10/19/2007 - Vacation, Wineries, Sheep, Mushrooms and More
I recently took a nice vacation. One of my original thoughts was to visit Argentina and perform thorough "research" on the subject of Malbec, but it suddenly occurred to me that there was so much of Oregon that I'd never seen. I've been to every inch of the coastline, and to Eugene, Salem and Portland, but never the "rest" of Oregon. So I ventured out and began by traveling to Bend, where a friend gave me an insider's tour of the area.
During my stay in Bend, I visited the Volcano Vineyards Tasting Lounge and had lots of fun here. Scott Ratcliff is the owner, and while he has been to my store for a wine tasting event, I was absent that day and hadn't met him, so I popped in here to say hello. I'd say his wine tasting room has the kind of atmosphere that I endeavor to create in my store: friendly, happy, approachable. I was touring solo at this point, but Scott introduced me to a group of customers who quickly volunteered to be my new best friends. I got busy putting a plastic firetruck together – which might sound strange, but this is a kid-friendly place and the adults are perhaps more amused with firetrucks than the kids are. Of course wine tasting was in order, and I especially enjoy the Merlot and Syrah. While in Bend, I also enjoyed visiting Greg's Grill, The Wine Shop, Wine Styles and especially Portello Wine Café.
After four days in Bend, I went through the John Day Fossil Beds, and then to the quaint small town of Joseph in the northeast corner of Oregon. This town is as beautiful as it is wine-deprived. The air is crisp and clear, the Wallowa Mountains are stunning, and the downtown area is charming. My friend Warren Johnson moved his bookstore there www.secondharvestbooks.com -- this is where I get books about wine. His store has regional books and wine books and some new displays that I arranged for him while he was busy with customers. While my helpers were rearranging my store, I was rearranging Warren's bookstore. Merchants never really vacation, do they? I stayed at Belle Pepper's Bed & Breakfast www.bellepeppersbnb.com and after enjoying the luxury of waking up to the smell of coffee, scones, and breakfast, I tried to get the innkeepers to adopt me. No such luck.
Next I spent a few days in wine country, staying at the Piluso family farm in Aumsville. Piluso Vineyard/Winery is open the second Saturday of each month, along with a number of other wineries in the area. Their Pinot Noir can be found on my "Carrie's Favorites" shelf in the store, and their Bianco Dolce (chardonnay dessert wine) is a best seller in the store too – and it was featured at Portland Indie Wine Festival. A number of other varietals are being grown here and I look forward to the future Marechal Foch port that is in the works.
Winemaker Sandee Piluso has always referred to their home as "the farm" and now I've finally seen it: a beautifully restored farmhouse, a barn, vineyards, a tasting room, tractors for Pinky to drive, vegetables, herbs, a dog, several cats, creatures that lay green eggs (oops, are they chickens or hens?), and SHEEP, baaaa, baaa, baaaaaaa. The sheep are named grape varietals, so when you hear Sandee referring to Pinot Gris, Viognier and Chardonnay, the topic could be grapes or sheep.
But the hot topic was grape picking: to pick or wait. Sandee decided to wait and let the fruit ripen a bit more, so she and Pinky took a few days of vacation with me and we visited a number of wineries together. It was fun being in wine country at this time. Many folks were picking grapes and the buzz of activity and excitement was most contagious. Here's where we went.
Methven Family Vineyards (Dayton, OR). Sandee mentioned meeting winery owner Alan Methven at a grape grower's meeting, so we decide to pop in and say hello. In my imagination, I pictured a small operation of the garage variety, but this inaccurate image vanished quickly as we got closer to the winery and spied the enormous building nearing completion. We met Alan Methven who tells us they broke ground on the structure in May, and I'm impressed to see how much has happened in such a short period of time. I also wonder how he does this and works full time as a dentist, but I never ponder dentistry too long when there are wine topics to consider. General Manager Brad Potter gives us the tasting tour, and I especially enjoyed the 2006 Pinot Gris, made from estate fruit and left on the lees longer than usual. The 2004 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir had a wonderful barnyard quality and lingering finish. This is a winery to watch!
Mystic Wines (Salem, OR): Stopped in for a quick visit and of the wines tried, I liked the 2006 Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand) which was soft, round, balanced. The 2005 Mystic Barbera is the first commercially produced Barbera made in Oregon. It's rich and strong and definitely a wine that will stand up to rich foods.
