There’s wine (and deals!) in the hills! So, my wife has always wanted to go to Portland and the Willamette wine region. We looked on a map and figured out they were merely 30 minutes apart – closer than San Francisco to Sonoma even – so we decide to combine them into one long four-day weekend.
We booked on Alaska, which turned out to be a genius move with a deal in which Oregon Tourism Board offered free tastings at virtually every winery and tasting room in Oregon, as well as letting travlers check a free case of wine home. Two of us were going, two cases! Score!
We landed in Portland, grabbed the rental car and immediately headed out to Chelhalem Ridge B&B in the Willamette in search of Pinot (Noir, that is). We would do Portland on the way back. We hooked up with a new outfit called Cork & Barrel Wine Tours. They offered a guided winery tour for $250 for two people, but were running a 2-for-1 deal. We anticipated some crappy tour with thirty people, two sips at bad wineries…etc. Nope. They took eight people at the most, especially on a Thursday that we went, it turned out to be a PRIVATE tour for two with the charming owner/operator Kim Wick!
Kim picked us up at our B&B at 10:30am. Note: She got a variety of drinks and local snacks in the van for travelers’ comfort. She agreed to set up tastings at places we were already recommended to and then even added a few of her own. We started at Penner Ash, a beautiful winery with excellent Pinots (and Rosés as well). It turned out Kim knew the person pouring. Next, we went to the famed Archery Summit, where again Kim knew the tasting room manager (sense a theme here?). This was where they pour for us outside on a covered table where Kim laid out a full picnic lunch of nice local cheeses, charcuterie, almonds, crackers and chocolates. We then made our way to Domaine Drouhin, the American outpost of famed Burgundian producer Maison Joseph Drouhin. Their Pinot was simply amazing (2009 Laurene at $65 is practically a steal!) and again, a fantastic Rosé.
White Rosé Estate
They recommended a local wine maker favorite, lesser known White Rosé Estate, so we went there. Beautiful tasting room resembling a cave atmosphere with a charming French pourer. Winemaker Jesus Guillen is the only Mexican head winemaker in the state. This would ultimately be remembered as the best Pinot of the weekend. The White Rosé recommended we visited De Ponte Cellars, so we took a flyer and checked it out. Another winner. We ended up at Argyle tasting room in Dundee for one final taste. It was at this point that my wife decided she had enough and stayed in the van for this last one…I would say these Pinots could stand up to anything Napa and Sonoma has to offer. We had fifteen of our twenty-four case slots filled, so we called it a day. Only nine slots available for the next day!
De Ponte Cellars
Although we paid for the wine, everything else described above was included in the tour: comfortable van, driver and tour guide, snacks, lunch and wine tasting fees. We had such a great time that we booked Kim for the next day to go with another couple.
We headed back to the B&B for a quick three-hour nap… and made our way twenty miles to Dayton for our 8:30pm reservation at The Joel Palmer House. This was a must if you even like mushrooms, let alone if you love them like I do! You were bound to have a mushroom here you had never heard of its reputation. A rich three mushroom tart, wild mushroom soup, beef stroganoff (think perfectly cooked medium rare, tender filet mignon pieces in a delicious, thick, creamy wild mushroom sauce), Wild Mushroom Risotto, and unbelievable desserts later, we were pleasantly stuffed. I also ordered a bottle of ’08 EIEIO (yes, pronounced how you’d think…) Pinot to perfectly complement the meal. $49 for a three-course meal, wine extra, but reasonably priced, not bad. This restaurant would stand up to any in Napa, San Francisco, New York, at three or four times the cost. Believe me, but this is Oregon. They also have Folin Tempranillo (see my article on the Rogue Valley) on the menu for $44. Amazing!
We slept it off and started all over with Kim and Cork & Barrel picking us up at 10:30am again. We started at Anderson Family Vineyards. Kim knew the owner and sets us up with a private tour and tasting. It was amazing wine, a great story of wine maker Cliff Anderson who made his way up from the son of a San Diego farmer to producing world class Pinots that have been on 1 Eleven Madison menu amongst other Michelin starred eateries. Robert Parker requested a tasting to rate his wines, Cliff refused. This is Oregon. On the way out we saw the amazing flowerpots that Cliff’s wife designed all from over Oregon, really quite breathtaking.
Soter Wintery picnic
We then went to Soter to see the truly special hillside vineyard that Tony Soter of Napa Etude pedigree started, where we were literally greeted with glasses of Rosé upon opening our car door in the parking lot. Beautiful views abound from the floor to ceiling windowed walls of the tasting room. The wine didn’t disappoint either, in fact, we cracked a bottle of the Rosé with lunch at our picnic out in their garden. Then a quick stop at Owen Roe, an outpost for the Yakima, WA-based winery that makes bigger wines like Cabs and Syrahs. Then off to the crème de la crème of the day, Ponzi, who had just opened their brand new tasting room at their Sherwood vineyard. They poured for us outside by their fire pit table, and pointed out where the grapes came from with each tasting, which were as far off as the eye could see in every direction. Very impressive winery! Nine slots filled for the day, two cases full!
We headed back to the B&B for a three-hour nap (sensing a trend…) and made our way to The Painted Lady for dinner for a very inventive, locally influenced tasting menu. We had a Miso Custard with Dungeness Crab, Enoki Mushrooms, Nori, Edamame and Dashi, followed by Chevre Agnolotti, with Truffle Pea Coulis, Tendrils, and Parmesan Reggiano, with quite a few Amuse Bouche and numerous other courses as well. Presentation and taste were impeccable.
We woke up early to another delicious B&B breakfast and headed to Portland. Stay tuned for Part 2 – Portland, keeping it weird!