On the Trail

Exciting Pinot Noir From an Exciting New Label

Bryan Brick

Banshee began as a wine project started in 2009 by three friends in San Francisco who wanted to pool their industry talents to create a fresh and exciting label focusing on local California options. They began with pinot noir from Sonoma Coast and found there was quite a market for $60 quality wines selling at mid-twenties price points. As difficult as it is to produce excellent pinot noir, it's even more difficult to do so at a fine value. In their development of the Banshee label, the winemakers gained a stable of quality sources for from some of finest AVAs in the state and built one of the best value brands in the business. Now they're setting their sights on Oregon with a new label called Averaen and I couldn't be more excited about the wine. Based on a loose translation of “Bird Queen,” from the Latin word “avis” for bird and the French word “reine” for queen, the brand represents the next step for the Banshee team.

When they told me in secret a little over two years ago that they were thinking about making Willamette Valley pinot noir, I was thrilled. I was also hopeful that the result would be another example of what made Banshee so popular in the first place: a quality for value that can’t be beat. With the launch of the 2015 Averaen, the gang returned to its roots and retained the services of winemaker Adam Smith, who made the original batch of Banshee pinot noir back in 2009. Smith, who has his own label called Eisold Smith, and who trained at both Shea and Domaine Serene, has a history of pinot noir success and achieves another here. Made from a mix of volcanic and sedimentary soils and a blend of Pommard and Dijon clones, he was able to take the best parts of Oregon pinot noir and dovetail them into one seamless and drinkable wine. The vineyard sites are well-known to insiders and Oregon pinotphiles: Meredith Mitchell, Deux Vert, Eola Springs, and Valin, among others. The price, however, is the real accomplishment. 

At $19.99 the wine is instantly in the argument for one of the best wines from the still youthful, but very good 2015 vintage in this price range. An added bonus is that all the Oregon grapes from this vintage were used for this one bottling, where as in years upcoming they will expand into single vineyard bottlings, so this really is the best foot forward with their inaugural release. Aromas of freshly picked cherries, clove and wet earth dominate the nose backed by typical forest-y notes and hints of darker berry fruits. The first thing that struck me about this wine is just how serious it is in terms of balance and structure. Everything is in its place and while this is eminently drinkable it is also quite serious and complex. Lush loganberry at the edges with a pitchy red fruited core this Pinot has plenty of fruit intensity and lift but it also has the darker side of the pinot spectrum as well with finishing mushroom, fern and purple flower notes. Add a subtle oaky quality, but no toastiness-this is all done in neutral oak foudre and stainless steel-and this really becomes one of the best pinot noir values, regardless of place, in K&L today.

Since the very first bottling of Banshee (K&L was their second customer ever) the three amigos—Baron, Steve and Noah—have made some of the best affordable pinot noir in California, not to mention great chardonnay and some other fun things as well. You can add Oregon to that list now.

-Bryan Brick