Bethel Heights: I've been carrying Bethel Heights wines from the very beginning, so it was fun to finally see the winery itself. The tasting room is large and pretty and as always the Pinot Gris is a standout for me. The 2006 is crisp and clean. My chauffeur Pinky Piluso and I disagree on the big debate of oak versus steel for chardonnay. I love the stainless steel fermented chardonnay (Bethel Heights makes "Quercles" – unoaked, uncorked), but Pinky says "I want my chardonnay with a tree growing out of the middle."
Cana's Feast, formerly known as Cuneo Cellars, Carlton, OR. This is an easy place to enjoy –a winery with great wines AND a bocce ball court. I've been selling these wines in my store for several years. Sandee and Pinky fell in love with the Rosato and Bricco and Two Rivers Bordeaux. Pinky was seen happily lugging a case of wine to the car.
Witness Tree Vineyards (Salem, OR): We arrived just in time to observe a lunchtime presentation of the official "2007 crush" caps. The crush was going well and it was a bustling and happy place to be. We tasted a lineup of wines that I can summarize here in three words: yum, yum, yum. Looking at my tasting notes now, they are filled with happy faces and exclamation points. If I had time I'd elaborate on each of them, but I might be accused of gushing.
Anne Amie (Carlton, OR): A real highlight of the day, this winery had it all: beautiful setting, delicious wines, and a lovely and comfortable tasting room staffed by knowledgeable, friendly folks who "speak wine" and know how to take care of visitors. If I ever decide to steal some good tasting room staff, Gabi and Sandek will be at the top of the list. I met winemaker Thomas Housman (formerly of Ponzi), who was working with the crush staff and keeping a watchful eye over the portion of unpicked grapes that were now looking so interesting to flocks of birds. I was especially fond of the 2006 Pinot Gris – crisp, fresh, mineral, and a yummy long finish. The 2006 Viognier is elegant, rich, luxurious and pricey. 2004 Winemaker's Selection Pinot Noir is good now but I'd cellar it as later it will be even "more better."
Archery Summit (Dayton, OR): This is a winery that was once referred to as "the Rolls-Royce of Oregon Pinot Noir" by a writer for Wine Spectator. I've carried some of their very pricey wines in my store before they were so heavily allocated. The cave tours were booked up, so I didn't have the full experience that I'd heard so much about. We squeezed our way into the tiny tasting room as I wondered why a winery with lots of land, a big building and a big reputation would choose to showcase their fine wines in a sardine can. The standout wine here was the 2005 Looney Vineyard Pinot Noir. Recognizing that Looney name, we extracted ourselves from the sardine can and moved on to visit Aramenta.
Aramenta Cellars (Newburg, OR). Ed and Darlene Looney are owners of Aramenta Cellars, and they lease a vineyard to Archery Summit. You can pay $75 for an Archery Summit 2005 Looney Vineyard Pinot Noir, or come to my store for an Aramenta 2005 Reserve Pinot Noir at $40. I've got the last of it as Aramenta is sold out of this great wine. It is a delightful little hobby that I have, getting some good wine and setting aside a case for later. The 2004 Pinot Noir at $24 is a great buy as well. I have carried Aramenta wines for several years after a favorite customer introduced me to the winery owners. To visit this winery is like visiting family – the precious category of family that you really enjoy and treats you right. I didn't need to take notes here, but if I did, there'd be a string of happy faces. The Chardonnay is fermented in neutral oak (sorry Pinky, no tree here), the Pinot Noirs are all good, and the Claret is a big winner. We also enjoyed a Sauv Blanc and Syrah from GC Grochau Cellars.
Carlton Winemakers Studio (Carlton, OR). This is a place that showcases various independent wineries and I'd like to visit again when the full place is open to the public. Of special interest was wine by Hammacher.
This completes the batch of winery tours. What's up this weekend? It's mushroom festival in Yachats, and Saturday 10/20/07 wine tasting will feature wines good to pair with mushroom cuisine. Aaron Coe of Casa Bruno Wines will be my special guest. A new store is opening next to The Wine Place called "Cheese and Crackers." It will feature northwest cheeses, homebaked crackers, light lunch, baked goods, and coffee.