It’s Oregon Wine Month

Vista Hills Vineyard in the Dundee Hills AVA

It’s no secret that I’m kinda infatuated with Oregon wines. More than just the wines…it’s the people behind them. That whole “Keep Portland Weird” thing, kinda speaks for much of Oregon. But then again, with all the delicious weirdness, there is a simple, elegant classy side also. I love it so much, let’s delve in a little.

Willamette Valley Wine Country panorama
Willamette Valley Wine Country panorama

The Oregon Wine Trailblazers

This is a relatively new region for wine. The first winery, post prohibition, appeared in southern Oregon’s Umpqua Valley back in 1961, thanks to Richard Sommer who refused to listen to the UC Davis folks who told him it wouldn’t work. There were a couple of other UC Davis grads who bucked the trends in the mid to late 60’s and headed North including David Lett (Eyrie Vineyards), Dick Erath (yep, you guessed it, Erath) and Charles Coury (which is now David Hill Winery). If you have been into a wine store (or a grocery store) you will recognize Erath. Obviously growing grapes here worked.

My Introduction to Oregon Wine – At Home in the Vineyard

I’ll admit that my knowledge of early Oregon wine history came from reading Susan Sokol Blosser’s book “At Home in the Vineyard”. this memoir is her personal story of the struggle to build the Sokol Blosser Winery in the Dundee Hills. These were not people with money looking to invest and have a retreat in a vineyard. They were idealists and they struggled with the weather and the soils as they figured our this new area for wine. This was the way for many of the early vineyard owners and winemakers and it’s still that way for many today. (I had a wonderful conversation with Annedria Beckham of Beckham vineyards in the Chehalem Mountains that I will share with you soon, about the continuing struggles of planting and growing their vineyard and winery).

I encourage you to visit the fantastic site of the Oregon Wine Board and read all about the history of this great region.

Early visit circa 2011

My introduction to Oregon wine came with a visit back in 2011. We came to spend 3 or 4 days, visit wine country and catch up with an old friend of mine. We stayed at the cottage at Winter Hill. Winter Hill Winery is in the Dundee Hills, the cottage was over the hill with a separate entrance. There were chickens running about and an amazing view of the area and the stars from the porch.

On this visit we took in, Winter Hill Winery, Erath, Youngberg Hill, Stoller Family Estate, Lange Estate, Argyle, Cana’s Feast, Willakenzie, Rex Hill, Trisaetum, Domaine Drouhin Oregon, Sokol Blosser, Torii Mor, Vidon & Vista Hills. It’s a list, I know!

I remember them all. Here are a few of the stories…

Winter Hill

Winter Hill at the time was tasting in the middle of the working winery on a folding table. It was a humble for a tasting room, but warm and friendly, and we got a first hand look at the wines with the people who were putting their heart and soul into the endeavor.

Youngberg Hill

Michael was driving to get to us Youngberg Hill and Adam (my friend who had been married there just a year before) was giving directions. Adam and I got busy talking and we missed a turn, and then another. We arrived to views and VIP treatment thanks to Adam. The views here are wedding worthy that’s for sure!

Stoller

The view from Stoller Winery Dundee HIlls Oregon 2011
The view from Stoller 2011

At Stoller, Adam was also a member, and he was doing a pick up, so we got a little extra special treatment. I remember a Tempranillo they had that I wish we would have taken home with us. And I remember a story about the honey that they were hoping to get from hives in a black berry patch part way up the hill.

Lange

Up on the hill at Lange, we were greeted by Jack, the vineyard cat and stepped into the tiny tasting room where they were boxing up their wine club shipment. I remember a moving experience tasting their Pinot Noir (if I close my eyes, I can still taste it).

Argyle

Argyle tasting room Dundee Oregon circa 2011
Argyle tasting room Dundee Oregon circa 2011

At Argyle we enjoyed some bubbles and I got hooked on their Black Brut. This was back when Rollin Soles the pioneering vintner was still the winemaker. I remember thinking how cool it was that Lyle Lovett was his friend from college. They are two unique and iconic individuals in their own right.

