Willamette Valley taster: A Day of Wine and an Overnight in Style

Viki Eierdam, Janine Julian of The Vine Travelers, Lynda Lathrop of Heathen Estate, Michelle Reinier Holmen of Confluence Vineyards, Michelle Brinning of Cellar 55 Tasting Room

Viki Eierdam, Janine Julian of The Vine Travelers, Lynda Lathrop of Heathen Estate, Michelle Reinier Holmen of Confluence Vineyards, Michelle Brinning of Cellar 55 Tasting Room

Home to over 500 wineries, ‘Let’s go tasting in the Willamette Valley’ can be a broad statement. When you have friends like Janine Julian of THE VINE TRAVELERS, not so much. And, when you’re able to spend the day with a few other cool chicks who also crave a layered pinot, it’s a full blown adventure.

DURANT VINEYARD, located in the Dundee Hills AVA, treated us right with a table fireside. You know it’s a good start when you’re sipping a racy Pinot Gris at 10 a.m! Our charming tasting room guide, Vincent, shared just enough to pique our interest and would then disappear to leave us to swap tasting notes amongst ourselves only to return when our glasses were empty and reinfuse us with another beautiful offering. Standouts included: 2015 Pinot Gris – This crisp, dry number showed aromas of stone fruit and anise that gave way to green apple and pear. 2014 Lark Chardonnay – A combination of stainless steel and oak fermentation produced a rounded mouthfeel with a decidedly Burgundian palate and romancing nose. 2015 Ava Lucia Pinot Noir Rosé – Unlike some wineries where rosé can be an afterthought, Durant has a block of P.N. dedicated to this flirty and sassywine bursting with strawberry and a hint of pepper on the finish. 2013 Bishop Pinot Noir – Hailing from 1973 plantings, luscious only begins to describe the earthy profile with notes of blueberry and bramble.  Tasting tip: Leave a little extra time to explore the on-site gift shop just down the drive from the tasting room. Filled with salts, plants, lavender, oil and more, much of what you see is cultivated here at Red Ridge—home to the only olive mill in Oregon.

Lovingly nicknamed the Hobbit House, WHITE ROSE ESTATE is always a pleasure and tasting room assistant, Margo, has a lot to do with that. Her enthusiasm for the neoclassical styling of pinot noir that White Rose is known for is contagious. She throws in quotable, witty prose like “Mother Nature was a particularly agreeable business partner that year” with the same charm as Emilia Clarke’s character in Me Before You. My two favorites—the masterfully-crafted 2014 Anderson Family Vineyard and their 2014 White Rose Estate Pinot Noir—range from $95-$125/bottle. Rest assured, the intoxicating liquid is worth every penny. Winemaker, Jesus Guillén, has his own style which is beautifully expressed in the 2014 Winemaker’s Cuvée but has a firm reverence for owner Greg Sanders philosophy. As a result, Guillén won Sanders explicit trust and was deemed Head Winemaker in 2008. Tasting tip: This has nothing to do with wine (or maybe it does). Make a pit stop to their detached bathroom. Trust me on this.

A lot of wineries in the Valley claim to be boutique. We’ll go ahead and acquiesce to that and call BELLS UP WINERY a nano production. At fewer than 400 cases a year, every visit to Bells Up is a personal experience. All tastings are by appointment only but don’t let that put you off. They’ve had people call from the road. Hey, if they’re there and they’re dressed, why not pour some wine and make a connection with other folks who love honesty in a bottle? The story of how this warm and inviting couple transplanted from Ohio where winemaker, David, was a corporate attorney, is one we can all relate to but few of us have the nerve to ever do. Their newly-constructed tasting deck takes advantage of the dramatic views in the Chehalem Mountains AVA.  Tasting tip: Bells Up will be no appointment necessary for a pre-Memorial Weekend Open House on May 20-21 and again Memorial Weekend May 27-May 29.

Many wine regions claim to be unpretentious. I can’t think of a warmer way to imbibe than being greeted at the front door of the winemaker’s house where you can gather around his kitchen island to break bread, have a slice of cheese and hear about the influence of his mother. At AYOUB, that is the intimate look every guest receives. Also a by-appointment-only stop (hey, you want a little warning before someone comes knocking on your door, right?), don’t let this keep you from dialing a few digits. Owner and winemaker, Mo Ayoub combines his gracious and relaxed style with a dry sense of humor. He doesn’t have to sell you on his wines. The fact that his 2014 Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir recently received 95 points from Wine Enthusiast and it sold for $60/bottle is all there is to say about that (except that,  yes, there is no more and, yes, I have a bottle and, no, I don’t feel guilty about it). Tasting tip: Get a jump start on the critics and invest your dollars on his 2015 Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir because those vines—seen from his kitchen window—are oriented on an impressive slope and earning quite a track record.

Not ready to drive home? May I suggest an overnight at A TUSCAN ESTATE BED & BREAKFAST complemented by a farm-driven dinner at THISTLE. Located six blocks apart along on N.E. Evans Street in downtown McMinnville, it’s sauntering distance.

 My Thistle dining experience was a pre-Oregon Chardonnay Celebration winemaker’s dinner so we were served that night’s menu family style. Netarts Bay oysters, field greens, beets and fennel with citrus and chevre, pork rillettes, gnocchi with pea shoots, rockfish with sunchokes and filberts, classic steak tartare and the list of farm-sourced ingredients went on. Everything expertly chosen to showcase the bounty of now and the incredible capacity that the rich soil of the Willamette Valley can produce.  The prices of their very seasonal, oft-rotating menu make it easy to create your own family-style meal.    

The 1928 Colonial style B & B includes four luxurious rooms in the main house and two larger rooms in the annex. I roamed around in my ample Craftsman Apartment feeling like I’d won ‘Queen for a Day’ from some sweepstakes I’d not entered and, I kid you not, one of the comfiest beds I’ve ever slept it. The bonus for every guest is the fact that cookbook author and acclaimed Chef Jacques Rolland presides over every breakfast. My favorite was crème brûlée for the first course—served with fruit on the side for posterity—followed by a home-made croissant and ostrich egg Quiche Lorraine.

So much pampering, a girl could get used to it.