A Taste of Oregon

Discovering the wines of Anam Cara Cellars


It is always a pleasant surprise when you get the chance to sit across a dining table from a winery owner, especially if it's their dining room table. Such is the case with the totally unpretentious owners of Anam Cara Cellars, conveniently located, if slightly hidden, among the hills of the Chehalem Mountains just south of Portland, Oregon.

My first stop in Oregon’s scenic wine country was the home of Nick and Sheila Nicholas, set as it is smack in the middle of the Nicholas Vineyard, source for the fine wines of Anam Cara Cellars. This 70 acre rolling hillside that faces mostly southeast was an orchard planted to plums, filberts, and walnuts when the family arrived here in 2001. Coming from St. Helena in Napa, you can imagine it was quite a change of pace, but some things remained constant.

Oregon Wine Country

The love for wine that the Nicholases developed while living in California turned out to be the constant that would rule their new life in Oregon. After years of success with pizzerias in California, the family knew it was time for a change, and Oregon offered just what they were after.

Over the years they have planted some 35 or so acres to vines on their estate, primarily at elevations between about 350 and 700 feet on their hillside property. At present the estate consists of 2 plots of Chardonnay, five of Pinot Noir, and one each of Riesling and Gewurtztraminer.  The Nicholases are very active in promoting Oregon Riesling, and I re-encountered their Riesling at a later tasting which will be covered in a future article.

On this occasion I was able to taste through the Anam Cara line-up. The name, incidentally, is Celtic and roughly translates to “soul friend.” The Nicholases feel that with each bottle of Anam Cara, one is able to take some of their friendship along with you!

When asked what the Anam Cara style is, Sheila responded that there was no real stylistic goal, and added that they do “just what we can do.” I’m not sure whether there is a unified goal here or not, but the wines each show a fine winemaking hand. The Reserve Pinot Noir is sourced from the best barrels from each of the various Pinot plots, which are cropped at around 1.5 tons per acre. 

I think this sort of captures the winemaking style here. Healthy vines, modest yields, gentle winemaking, and selections to make the best wines with the raw materials they have. It’s a very Oregonian theme, and one which seems to yield promising results! Anam Cara is L.I.V.E. certified.

2008 Estate Riesling 11.6%

Rich with peach and apple core fruit notes on the nose that gain a nice lime pith and mineral edge with time. On the palate this is softly sweet with peach and lime juice flavors edged in earth with a fine, subtle bitter tone that recalls lime pith on the moderately long finish. 87pts

2007 Nichols Estate Pinot Noir 13.4%

A touch woody on the nose with a smoldering grapevine note accentuating rather simple fruit. On the palate this is gentle with bright acids and an earthy, slightly herbal core to the flavors of red fruits. Good length, but this remains a bit underwhelming. 87pts

2007 Estate Reserve Pinot Noir 13.4%

This offers up seductive aromas of earth-toned, burnished cherry fruit with floral and mineral tones to the slightly astringent red fruit tones. On the palate this is already velvety with a core of rich fruit that exhibits fine transparency in an elegant and fresh package. The fruit is pure and yet offers up nicely detailed complexity and finishes with fine cleansing acidity and length. 92pts

2007 Heather’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 13.4%

Very fruity on the nose with a rich floral tone and nice spiced accents. The aromatics here are more high-toned top notes than a rich core but still quite pretty. Rich and youthful on the palate with powerful, deep flavors in an intense, somewhat rich, yet sinewy package that highlights the astringent red fruits. This really develops really fine transparency with rich mineral accents on the mid-palate and mineral and spice tones on the elegant finish.  91pts

2007 Mark II Pinot Noir 13.4%

Big and toasty with a charry, oak-driven nose that highlights the earthy quality here and seems to be concealing a bright more floral aspect of the wine. On the palate this is really texturally complete with great balance to the integrated yet prominent acids and the sweetness from the oak. The mid-palate is packed with cherry fruit, while the wine gets a bit big and boisterous on the backend and through the modest finish, it shows a lot of incipient complexity and fun fruit. 90pts

2006 Heather’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 15%

This shows a lightly spicy aspect at first before revealing a touch of oystershell embedded in creamy, spicy baked fruit with smoky and savory overtones. In the mouth this is rich and seamless, holding its alcohol very well. The fruit is decidedly dark with lots of blackberry and black currant tones topped with notes of herbal spice. The finish reveals a bit of of noticeable heat but also has a fine mineral edge to the rich, softly lingering fruit. 90pts

2008 Estate Gewurtztraminer 9% Alc 20% RS
An ice wine style wine made by freezing harvested grapes.

Honied on the nose with a meaty, pear fruit core and deep, candied citrus tones with a background bitterness of grapefruit pith. On the palate this reveals tons of sugar with a sweet mouthful of spicy fruit that has enough integrated acidity to keep this rich wine from becoming cloying. Deep and well balanced, this finishes a bit on the short side but with a lovely pithy contrast before returning to a more honied character ending with just a touch of stickiness. 90pts

Mentioned in this article


  • Snooth User: jimgullo
    305658 4

    I was at the Riesling tasting; thought I recognized you but couldn't quite put a name to the face, darn it. Sheila is a fine advocate for the wines around here, including her own.

    Jim Gullo

    Aug 05, 2010 at 1:47 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748

    I was there! I'll be writing that event up when I wrap up details of day 3. Sorry to have missed you.

    Aug 06, 2010 at 3:40 PM

  • Snooth User: ocozzie
    127922 5

    We are quite sold on the Oregon wines - We especially like Apolloni Vineyards - So nice to be able to stroll the vineyards and actually talk with the owners!

    Aug 06, 2010 at 8:17 PM

  • Snooth User: luca chevalier
    Hand of Snooth
    533661 2,535

    ..next time tell us also the prices...

    Aug 09, 2010 at 4:20 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748

    Hi Luca,

    I don't generally include prices in the body of the email simply because they can vary much from market to market.

    In the future you can expect to see more suggested retail pricing when I can get it confirmed by the producer in time.


    Aug 09, 2010 at 4:26 PM

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