DRINK, EAT, STAY, PLAY in Portland & the Willamette

NR_WineCountry_OregonWineCountry_130493222_shutterstock_RobertCrum-652x521

 

A recent week spent in Oregon and out through Willamette wine country to the Pacific coast confirmed the following:

– Top photo courtesy of Travel Portland

1 – A week is not nearly long enough

2 – Oregon is where it’s at food, wine, beer, spirit, coffee wise

3 – Portlandia is not that far off from reality

4 – No sales tax is a huge beautiful boon for a visitor

5 – The 1.5L of wine personal exemption back into Canada is a tearing travesty

 

As noted in point 1 above, there is WAY too much good stuff going on in Portland and environs to consume (physically and literally) in one week. And every place I went, open and helpful Oregonians steered me deeper into the riches of local edibles and imbibables. There’s a shared community of winemakers, growers, farmers and producers that is almost pact-like in their willingness and openness to promote each other. Not to say it doesn’t exist here, but I’ve yet to see that all-for-one D’Artagnan camaraderie on my travels through BC. I can safely say the hit list for my next trip down is already packed.

Here’s my top touring tips and tastes:

 

PRE-PREP

Before launching with empty glass, I like to research a bit about the area I’m touring. Varietals, soils, climate, yeasts – as romantic, to me, as it gets. Cole Danehower’s new publication, Essential Wines and Wineries of the Pacific Northwest (Timber Press), set the stage. James Beard Journalism Award-winning Danehower is already a familiar name to many in the industry, as co-publisher of Northwest Palate and author of the magazine’s popular “Inside Northwest Wine” column, as well as editor of the Oregon Wine Report. His insightful tome is the first to profile all 29 appellations of the Northwest (Oregon, Washington, BC and Idaho) regardless of political boundaries. Overviews of history, geology, pioneers, grapes and major players were helpful, along with current stats and production notes. It set the tone for stylistic and type variation, what I should expect to find where, and why. Geeky enough for me, and broad enough for the novice, the book was great bedtime reading pre-trip. I wish there were more detailed maps inside for actual touring, though if you pick up one of the excellent free Willamette Valley Wineries Association maps found everywhere, you’ll be set.

 

DRINK

It’s no secret that Oregon does Pinot Noir very, very well. Pinot Noir is the grape that put Oregon wine on the world map, thanks to Eyrie Vineyard’s David Lett (aka Papa Pinot), and it is still now by far the most widely planted grape in the state. I tasted dozens of Oregon Pinot Noir during my week, mostly while driving the length of the Willamette Valley, Oregon’s largest and most important winegrowing region. Overall, I found Pinot Noir from the Dundee area to be more perfumed, delicate, fruited-floral and feminine, while Pinot Noir from Yamhill and Carlton areas to be stonier, more structured, minerally and masculine. Both styles very impressive, and I came away with a renewed appreciation for Oregon’s tender touch with the heartbreak grape. New to me, is Oregon’s focus on Chardonnay (freshness, restraint and elegance) and Riesling (intense, vibrant, and electric).

 

Matello Whistling Ridge Pinot Noir 2008

I tasted a lot of different wines in the Willamette, but Marcus Goodfellow’s Matello Wines stood out, and this single vineyard Pinot Noir was my very favourite. Determined to not “dumb down” his wines, he is a terroir-ist in my favourite sense. Goodfellow focuses on entirely Willamette fruit, treating each site individually, with the respect due. Not one to seek centre stage, Marcus makes small quantities of character driven wine. Less truly is more – less irrigation (read none), less inoculation (read none), less winemaker intervention, less filtering = more identity, more character, more texture, more flavour. “It sounds strange to say it, but inconsistency is the goal”, Marcus offers, and I get it. He’s not interested in wines that taste the same year in and year out, because it’s not natural. Climate changes, weather changes, the vines change = wines change.

This Pinot Noir is from the Whistling Ridge Vineyard, in the Ribbon Ridge AVA. Shallow sedimentary soils on the crest of the ridge breed this beautiful mineral-driven red. Savoury cherry, iron, earth, herbs, firm, with a yielding finesse and lingering finish. Quietly confident, structured and still graceful, this beguiling wine charmed with its honesty, complexity and balance. I searched the rest of my Oregon days for a bottle to bring home, but alas, only 50 cases were produced, and my only tastes remain a lasting memory. Watch for Matello Wines.