Vidon

When we visited Vidon, we met Don the owner, when he came in off the tractor. Don was still busy in the vineyard back then. He was a particle physicist by training and worked with NASA before he purchased the property in the Chehalem Mountains in 1999. We also visited Vista Hills. It was late in the day, and close to the cottage and they snuck us in as their last tasting. The views are stunning and the wines delicious. We returned to them on our last trip again, just before the announcement that they had been purchased by Coppola.

We’ve waxed poetic on some of this before…

You can read a little about the Stoller Tempranillo, the Lange Pinot Noir and the Argyle Black Brut in our piece Wines I can’t forget Part 1

Or about that Trisaetum Coastal Riesling in Wines I Can’t forget Part 3.

And in our piece on Gravity flow wineries, we talk a bit about Willakenzie.

Returning to Oregon in 2018

Last year we returned to this region that had so enchanted us. We spent 5 days exploring AVA’s within the Willamette Valley. Actually trying to visit each of the AVA’s and the proposed AVA’s. We gathered so much content, that we are still putting out pieces! We also were able to enjoy the last “Uncommon Wine Festival” at Vista Hills, where we spent a day tasting and talking with up and coming wine makers.

  • Winemakers setting up for the Uncommon wine Festival at Vista Hills
  • Deven & Calli with Joyful Noise
  • Vista Hills Uncommon Wine Festival Ryan Pickens
  • Libertine Wines, Alex Neely
  • Libertine Bottle Shots
  • Libertine Pouring Botrytis Reisling
  • a Cheerful Note, Ariel Eberle
  • A Cheerful Note with Ariel Eberle, the story behind the label
  • Ross & Bee Maloof
  • Maloof 2017 Where ya Pjs at?
  • Leah Jørgensen Wine - inspired by the Loire Valley
  • 2016 Oregon "Tour Rain" Vin Rouge
  • Fossil & Farm Jim & Jenny

You can see Mega Mix Video and read about the day at Vista Hills Vineyard and the Uncommom Wine Festival.

Willamette Valley AVAs

Willamette Valley Map courtesy of Willamette Valley Wine Association
Willamette Valley Map courtesy of Willamette Valley Wine Association Map data by everyvine.com, design by John Fisher, geologic cross section by Timothy A. Cross, special thanks to Patrick Reuter.”

We did a Primer on this that you can read here. We managed to visit most of the AVAs.

Current Willamette Valley AVAs

We managed to visit a winery or tasting room representing each of the current AVAs

  • Chehalem Mountains AVA from Beckham Vineyards
  • Trisaetum Vineyard in the Ribbon Ridge AVA
  • Vista Hills Sunset Dundee Hills-
  • View of Yamhill-Carlton from Fairsing vineyard
  • Johan Vineyards in the proposed Van Duzer Corridor AVA
  • McMinnville AVA
  • Brittan Vineyards in the McMinnville AVA
  • The Eola Amity Hills
  • Chehalem Mountains AVA – est 2006 where we visited Beckham Vineyards and met both Annedria and Andrew.
  • Dundee Hills AVA – est 2005 where we visited Vista Hills to taste their wine as well as enjoy the hospitality of the Uncommon Wine Festival
  • Eola-Amity Hills AVA – est 2006. We visited the Evening Land tasting room in Dundee and then drove to see the vineyard in the Eola-Amity Hills.
  • McMinnville AVA – est 2005. We visited Brittan Vineyards tasting room and then did a drive by of the McMinnville vineyard on the way to the coast.
  • Ribbon Ridge AVA – est 2005, where we revisited Trisaetum.
  • Van Duzer Corridor AVA – est 2019, actually established after we visited! We visited Johan here and fell in love.
  • Yamhill-Carlton AVA – est 2005. We spent a wonderful evening enjoy the sunset view at Fairsing Vineyard (along with smores!)

