Oregon winemaking is celebrating its 50th birthday with its first love- pinot noir- still embraced.

David Lett fathered the Oregon wine movement by ignoring the advice of his teachers in the wine department of the University of California at Davis in 1965. Forsaking warm, sunny California, Lett headed north with cuttings of pinot noir to rainy, cool climate Oregon.

It took a decade before Lett brought his Eyrie Vineyards pinot noir to the market. Lett’s wines were translucent cranberry-colored, fruit and floral fragrant, light as a feather and bursting with raspberry, strawberry and pumpkin pie spice flavors. They were delicious and elegant wines.

Today Oregon’s founding wineries are owned by the founder’s children, or wine conglomerates; organic farming, new wine styles and expanded vineyards have appeared.

Along with Lett, Dick Ponzi was one of Oregon’s visionaries. An engineer, Ponzi applied his scientific training to winemaking and viticulture. He established Ponzi’s style of fruit-driven wines, which his winemaker daughter Luisa continues.

Ponzi, Louisa punchdown.jpgwinemaker Luisa Ponzi punching down the grapes during fermentation

Ponzi is owned by Luisa and her sister Maria, who is the president of the company. They produce five pinot noirs ranging from the everyday Tavola bottling to an extra ripe Reserve, to a single-vineyard selection.

I prefer the classic style of the black cherry-colored 2012 Ponzi Vineyards Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. Aromas of white pepper, cinnamon and cherry introduce the cherry, cranberry and peppery flavors wrapped around a medium body that glides to a long, balanced finish.

The 2012 Ponzi Vineyards Willamette Valley Pinot Noir retails for about $37.

Dick Erath departed California for Oregon in 1967 carrying a passion to make pinot noir. He found his niche producing flavorful, easy drinking, good-value wines. Erath Winery became the largest producer in the state, triggering Ste. Michelle Wine Estates to purchase it in 2006.

Erath Winemaker Gary Horner at Prince Hill Vineyard.jpgErath winemaker Gary Horner

Dick Erath retains ownership of the Prince Hill vineyard, which he planted in 1983. The2012 Erath Prince Hill Pinot Noir was made by Gary Horner, Erath’s winemaker since 2003.

Retaining the link between the past and present yielded a raspberry-colored 2012 Erath Prince Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir with enticing cherry and cinnamon aromas and flavors. Its traditional Erath medium body and tasty, fruit-filled finish is a reassurance that large wine companies can preserve the past while investing in the future.

The 2012 Erath Prince Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir is about $45.

In 1970, Bill Blosser and Susan Sokol were recent graduates from Stanford University when they bought an abandoned 30 acre Oregon prune orchard. Never farming before did not present itself as an impediment to remove the prune trees and plant pinot noir cuttings. In 1977, Sokol Blosser winery issued its first wine.

The Sokol Blossers focus on the land kept it in the forefront of environmental best practices. Today their children, Alex and Alison own the winery and use only estate grown organic grapes.

Sokol Blosser Alex and Alison.jpgAlex and Alison Sokol Blosser

The 2012 Sokol Blosser Dundee Hills Pinot Noir is the biggest and most intense of the reviewed wines. It’s black cherry-colored, with aromas and flavors of black fruit, herbs and noticeable alcohol. Its full body carries a tart cherry finish.

The 2012 Sokol Blosser Dundee Hills Pinot Noir retails for about $39.

Follow John Foy on Twitter @JLFOY2