 

Other producers to keep a keen eye out for:

Westrey Wine Company 

Crowley Wines

Andrew Rich Wines 

Eyrie Vineyards 

Belle Pente Vineyard & Winery 

J.K. Carriere Wines 

Argyle Winery 

De Ponte Cellars 

White Rose Wines 

Stoller Vineyards 

Antica Terra 

Owen Roe 

Love & Squalor 

 

SLEEP

Portland has its share of choice hotels. I’m partial to the Provenance Group (Hotel Lucia, Hotel DeLuxe) for their seamless blend of service, comfort, location and style. While travelling through the Willamette I spent a night at Dundee Hills’ Red Ridge Farms. One of the first family pioneers of grape growing in the area, they now produce their own line of wines (under the Durant Vineyards label) while continuing to supply their high quality fruit to other vintners. Now into their second generation, and under the worldly and intelligent eye of son Paul Durant, Red Ridge is now equally known for their olives. The Oregon Olive Mill is one of the largest olive groves in Oregon, producing high quality oils from Arbequina and Arbosana varieties from Spain and Koroneiki olives from Greece. After gathering charcuterie, cheeses, baguette and wine from Red Hills Market down the road, we enjoyed a local feast and spent a soul-soothing night in the Red Ridge guest suite, overlooking the lavender fields, olive groves and vineyards.

 

EAT

Portland has SO many options. It’s almost obscene how much incredibly good food there is to find in this city – from the food carts (of which there are heaven-sent numbers) to global flavours (Peruvian, Italian, French, Mexican greats) to deeply gratifying espresso to unpretentious fine dining. Producers here care, and it shows big time. I haven’t eaten this well, this often, for this little, in this memory. I can’t pick my favourite in a city of superlatives, but here is a list of top contenders to date:

 

Salt & Straw Ice Cream Cart

Best wine bar (you had me at ‘wall of Enomatic machines’): Metrovino

Best cocktails – Clyde Common

Best French café – Le Pigeon

Best farm-to-cone ice cream (hello Brown Ale with Bacon Ice Cream and where have you been my whole life?) Salt & Straw 

Best thin crust deliciousness: Ken’s Artisan Pizza

Best sandwich: Kenny & Zukes Delicatessen & Sandwichworks

Best for kids: Grilled Cheese Grill

Best coffee in a sea of greatness: Stumptown Coffee

Best wine country dining: Farm to Fork (Dundee)

 

PLAY

Play takes on different meanings for different people. Case in point: mine = intoxicating tastings. Spouse’s = golf. Luckily Oregon has ample playtime opportunities for both vices.

If you’re into spirits, Portland is a hotbed of artisan distilleries. The heart of this movement lies in an inconspicuous neighborhood of small warehouses and light industrial buildings in Southeast Portland. Some distillers have banded together for marketing and promotion under the Distillery Row program. My fave drops were from House Spirits and Clear Creek.

And if all this imbibing necessitates exercise, there is literally no better place to go for a walk than Bandon Dunes. Down near the foot of the state (a spectacular half day’s drive down coastal highway 101) rests the small town of Bandon: coast nestled, Pacific whipped, remote, and the home of golf. This unassuming working town is home to four courses all ranked in the top 15 of the Top 100 Courses you can play: #1 Pacific Dunes, #5 Bandon Dunes, #10 Old Macdonald and #15 Bandon Trails. A great place to rest the liver, and (I hear) exercise both your legs and your patience on the links.

As mentioned above, I’m already planning my next Oregon trip. A swift 4.5 hours from the border via car (or leisurely 8 hour Amtrak Vancouver-Portland train trek), isn’t far for such an incredible sensory immersion. In fact, the hardest part about going there is having to come home.

 

Truthful rear label of J.K. Carriere’s Rose

 

Written By:

Treve Ring is a wine writer, editor, judge, consultant and certified sommelier, and has been with EAT Magazine for over a decade. In addition to her work with EAT, she is a Wine Critic and National Judge for WineAlign, ...

Comments are closed.