In July we visited the great wine country of Willamette Valley, Oregon. We’ve been longtime fans of the region and were quite excited for our bi-annual trip. Over 4 days we visited 24 wineries and enjoyed too many wines to mention. The goals of our wine country trips are to reconnect with old friends, seek out new wineries to establish relationships and finally tell them about our wine shop and invite them pay us a visit. The more time we spend speaking to winery owners and winemakers the more opportunities we gain to learn what is new in the region/ industry and hopefully gain the opportunity to carry some highly allocated wines.
The Willamette Valley is about a 30 minute drive west of Portland and is a nice scenic drive. It is Oregon’s leading wine region with two-thirds of the state’s wineries and vineyards and is home to more than 200 wineries. It has been recognized as one of the premier Pinot Noir producing areas in the world. Overall, the maritime climate generally has a long, gentle growing season – warm summers with cool evenings; bursts of Indian summer into fall; mild winters followed by long springs. The valley compares to the Burgundy and Alsace regions of France and perfect for growing Pinot Noir. There are six sub-appellations; Chehalem Mountains, Dundee Hills, Eola-Amity Hills, McMinnville, Ribbon Ridge & Yamhill Carlton.
A few of our favorite wineries were Bergström, Beaux Frères, Lemelson Vineyards, Archery Summit, Soter Vineyards, De Ponte Cellars, Argyle Winery and Colene Clemens Winery. We could go on and on about all the great wineries we visited, but instead of detailing every winery and all the wines tasted we thought it would be fun to feature some of our favorites. Many of the wineries are not distributed to our area and we had to coax some to let us have a few cases for the wine shop. All the wineries listed below are open to the public, so please make sure to stop by and say howdy from us if you ever visit.
Lemelson Vineyards owns seven estate vineyard sites that are located in the Yamhill-Carlton, Dundee Hills and Chehalem Mountain AVA’s and are all Certified Organic. Their goals are to produce the highest quality Pinot noirs and to create a winemaking environment that is both aesthetically beautiful and highly functional. And boy, have their hit it on the mark. This winery is not only beautiful, but their wines are overall quality driven which we figured out by taking a tour of their amazing facility. We were already quite familiar with the winery with the ’08 Thea’s Pinot Noir currently be poured by the glass and their Riesling soon to follow but it was nice to visit and see what other wines they have to offer.
A winery we had heard about, but never had the opportunity to taste was Bergström Wines. Their philosophy blends examples of old world style with new world techniques and attention to detail. Their wines are rich with a fresh purity of fruit and a focused and unique aromatic profile. Their wines were across the board fantastic and ageworthy. Their wines are soon to be shipped and we cannot wait for our customers to see what Bergström Wines is all about.
Colene Clemens Winery located in the Chehalem Mountains is a small family owned vineyard and winery we were lucky to discover. Their focus is on Estate grown Pinot Noir and they have only released 2 vintages, ’08 and ’09. They have a brand new tasting room with beautiful panoramic views. With just a few hundred cases produced of each vintage we were very excited to find this brand new gem. Stay tuned for the ’09 Reserve Pinot Noir which will be arriving at the wine shop soon.
We could go on for many more paragraphs about the great wineries we visited, but we figured the images alone would tell the story.
And if you know us, we are always on the hunt for great food. The region definitely does not lack in this area. With so many organic local farms and chefs Willamette Valley is blossoming into a mini food mecca. Pulling over for a simple sandwich between wine tasting appointments lends itself to an opportunity for a gourmet quick lunch like you’ve never had.
A couple great standouts are Recipe in Newberg and Thistle in McMinnville. Recipe is a neighborhood restaurant which showcases rustic yet refined seasonal dishes. Only open a few months for lunch and dinner, their mission is to provide a comfortable, casual atmosphere reminiscent of the home dining room. We enjoyed the gnocchi special of the day and a burger. Hands down, this ground chuck burger with aioli, Tillamook white cheddar on a brioche bun was one of best burgers we’ve had. The classic Victorian home provides a cozy atmosphere with 50 seats, so if you find yourself in Newberg make sure to stop in and enjoy.
Thistle in McMinnville recently received the “2011 Restaurant of the Year” from the Oregonion and has become a destination restaurant. This rustic yet modern 26 seat restaurant offers an opportunity for folks to either sit in the dining room or the kitchen counter. Some winery friends suggested we sit at the kitchen counter for the “Chef’s Whim” experience. Owner/ Chef Eric Bechard treats all 6 lucky diners who get a seat at the counter to a multi- coursed wine paired meal (wine optional). This “Chef’s Whim” experience highlights the best of what is seasonally available and the courses keep coming until you say stop (we didn’t say stop of course until they were closing for the night). Chef Eric’s fiancée Emily Howard manages the wine list and dining room and brings her own flair. The menu is minimal with a few appetizers and salads, four entrees, one dessert, but you will not leave this dining experience hungry for flavor.
So, if you have visited the Central Coast and Napa Valley wine countries and want to try something new make an effort to travel to Willamette Valley. We promise you will not be disappointed and we would be happy to assist with suggestions of places to visit and places to eat.