Let’s play the Willamette Valley version of six degrees of separation. Youngberg Hill, the destination winery “on the hill” in McMinnville, was planted in vines by Ken Wright in 1989—mere months before I met the man who was to be my husband.
Seven years later, the first wines carrying the Youngberg Hill Vineyards label were produced. It was during the maturation of the vines that my husband and I married and spent our honeymoon in the first floor Gamay Room with its ambience-emanating gas fireplace, intoxicating views and private deck.
Back then (August 27, 1992) there was talk about how it would one day be a great vineyard producing award-winning wines but the first harvest had not yet taken place. The promise was in the “good vein going through it”, according to the late Jimi Brooks.
When I had the opportunity to revisit Youngberg Hill this past spring with my husband, it was exciting to see how much the property had changed. Over two decades garnered an upgrade—to the Jura Suite with expansive vineyard views that its second story perch affords. From the luxurious bed one can gaze out the windows at the stars and feel all the possibilities that such a clear, bright night sky evokes. Its exquisite setting cannot be overly punctuated.
Wayne Bailey, owner and winemaker at Youngberg Hill, was delighted to hear of our original visit and humbled to host our return. But, that’s Bailey—a completely unassuming, farmer at heart who happens to preside over one of the most magnificent pieces of land in all the Valley.
As the son of an Iowa farmer, his intention was always to work in harmony with his land.From the time he purchased what is now 20 acres under vine, he has farmed organically and took it to the next level in 2011 by going biodynamic. An admirer of Brooks’ holistic philosophy, he is down-to-earth (pardon the pun) about his approach, not given to the mysticism some believe biodynamic is shrouded in. It’s all about taking the land from every corner of it and using its many facets to better it rather than going outside its borders to bring in influences that might alter the site-specific terroir.
Within those parameters, Bailey doesn’t mess with trying to find the next great grape to grow in the Valley. Instead, he concentrates on consistently-proven McMinnville AVA strengths; pinot noir, pinot gris and, most recently, chardonnay. In the lineup, pinot blanc sometimes makes an appear from sourced fruit.
As a tangible reminder of Bailey’s determination to leave his land better for the next generation, the Jordan and Natasha Blocks of pinot noir and Aspen Block of pinot gris are named after his three daughters. The cooler temperatures at Youngberg Hill allow for longer hang time overall which increases fruit complexity and allows for a good level of acid to work with.
For overnight guests, Youngberg is special but its hospitality is not reserved for the Inn. The tasting room is a warm and welcoming spot to learn about the spectrum of flavor profiles crafted from the estate vineyards and the wrap-around second story deck is open to all visitors.
Whether you’re looking for a romantic getaway or just want to taste through their current releases, Youngberg Hill just keeps getting better with age.