Oregon Wine Press

"Passion for Pinot" explores the vaunted varietal on America's West Coast through lens and lines

The bin of metaphors for Pinot Noir is bottomless, but one quality-like the skins and seeds during fermentation-will always come floating to the top. Resting between terms like temperamental and touchy, in bright bold letters is mystifying.

"Passion for Pinot: A Journey Through America's Pinot Noir Country" walks us a few paces closer to understanding the noble Burgundy-born and Willamette Valley-adored varietal. Writer Jordan Mackay, formerly of the Austin American-Journal and current scribe for Wine & Spirits, winds through the West Coast Pinot Noir boom in theory and practice.

His padded penmanship, at a formidable and fitting ground-level perspective, is comfortable for even the rookie wine drinker.

After all, with its place locked firmly in nature, Pinot Noir probably knows more about us than we of it. And there's no arguing that the transition from soil to glass is super sensory. Majestic landscapes, brilliant colors and animated individuals make the industry scene extremely visual. Which is precisely why the book itself is built around its photography, split between Robert Holmes and Andrea Johnson.

The setting is shared by California and Oregon, the latter captured mostly by Johnson. Her photos, many of which have occupied the pages of this publication, illustrate the sense of the untamed the Willamette Valley continues to be all about.

Johnson gravitates toward early morning light and wildlife, not only framing Oregon wine country as a place that cannot be put in a cage, but displaying it in a way that feels like you're seeing it for the first time. There's certainly purity about her work. The fact that Johnson does little to no post-production on her images only adds to the organic rawness of her art. In the era of Adobe Photoshop, where mistakes can be corrected with a few clicks of a mouse, it's both refreshing and a testament to her ability that she avoids such a thing.

The Willamette Valley's four distinct seasons, compared to California's more climate-consistent Central Coast, provide somewhat of an advantage here. Still, her eye is at once careful and critical, turning the gold of autumn vines and twilight blue of swollen grapes into near-neon photos that radiate off the page.

Her Bella Vida Vineyard photograph, shot just after snowfall, could bear the caption "circa 1865" just as easily as 2008. It's clean, crisp and timeless.

Of no real surprise, a big chunk of the book is devoted to harvest season. Johnson captures the many tasks and faces of the vineyard crews during this energetic time, in addition to the bright and changing landscape. Her work reinforces the fact that vineyard labor is both a fascinating and year-round act. It also showcases the diversity of the region, a trait of the Valley that Johnson truly admires, along with the accessibility and personnel of Oregon's most recognizable wine stretch.