Wines of Worth: Oregon

 

WINES OF WORTH: OREGON

The first ever Oregon-only consumer wine tasting happened in Vancouver last month and I wasn’t there. It’s not that I’m uninterested in Oregon wine. In fact, it’s the polar opposite. While lucky Vancouverites were tasting over 100 wines from 30 Oregon wineries, I was in the Willamette Valley, walking through vineyards, talking about soil and tasting with winemakers. I certainly couldn’t complain – the annual tasting trip I had been planning for weeks had finally arrived – but I’m going to diarize in pen the next instalment of Oregon Takes Vancouver. This well-orchestrated event was put on by House Wine and the Oregon Wine Board. Numerous winery principals were in attendance, pouring both in- and out- of market wines. Some of the wineries not yet available on this market were here seeking representation (agencies – take note – please!)

In addition to the massive undertaking of organizing the multi-part event, principals and wines (BC’s collective thanks to Anne Callaghan, Consul General of the United States of America for her patronage), I was impressed that Oregon Takes Vancouver made a point of showcasing grapes beyond Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. Yes, absolutely, Oregon makes outstanding Pinots – the Pinot Noir I’ve tasted in the Willamette can be bested only by Burgundy, in my opinion, and are among my favourite Pinots in the world. But Oregon is much more than Pinot. Vancouver was fortunate to try Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Viognier and Riesling. When I travelled there, I was also enthralled by Tempranillo, Syrah, Counoise, Barbera, Cabernet Franc, Muller Thurgau and Muscat.

Sounds unfocussed? Sounds akin to BC’s wine history to me: new regions, diverse geography, unproven soils, let’s plant stuff and see what happens. Winemaking in Oregon really took root in the 1960s, with UC Davis students heading north to practice this “cool climate viticulture” they’d studied. Between 1965 and 1968, David Lett, Charles Coury, and Dick Erath brought their families to the North Willamette Valley, established vineyards, and were the first to plant Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Riesling – the four top varieties for Oregon. These first vineyards are still producing fruit – highly sought after fruit. Many more pioneering families followed suit – Adelsheim, Ponzi and Sokol Blosser are just a few familiar names. However it wasn’t until Eyrie Vineyards’ David Lett, a.k.a. Papa Pinot, entered his Oregon Pinot Noir in the 1979 Gault-Millau French Wine Olympiades and won top honors against Burgundy’s best, that the world began to recognize little outback Oregon as a serious winemaking region.

Since those early days, not that long ago, Oregon has grown into 15 approved winegrowing regions and more than 300 wineries producing wine from 72 grape varieties. The Willamette Valley is the heart of Oregon wine, and is a huge and varied appellation that includes six sub-appellations; Chehalem Mountains, Dundee Hills, Eola-Amity Hills, McMinnville, Ribbon Ridge & Yamhill Carlton. Travel is easy – the Willamette is a quick 30 minute drive from Portland – and most wineries are warmly welcoming. Do note that many wineries have a nominal tasting fee and are some are open only by appointment – something that Okanagan wine tourists may not be accustomed to. The North Willamette Vintners have recently put out a map and website to show just how quick and easy it is to visit from Portland (plus where to stay and eat) while the Willamette Valley Wineries Association covers the entire Valley, with a superb, detailed travel map and website. Towns are small and close together, the highways are lined with vines, hazelnut trees and farms, and the foodstuffs as genuine and authentic as it comes (the Willamette feeds the fervent locavore Portland food scene – see Portlandia for backgrounder). These are handcrafted wines, generally farmed sustainably and produced collaboratively, and the price reflects the quality – notwithstanding the cross-border markups. If you can, I highly recommend staying in the Willamette or Portland for a few days so you can immerse yourself in the culture – I’ve listed some recommendations for your Oregon wine travel below.

And if you can’t make it down, or wait until the next time Oregon Takes Vancouver, here are a few of my favourite Oregon wines currently available in BC.