Proposed Willamette Valley AVAs

In addition there are 4 more proposed AVAs, which include:

  • Illahe Panorama
  • Lowell Ford, Illahe Vineyards
  • Montinore Vineyards sign
  • Rudy Marchesi of Montinore Estate
  • Panorama from Ponzi
  • Mt Pisgah/Polk County AVA. Located near Salem, we spent 1/2 a day with Lowell Ford owner of Illahe Vineyard.
  • Laurelwood AVA. We visited Ponzi Vineyards in this proposed AVA which is the Northern facing slopes of the Chehalem Mountains.
  • Tualatin Hills AVA. Located North of Yamhill-Carlton and West of Chehalem Mountians, we visited with Rudy Marchesi of Montinore Estate.
  • Lower Long Tom AVA. Okay…we didn’t make it here. It is far south between Corvalis and Eugene and there was just not enough time.

Do it!

Our trailer on Willamette Valley AVAs and proposed AVAs

Get yourself to Oregon. You won’t regret it. Be it the Willamette Valley or further south in the Umpqua, Applegate or Rogue Valleys. Or maybe you head to some of those border areas that share AVAs with Washington. (they are good about sharing in Oregon)

You can find great information on Oregon from the Oregon Wine Board, Willamette Valley Wineries and the Southern Oregon Winery Association to get you started!

And don’t forget to check back here! We have loads of posts on our last trip and there will be more as we head back again this July!

More on Oregon wine Country

Here are a few you might want to check out:

And there are more, check the bottom of each page for other related pieces.

As always be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to keep up to date on all of our posts.

Wines you can’t forget, part three

Vineyard view Lange Estate 2011

On to Part three of the wines I can’t forget.  We will venture into Paso Robles, Virginia and Oregon!

Lone Madrone The Will.

The enchanting grounds at Lone Madrone Paso Robles

Okay it’s no secret that I have a wine crush on Neil Collins and I had done research on their winery before going there so I was extra excited when his sister was pouring for us.  The grounds transport you before you ever enter the tasting room.  The story behind The Will probably got to me also.  The Will is a blend of Petite Sirah, Grenache Noir and Zinfandel source fromt he organic dry farmed Heaton Vineyards.  It is known to stain teeth!  The grapes are grown on Will’s Hill named after the Heaton’s son Will.  The wine is named in memory of Will.

The Porch at Veritas in Virginia

Veritas Cabernet Franc.

Here’s my Shout out to Virginia wineries!  I did a wine tasting day with my two best friends from College in Virginia this year and fell in love with Virginia Cabernet Franc.  My best friend found a new favorite wine in Cab Franc.  It is rich without being big and fruity, and it is easier drinking than Cabernet Sauvignon. This was the last stop of our day at Veritas and after our tasting we enjoyed a bottle out on the patio.  Of course the setting and the company made the wine taste better and makes me want to drink it to revisit that day, but also, Cabernet Franc is one of my favorite reds!

Wildhorse Unbridled Bien Nacido Pinot Noir.

The view from Wild Horse Winery

I happen to be a big fan of Kenneth Volk.  I love the way he pushes boundaries.  So going to Wildhorse was a little like a pilgrimage.  It was late in the day in the middle of the week and we were the only ones in the tasting room.  We had a fantastic tasting with a fabulously well informed (if not enthusiastic) pourer. I enjoyed everything, but when he poured the Unbridled Bien Nacido Pinot Noir I was enthralled.  This is barnyard in the best sense.  All hail to Bien Nacido for providing such incredible fruit!  We left with a bottle and I will track this wine down!  This is a wine that I will drink with my eyes closed.

 

Trisaetum Reisling.

Trisaetum Riesling with Tapas

Trisaetum was one of the last vineyards we visited in the Dundee Hills and it is WAY out on a backroad. We were there early and were the first tasters of the day.  This was a departure from our Oregon tastings because they specialize in Reisling.  The variety of Reisling that they create from several different vineyards is amazing.  Their Coast Range Reisling stands in my memory as my favorite.

When we visited the winery we did get great service from an eager and knowledgeable pourer and once others wandered in for tastings we were able to stroll the beautiful art gallery in the tasting room.  So ambience and people played a part in our initial love of the wine.

