Oregon Wine Country: Book Now, I’ll Wait

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Penner Ash arrival
Looking at my photos now, I’m realizing I took a lot of landscape shots because I couldn’t get over the visual appeal of Willamette Valley. I have been to Napa Valley several times, which is also strikingly beautiful, but Oregon ups the ante with ominous clouds, skyscraping trees, and sweeping farmland that betrays its fierce rural character, despite being just 30 miles south of Portland. Tastings are often at the discretion of the winemakers—Patricia Green‘s website: “We do not have a tasting room nor regular tasting hours, but we try to be accommodating, especially for enthusiastic individuals.” I imagine Willamette Valley is what Napa was 20 years ago (winemakers joke that their “old vine” grapes are from the early 1980’s), and here’s hoping it stays that way, even if it’s a secret worth passing around.

Stoller sign

The first stop was Stoller Vineyards. This was probably my least favorite tasting, but mostly because it had several white wines and I was on a mission of Pinot Noir.

Stoller chairs under the trees

Nonetheless, it seemed like a popular spot (we saw the first of two bachelorette parties here, whose attendees all bought the Riesling) and the chairs out back made for a great photo.

Next was Domaine Serene for some nice reds. The design was Spanish villa, with a nice patio area and a few kids running on the grass.

Domaine Drouhin sign

Third was Domaine Drouhin (and our first purchase of 2006 and 2007 Pinot Noir). Here, we noticed what became a recurring event: people picnicking on winery property. I imagined it to be locals who had seen it all and simply wanted a good bottle and lunch with a view.

Sokol Blosser sign

Fourth was Sokol Blosser, which I only knew for its Evolution white wine, a floral blend of nine grapes. But they also had several reds on the menu, many of which were excellent (purchase number two, ahem). Here we also learned a good lesson: tastings usually end at 4pm, but they won’t start one after 3:40 or so. Friends of an employee had to be turned away despite not-so-gentle pleading because they could lose their license if found out.

With saturated palates (did I just taste the ’06 or ’07?), we checked into the new locally-owned Allison Inn & Spa. This was a perfect way to end the day: wrapped up in plush robes, sprawled out in a spacious room, a fireplace or a soaking tub to choose from. We had planned to have dinner at Farm to Fork but when we found out we could order room service from the booked-out hotel restaurant, Jory, we decided to stay in our robes. (Jory is the name of the local soil and the restaurant pulled much of its produce from the on-site garden.)

Jory gnocchi

Yukon Gold potato gnocchi with baby artichokes, foraged mushrooms, purple haze carrots, ricotta salata. We had started with an heirloom beet salad, which, even by “precious standards,” was ridiculously small. The gnocchi were very good, if a bit large for my taste, and the vegetables were excellent.

Jory salmon

And then: pure bliss. Line caught Pacific salmon, three grain jardinière salad, Dungeness crab emulsion. I had been mourning the loss of my obscene annual salmon intake as wild numbers are so depleted (“farmed Atlantic” not an option) and frankly nothing tastes as mind-numbingly delicious and tender as locally caught, straight-off-the-boat salmon. Amazing dish all around.

View from Allison Inn & Spa

View from our hotel room, which also affronted a small vineyard managed by Adelsheim wines.

Day two: We set off for a tasting appointment at Soter Vineyards, which, if we didn’t have GPS announcing that we had “arrived at our destination,” we wouldn’t have believed it—no sign, no visible house. We warily wound the long gravel drive uphill and felt better when we saw an “organic and sustainable” sign halfway there.

Soter vineyard

We were greeted by James the winemaker, his dog Mack (“as in ‘Mack Truck'”), and a refreshing 2005 Brut Rosé. We waited for four others in a beautifully refurbished barn and James told us how Tony Soter, the winegrower and owner, made wine in Napa for years before moving back to his native Oregon. Discussing how many solar panels we noticed in the valley, James said their goal is to get off the grid entirely.

Soter tasting room view

Is there a better way to start the day?

After Soter, we had a quick tasting at nearby Lemelson Vineyards where the friendly pourer suggested we grab lunch at Cana’s Feast in nearby Carlton (though she recommended the food over the wine). When we got there, Cana’s was hosting some kind of huge Italian festival so we opted for her other suggestion, The Horse Radish, on the three-block main drag.

Horseradish sign

Horseradish sandwiches

Muffuletta (left) and BLT (right), with sinfully delicious Carlton Farms peppered bacon. That, and French press coffee, hit the spot.

At Penner-Ash

After lunch, it was Penner-Ash Wine Cellars for Pinot Noir and Syrah (Columbia Valley, east of Portland, is known for bolder wines like Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, as well as many whites).

Penner-Ash view

The view from Penner-Ash (winery pictured at top of post).

Bergstrom Wines view

Finally, I know you can’t wait for another landscape photo, so we visited Bergström Wines, a last-minute addition after I tried their Pinot Noir reserve at a restaurant in San Diego the week before. Lucky timing, because their 2008 De Lancellotti had just received 94 points from Wine Spectator and was going fast. I was surprised to learn that it would be best between 2012 and 2018, and in fact much of the Pinot Noir we tried had considerable maturity periods.

Properly schooled in Oregon Pinot Noir, we headed back to the hotel to prepare for the Plate & Pitchfork farm dinner. Click here to read about the dinner.

Penner-Ash garden

Penner-Ash garden

From the “good to know” files: “Willamette” pronounced Will-AH-mette, not Willa-METTE

Click here to read about our weekend in Portland, Oregon.

Restaurants (and one tasting room) recommended for next time:

Farm to Fork
Joel Palmer House
Red Hills Provincial Dining
The town of McMinnville and Thistle
Cana’s Feast (“go for lunch, not the wine”)
Carlton Winemakers Studio

Sep. 07 2010 |
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