 

Head to the Store – Currently In our Market

Archery Summit, Dayton
www.archerysummit.com
High end, higher altitude Pinot Noir
DRINK: Premier Cuvee Pinot Noir 2009 ($65-70)

Cristom, Salem
www.cristomwines.com
Continuously high reputation for Pinot Noir
DRINK: Sommers Reserve Pinot Noir 2008 ($49-54)

Crowley, Newberg
www.crowleywines.com
Handcrafted, vintage-specific. A favourite producer.
DRINK: anything they produce (available at Marquis)

Dobbes Family Estate, Dundee
www.joedobbeswines
Their Wine by Joe line is “really good wine without attitude”. Great value.
DRINK: Wine by Joe Pinot Noir 2010 ($30-33)

Domaine Drouhin Oregon, Dayton
www.domainedrouhin.com
The Oregon offshoot of the legendary Burgundy family, forth generation winemaker Veronique Drouhin-Boss oversees the vineyards in both France and Oregon.
DRINK: Arthur Chardonnay 2010 ($32-37)

Domaine Serene, Dayton
www.domaineserene.com
Legendary and much-heralded Pinot Noir producer.
DRINK: Yamhill Cuvee Pinot Noir 2007 ($50-55)

Elk Cove, Gaston
www.elkcove.com
One of the oldest established vineyards in the Willamette, established by the Campbells in 1974. Old vines, steep slopes. I was happy to see this winery has recently secured representation in BC.
DRINK: Clay Court Pinot Noir 2010 ($55-60 coming soon)

Evening Land Vineyards, Salem
www.eveninglandvineyards.com
Exceptional producer farming in the Eola-Amity Hills, as well as sites in California.
DRINK: Single Vineyard bottlings (silver & gold labels), whenever you can find them

Ken Wright Cellars, Carlton
www.kenwrightcellars.com
Another legend, very non-intervenionist winemaking
DRINK: Tyrus Even Del Rio Viognier ($38-44 coming soon)

King Estate Winery, Eugene
www.kingestate.com
One of the largest and most community-partnering producers in Oregon, all produced sustainably. Been a staple Oregon wine on this market for years.
DRINK: Signature Pinot Gris ($25-28)

 

Matello Wines, McMinnville
www.matellowines.com


My favourite Oregon producer, and one of my favourite winemakers period. I was very excited to see that Matello may soon be available in BC. Small lots, exceptional wines from small family-owned vineyards and non-irrigated vines. Terroir.


DRINK: Anything and everything. And if you can’t find them, head south.

 

Patricia Green Cellars, Newberg
www.patriciagreencellars.com
Produces high-quality, boutique, site-specific Pinot Noir from numerous sub-appellations.
DRINK: Bishop Creek Pinot Noir ($48-54)

Sokol Blosser, Dayton
www.sokolblosser.com
Pioneering family, planted in 1971, and always striving to put quality Oregon wines on the map.
DRINK: Evolution White ($21-25)

White Rose Estate, Dayton
www.whiteroseestate.com
Very small, under-the-radar producer producing high quality handcrafted wines.
DRINK: Dundee Hills Pinot Noir ($60-65)

 

Head for the Border – Wines worth heading to Oregon for

Brooks Wines, Amity
www.bookswines.com
Incredible family operation, united and driven by passion for wine and life.
DRINK: Any of their four, distinct Rieslings and single site Pinot Noir

The Eyrie Vineyards, McMinnville
www.eyrievineyards.com
Established 1966, home to David “Papa Pinot” Lett, and the place that literally put Oregon wine on the world stage. Operations now ably overseen and led by next generation Jason Lett.
DRINK: Pinot Noir Reserve and Chardonnay Reserve

Montinore Estate, Forest Grove
www.montinore.com
Exceptionally vibrant organic and biodynamic estate at the top of the Willamette.
DRINK: Pinot Gris, Parsons’ Ridge Pinot Noir

Stoller Family Estate Vineyards, Dayton
www.stollervineyards.com
Pioneering, sustainable vineyard, and home to North America’s first LEED Gold Certified Winery. Seeking representation (Reps! Pay attention!)
DRINK: Estate Pinot Noirs

 

In the Willamette, I highly recommend booking into one of two secluded and peaceful guest suites at Red Ridge Farms. The site has vineyards, olive groves and an eclectic nursery, in addition to their just-opened wine tasting room and shop (where I stock up on olive oil annually). A stunning wine country retreat, they are perfectly located in Dayton, the heart of the Valley. www.redridgefarms.com

If you’re staying in Portland, check out the RiverPlace Hotel, newly rebranded by Kimpton Hotels, and decked out in Kimpton’s comfortably classic chicness. Located on the scenic River Front district, and beside Tom McCall Waterfront Park (ask for a room with one of the fantastic River views). Easy access to downtown (via foot, the hotel’s loaner bikes or the nearby Streetcar stop) and just a bridge hop to major highways and wine country. www.riverplacehotel.com

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, ...

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