It’s fall and time for me to order some of this!  We were lucky this summer to find that Khoury’s had a few bottles of their Estate Reserve Reisling so we snatched those up.  And yes, compared to other Reislings that we had been drinking this was still far superior.

So…that’s the tip of my iceberg for wines that I can’t forget.  Of course as I have been writing more and more wines have come to mind and I know that there are many more out there that I have yet to taste.  And…did I answer the question as to why?  Probably not.  As usual wine is hard to pin down, the experience  and the taste are connected in ways that we cannot fully understand or describe but that we can most certainly enjoy.

Riesling and it’s power with pairings

tristaetum-tatsing300

Growing up, the first wine I tasted was Blue Nun.  My parents were not wine drinkers and when they had people over for dinner, Blue Nun was a good safe bet at the time.  Now we think of this as an unsophisticated sweet german wine and if you are a wine drinker it probably conjures the same connotations as “tickled pink”.  As a disclaimer…I’m referring to the Blue Nun I tasted in my youth, I have not had any recently, and it could have dramatically changed since then.

My wine tastes have changed.  As I started drinking wine the sweeter german rieslings were fun and easy to drink.  As my palate evolved I wanted something less cloying.  I mentioned the other day finding a great food riesling.  The Gunderloch J-Baptiste Riesling is slightly sweet but very clean and great with Thai food.  It’s just too bad I can only find it in restaurants locally!

Michael enjoys rieslings and we explore quite a bit with different styles all typically in a lower budget range.  I hate to spend more than $25 on a wine that I have not tasted and don’t know if I will like.  We’ve found some that are nice for food and for quaffing and some that just don’t measure up.

In traveling tasting wines at wineries we rarely end up tasting rieslings because we are usually in California.  A few years ago though we visited Oregon the Willamette Valley, the Dundee Hills and Trisaetum.  We were there early in the day, in fact probably the first visitors.  This winery is off the beaten path and we drove and drove and worried we were headed the wrong way, until finally cresting a hill and finding the vineyard and winery. As it was so early we were able to sidle up to the bar and have a great conversation with the pourer on the wines and the vineyards.  These were rieslings like we had not tasted before and the range of rieslings dependent upon the vineyard location was amazing.  They were all fantastic.  We had spent several days in the area and were flying home and did not purchase wine to take with us.  I can’t tell you how often we have thought of these wines since then.

A month or so ago I was at a wine tasting at Khoury’s on the other side of town and after the tasting was doing my usual stroll down all of the aisles looking for wines by wineries I am familiar with and I came across a Trisaetum 2008 Riesling.  I immediately picked it up and cradled it.  This I would be taking home.  In researching it I found that this wine had scored 94 points and received an Editors choice award from Wine Enthusiast.

When Michael and I sat down to open this we paired it with smoked gouda, a smoked goat cheese cheddar and one of our favorite quick appetizers the lemongrass chicken sticks from Trader Joe’s.  This wine was stunning with them as well as lovely on it’s own.  We both realized the moment we tasted that this is the difference between a small vineyard wine that might cost you $30 or more and a $7.99 to $15 bottle of riesling that has been produced in much greater quantities. This was worth it.  And…if memory serves, when we tasted at the winery, this was not even the best of the rieslings we tasted.

Now this is not to say that you cannot find great inexpensive rieslings.  You can!  But for our money we would rather find a compelling wine from a smaller vineyard where you can see the history and the love of making wine.

Regardless of the cost or where it comes from you will still find riesling to be one of the best wines to pair with foods, most especially summer foods.  It plays well with salty things, ham, charcuterie, sausage, bleu cheese as well as rich poultry like duck and goose.  Off dry Rieslings go wonderfully with Asian spice as well as with sweeter vegetables.  When you get into late harvest they are great with desserts.   Avoid pairing it with red meat and peppercorns, those things that you standardly think of with a big red, well…they need a big red and would overpower a riesling.

So pick up a riesling and don’t be afraid to spend a little more for it.