neutral. No insecticides or persistent herbicides are ever employed in the vineyards to protect local flora, fauna, and watersheds. Biodiversity is maintained by cataloguing all plant and animal species, augmented by planting wild flowers and diverse varieties of other plants. This nurtures populations of insects and fungi that compete biologically with vineyard pests.
James Cahill, winemaker at Soter is the veteran of fifteen harvests in Oregon including five years as assistant winemaker and operations manager at their “esteemed neighbour”, Beaux Frères (qv), as well as two years as vineyard manager and co-winemaker at Elk Cove Vineyards. Alongside what they describe as “respectful stewardship” of the land they own and maintain, the stated aim of Soter Vineyards is to produce Pinot Noir that is “thrilling, complex, balanced and age-worthy”.
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