I am biased. I have purchased Tyson Crowley’s wines since he started nearly 20 years ago. I think Crowley Wines should be on any short list of the best Willamette Valley producers.
Crowley’s wines are ballerina-like, striking an almost perfect balance between fruit and acidity. So take my words as those of a fan, not an impartial bystander. I think everyone should buy Crowley’s wines – all of them.
Crowley Wines is best known for: “Purity and transparency,” Crowley said.
Crowley isn’t interested in making wines that he described as “feeling affected,” stating that he wants his wines to accurately replace the place where the fruit was grown. “There’s a fragile balance between improving your craft and losing a sense of terroir. I think most people like wines that taste real and are connected to place,” Crowley said.
A “must try” current release: 2021 Crowley Wines Four Winds Pinot Noir ($60 – 13.3% ABV). Four Winds Vineyard is a special place. It sits at a majestic 800 feet above sea level in the McMinnville Coast Range. The 30-year-old plus vines are own-rooted and dry-farmed, with the Four Winds Pinot Noir made entirely with the Pommard clone.
If you want an elegant pinot noir to put away for 10-15 years, I suggest this one. The Four Winds is filled with red fruit, herbs and citrus, with dazzling acidity and surprisingly muscular tannins. “It tells you the minute it hits your glass that it is of a place,” Crowley said.
History: Crowley caught the wine bug while visiting wineries in his native Upstate New York. After graduating from Syracuse University, Crowley moved to Seattle in 1994, hoping to land a job in wine production or a project management position with the Port of Seattle.
Crowley dove into wine when things didn’t pan out with project management. He investigated wineries in the Puget Sound area, finally working a single harvest for Bainbridge Island Winery. It wasn’t enough.
Looking for a job with a winery located in a thriving wine-growing region, Crowley took a job in 1995 working under then-head winemaker Rob Stuart at Erath Winery. Crowley worked at Erath for seven vintages before stints with Framingham Wines in New Zealand, then Brick House, J.K. Carriere and Archery Summit in Oregon.
In what Crowley described as a “game-changing moment,” he went to work for John Paul at Cameron Winery in Dundee. During his five-year stint as Paul’s assistant, Crowley said he gained the confidence to make his own wines, beginning with 100 cases of “Entre Nous” pinot noir in 2005.
Today Crowley Wines are made at a collective in Newberg, with an annual production of approximately 3,500 cases of pinot noir and sublime chardonnay.
What we don’t know: Crowley has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of jazz fusion. He’s also a highly skilled drummer.
When asked to recommend a record for someone unfamiliar with the genre, Crowley suggested Herbie Hancock’s “Head Hunters,” followed by fellow drummer Jack DeJohnette’s “New Directions.”
Biggest success so far: Having Crowley Wines recognized as one of the Willamette Valley’s top chardonnay producers by wine critic Eric Asimov in The New York Times.
Last book read: “1Q84,” by Haruki Murakami. Crowley said he’s now reading Murakami’s “Kafka On the Shore.”
Helpful tip: When someone new to wine production asks Crowley for advice, he tells them to stay put at the same winery for a while. “You learn so much about the same fruit in different vintages as it moves from harvest to bottle. It’s a great education that I strongly believe will allow you to make better wines later on,” Crowley said.
Where to buy: Thanks to the tireless work of Evan Roberts, a partner/owner at Crowley Wines, you can find Crowley’s wines in all the right places. It should be noted that Roberts is not all work, as part of his official job title at the winery is “fun generator.”
To enjoy the wines with a Portland dining experience, head to Laurelhurst Market, Coquine, Le Pigeon or Little Bird. Try a glass of Crowley wine at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California for a vacation splurge.