An Oregon Journey of Shock and Awe

Ben writes…

Fresh off the plane and headed towards the Willamette Valley, Jesse, Renee, and myself were on the hunt for Pinot Noir, not to mention a well-thought-out surprise for our fourth musketeer, Luke. We were on our way to Chehalem Wines where Luke was working as a harvest intern. Needless to say, he had no idea we were coming as we were on the road, bouncing up and down to 90’s rock in true Portlandia fashion, filled with anticipation. We showed up at the winery, bellies full of butterflies, walked into the winery and quickly encountered Mike Eyres. Mike is the winemaker at Chehalem, whom Jesse had contacted to let him know about the surprise. Mike was not only kind enough to keep our little secret, but he also gave Luke a day off during one of the busiest times of the harvest.Mike led us out to the crushpad and told us to wait by some pallets. The excitement was palpable as we heard the forklift backing up. As Luke describes in a previous post, utter shock was the first emotion that he registered, his mouth open, his body still, just trying to soak up what was happening and if in fact, we were really there. Once he came to, he engulfed Jesse with hugs and kisses then greeted us, overjoyed. The surprise went off without a hitch and was everything we could have hoped it to be.

Since Luke had to work all day, we three remaining hipsters were off to discover the wonders of Oregon wine country and the Pinots we’ve heard so much about. The last place we stopped on our first day was Anam Cara Cellars’ tasting room in Newburg, OR. There’s a sign for this place, but if you didn’t know where you were going, you’d miss it. The tasting room at Anam Cara doesn’t look like much from the outside given the warehouse like façade; however, inside, the modern style mixed with Oregon countryside décor made for a very warm atmosphere. The Anam Cara flight started with the dry Riesling and Gewurztraminer, which were nicely crisp and clean, fulfilling our expectations of the cool Oregon climate. Next, we were on to the Pinots. Ranging from $23 to $30, the three Pinots we tasted were some of the best we found for the money. All three were extremely drinkable right now, striking a nice balance between bright acid and sweet ripe fruit notes. The 2007 Nicholas Estate Pinot was probably the most robust of the three and had a unique nose of juniper berry, pine, orchid, and green tea. The flavors of kiwi cherry, loganberry, and even a little tomatillo made this wine one of our favorites of the trip.

Saturday, we started at Argyle to cleanse our pallets with some sparkling wines. As many of you might know, Argyle Brut is sold almost everywhere as a consistently performing, large production sparkling. What wowed us in the tasting room was the expressiveness and diversity of their other sparkling selections. All of the wines are vintages, meaning they do not blend harvests from multiple years to make one wine. This demonstrates the terroir that sparkling wine lovers so desire. The bubblies ranged from the very feminine 2007 Blanc de Blancs with its Granny Smith apple tartness and delicate minerality to the 2007 Knudsen Vineyard Brut with 80% Pinot Noir flexing its muscles with fat oaky and yeast notes that led to a wild berry and plum tart palate. They even had a Black Brut, 100% Pinot Noir, with a sexy, dark red color that showcased the wide array of Argyle’s capabilities. Though these sparklers are a bit pricey, they’re definitely worth the visit if you’re in the area.

That same day, Jesse recommended that we travel down the road to Sokol Blosser as she had just finished reading Susan Sokol-Blosser’s book, At Home in the Vineyard: Cultivating a Winery, an Industry, and a Life, about her experiences in establishing the winery of the same name. As beautiful wineries go, this vineyard was one that could top most lists. The picturesque trip through the vines up the driveway was only surpassed by the expansive overlook of autumn leaves turning vibrant colors once we parked. It certainly helped that the weather was a perfect 65 degrees with puffy clouds in the air and sun beaming through the trees surrounding the winery tasting room. The winery was quaint and inviting and the wines matched the atmosphere. The Pinots were warm and textured and, of course, Sokol Blosser’s white wine blend “Evolution” with 9 different varietals still proves to be a great buy for the price. We also found ourselves enchanted by this year’s Pinot rosé and took some home to enjoy.

The last stop on our Oregon expedition was a small winery by the name of Bella Vida Vineyards. This winery’s tasting room (which doubled as the winemaker’s house) sat at the top of a hill with a very winded, narrow road leading to it. Once at the top, the sheer beauty of the place, which overlooked rolling hills of vines, took ahold of us. We actually stopped our tasting midway through to gaze upon a soaring hawk that graced us with its presence. Though we weren’t smitten with the labels, the Pinots certainly put an exclamation point on our trip. With each Pinot poured, the reverence we had for this area’s juice kept becoming more and more clear. The last wine on the list, the 2009 O’Donnell, was so good that despite having almost no room left to take home wine on the plane, Renee had to purchase a bottle. With an incredible, earthy nose with raspberry and hints of baking chocolate, sweet cherry cola on the mid-palate and velvety smooth vanilla mouthfeel, it was a spectacular way to finalize what had been an amazing trip through the Willamette Valley.

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