A Visit to Oregon
When it comes to wine in Oregon, it’s probably Pinot Noir that first comes to mind. The Pinot here can be truly amazing, but there are other grapes that forward thinking and creative growers in the region have planted, from Chardonnay & Riesling to rarer creatures like Savagnin and Trousseau.
The Willamette Valley AVA in Western Oregon runs 60 miles east to west and 100 miles north to south,and is filled with 11 sub AVAs each with its distinctive climate and soils.
Today we are headed to one of those nested AVAs
Ribbon Ridge AVA in Oregon’s Willamette Valley
Ribbon Ridge is the tiniest of Oregons AVAs size wise, but this tiny AVA has big ideas.
The ridge itself was once a tiny island when this area was covered in ocean.
It is set out a little from the Chehalem Mountains and is a nested AVA within the larger Chehalem Mountains AVA. It’s the soils that set it apart.
This 5 and a quarter square mile area has uniform soils of ocean sediment which are younger than those of the surrounding areas.
The first vineyard was planted here in 1980 and soon it grew to a community of winegrowers, all of whom were independent thinkers.
Most of these pioneers held similar beliefs in farming, but they were each headstrong and independent and it wasn’t until 2015 that they came together to create a Statement of Principles, setting forth the path for water conservation, sustainability and philanthropy within the Ribbon Ridge AVA.
Meet Dan Warnshuis, president of the Ribbon Ridge AVA and the force that brought these independent personalities together to create one of the most environmentally forward-thinking AVAs in the Nation.
Dan has multiple clones of Pinot Noir in his vineyard. Why so many? Well, let’s talk a little about clones.
Vitis vinifera is the species of grape that we most commonly use to make wine.
Within that species you have varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Some of these varieties are prone to mutations, little variations to the plant that make the grapes different.
Pinot is especially prone to these variations. You see this with the mutations of Pinot Noir to Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris.
Beyond these major color variations there are small variations some created naturally, some propagated.
In the vineyard, when a viticulturalist sees a variation that they like, they take a cutting to preserve and propagate this variation.
These are the clones. With Pinot Noir so susceptible to these variations, you find many clonal varieties. Some are better with warmer or cooler climates, some have better disease resistance, and in many they can change the characteristics of the fruit, with some having more tannin and structure or variations in aromas and textures.
Because of this, winemakers who make Pinot Noir often blend different clones into their wines.
This can give the wine balance, utilizing the tannin and structure of one clone, with the fruit forward character of another, and adding another clone that gives the wine a plushness or silkiness.
Think of this as variations within variations. Again, one of those things that makes wine so fascinating.
I always find it interesting to hear a winemaker’s story.
What brought them to wine and how did they settle on a particular spot in the universe to grow and make wine?
The Utopia Log Cabin
Just up the road from the vineyard and tasting room, Utopia has another piece of property where they have the Utopia Log Cabin.
Tucked into evergreen forests and vineyard land this two story log cabin and has a deck with spectacular views of the Ribbon Ridge.
This beautiful cabin allows you to get away into nature, while still providing you with all the modern conveniences.
The views of the stars at night are truly breathtaking and I dare you to find a better place to enjoy a morning cup of coffee.
The Winery and soon to be new vineyards
The new property where the Utopia Log cabin sits will soon be home to additional vineyard blocks and it already holds the Utopia Winery.
Dan converted the 5,500 square foot building on the property to a winery complete with barrel storage, tanks, bins and a crush pad.
Having the winery, so close to the vineyard means Dan doesn’t have to travel his grapes far to make his wine.
This is good for the grapes and good for Dan who lives on the property at the vineyard.
The Utopia 2017 Pinot Noir paired with Smoked Tuna
We paired the Utopia 2017 Pinot Noir with Lavender Earl Grey Tea Smoked Tuna with Roasted Golden Beets and Rosemary.
While this dish may sound fancy and look fancy for that matter, it is easier than you think to make.
You can smoke the tuna on the stove with a wok and a metal vegetable steamer.
To create our elegant presentation we used nested bowls, the smaller for the tuna & beets, the larger beneath it filled with fresh rosemary and star anise.
We put the kettle on and added a bit of the hot water to the bottom bowl allowing the steam and aromas to rise as we enjoyed the dish.
These additional aromas as well as the lavender earl grey tea that we smoked the tuna with and our marinade of ginger, garlic, tea and blood orange juice, and of course the earthy notes from the beets, all combined to create a beautiful pairing with this wine.
That’s a wrap on this Episode!
That’s a wrap on this Episode, but there is so much more On Utopia Vineyard & Ribbon Ridge. For details and information visit our YouTube page and subscribe.
And watch for our next episode of “The Scenic Route” as we head West to the Yamhill-Carlton AVA and visit with Steve Lutz of Lenné Estate.
See you Next Time on “The Scenic Route.”
About “The Scenic Route”
A few years back we started taking extended trips driving to wine country. While wine country was the draw, the fact is that to get to wine country, you often have the opportunity to drive through some beautiful places. We planned our travel on the scenic highways and byways along the way, allowing us to soak in some beautiful scenery.
In 2018 we attended the Wine Media Conference in Walla Walla and did a Pre-Conference Excursion to the Yakima Valley. We met Barbara Glover who runs Wine Yakima Valley and she introduced us to many of the local winemakers. The visit was just enough to whet our appetite, and we made a plan to return.
Here begins “The Scenic Route”.
This two-week road trip was packed with multiple wineries and some amazing scenery as we traveled from Las Vegas to Washington State. We found delicious local food, stunning scenery, and our days were filled with Wine and stories.
Our Scenic Route trips have allowed us to visit so many wineries with stories to tell and we wanted to tell them in more depth. So we decided to create an expanded version of “The Scenic Route” visiting and exploring the area in and around wine regions.
These are beautiful places because good grapes enjoy a view.
Join us as we take
“The Scenic Route”
Find all our videos on The Crushed Grape Chronicles YouTube Channel
Robin Renken is a wine writer and Certified Specialist of Wine and WSET 3 Certified. She and her husband Michael travel to wine regions interviewing vineyard owners and winemakers and learning the stories behind the glass.
When not traveling they indulge in cooking and pairing wines with food at home in Las Vegas.