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

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

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.

 

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Oregon winegrowers repairing the reputation of a noble grape

Some like it lightly oaked, others prefer a bright and lively acidity. We’re talking about chardonnay and before you say “I do not like chardonnay”, keep in mind that overly-oaked chardonnay has been all but lost to feathered bangs, jelly shoes and scrunchies.

That’s right, there are trends—even in wine making— that sometimes just do not need to be revisited. Oregon is one state in particular giving it their all to convince wine drinkers that just because chardonnay is most notably found in Chablis, France does not mean it should taste anything like the Chablis jugs of old.

At the 5th Annual Oregon Chardonnay Celebration, winemakers and serious consumers were led in a tasting of five different chardonnay styles by a panel of Willamette Valley vineyard owners and winemakers. ©Andrea Johnson Photography
At the 5th Annual Oregon Chardonnay Celebration, winemakers and serious consumers were led in a tasting of five different chardonnay styles by a panel of Willamette Valley vineyard owners and winemakers. ©Andrea Johnson Photography

At the 5th Annual Oregon Chardonnay Celebration, winemakers and serious consumers came together to analyze five different chardonnay styles from five different winemakers who all purchase their fruit from the same vineyard—Durant Vineyards. The panel consisted of Thomas Bachelder from Bachelder Oregon, Joe Dobbes of Dobbes Family Estate, Marcus Goodfellow from Goodfellow Family Cellars, Brian Marcy of Big Table Farm and Paul Durant from Durant Vineyards (winemaker Isabelle Dutartre). The wildly popular, funny and articulate Elaine Brown presided over the two-hour discussion and her commentary peeled away at the layers of this rather austere grape.

Held at the Allison Inn & Spa, the Oregon Chardonnay Celebration Grand Tasting was an opportunity for consumers to sample exquisite examples from nearly 50 Oregon wineries. Viki Eierdam
Held at the Allison Inn & Spa, the Oregon Chardonnay Celebration Grand Tasting was an opportunity for consumers to sample exquisite examples from nearly 50 Oregon wineries. Viki Eierdam

And that is the hint of why chardonnay is sometimes so overly-manipulated. In the cool climates of France where it grows, the goal is a lean, crisp wine with high acidity that makes a refreshing accompaniment to seafood in its youth and turns creamier with a beautiful round mouth-feel to pair with heavier sauces as it ages. For some reason there was a time when American winemakers felt it needed to be more.

But let’s jump ahead to now and NOW is a wonderful time for chardonnay. At the Grand Tasting, attendees were able to sample exquisite examples from nearly 50 Oregon wineries.

I was also privileged to attend a media dinner hosted at Adelsheim Vineyard the night before. Sixteen of us gathered around a communal table and enjoyed a lively conversation about the winemaker’s process, inspiration and hopes for the future of Oregon Chardonnay.

Held at the Allison Inn & Spa, the Oregon Chardonnay Celebration Grand Tasting was an opportunity for consumers to sample exquisite examples from nearly 50 Oregon wineries and talk to local winemakers. ©Andrea Johnson Photography
Held at the Allison Inn & Spa, the Oregon Chardonnay Celebration Grand Tasting was an opportunity for consumers to sample exquisite examples from nearly 50 Oregon wineries and talk to local winemakers. ©Andrea Johnson Photography

Throughout the meal we were taken from a couple newer vintages of Domaine Drouhin and Alexana to progressively older vintages of Stoller and Adelsheim wines to a library tasting (2008, 2007, 2006) of Chehalem, Evening Land and Ponzi. True to form, the newer vintages had the vibrant balance with a hint of spice and citrus that cut through rich seafood and pasta sauces. With a little more age, the acidity helped the wines hold up to show more complex notes of honey and deeper baking spices. The library vintages (and their commentary) were an honest expression of the winemakers’ style. Bready notes become more evident (like brioche), fruit notes become softer (from lemon to nectarine and orange) and the creamy, rounded mouth-feel is quite pronounced.

These winemakers are taking a misunderstood varietal and, with  just the right amount of new French oak aging—no more than 30 percent and often times less—developing an elegant and restrained Oregon Chardonnay style that’s quickly repairing the reputation of a noble grape.

For 2017 information, go to www.oregonchardonnaycelebration.org.

 

Paul Durant leaving a legacy one tree at a time

Oregon-Olive-Mill-olive.jpg

Oregon Olive Mill, the first commercial olive mill in the Northwest, seeks to propagate cold-climate olive trees in a similar vein to Lett and Erath of Oregon pinot noir fame. Photo courtesy of Dan Eierdam. Extra virgin olive oil from Italy and Spain is divine. Procure it from California and it can be dubbed ‘local.’ But, did you know that Oregon could be the next up and coming olive oil state if master miller, Paul Durant, has any say in it?

Although Durant enjoys the process of olives being pressed through their eight year-old custom-built Alfa Laval olive mill, what drives him are the tiny starts stretching to become big and strong in the warmth of the nursery. How to grow olive trees in a climate that hasn’t successfully done so on a wide scale in the past intrigues him and the frost of December 2013, that appeared to wipe out a vast majority of their 13,000 estate trees, only solidified his determination.

Before modernization, olives were pressed with millstones, such as these on display at the Oregon Olive Mill in Dayton, Oregon. Photo courtesy of Viki Eierdam.

Propagating cold climate olive trees could put the Oregon Olive Mill and fourth-generation farmer, Durant, on the map similarly to Lett and Erath of Oregon pinot noir fame. Although the 2015 harvest equaled approximately eight percent of their total production, that number is a moving target as quality over quantity is emphasized. California olives continue to be brought in to supplement the Koroneiki, Arbequina, Tuscan, Frantoio, Ascolano and Picual olive oil varietals milled and offered for sale at Oregon Olive Mill although all of these varietals are grown in small quantities on their lovingly-tended, 17-acre olive grove site.

Master miller, Paul Durant, explains the process of olives being pressed through their eight year-old custom-built Alfa Laval olive mill. Photo courtesy of Dan Eierdam.

Oregon Olive Mill’s commitment to education is evident in their employment of Libby Clow— olive oil program ambassador who holds a Master of Food Communication. She deftly espouses the health benefits of this over 6,000 year-old viscous condiment while liberally drizzling it on freshly-baked bread at public events meant to stir a passion and grow an understanding. Opportunities to see the estate mill in full swing happen throughout the November harvest and culminate during their annual Olio Nuovo Festa when visitors can enjoy the robust flavors of just-pressed oil although tastings are available year-round and mill tours can be reserved seasonally.

Olives awaiting the milling process at the Oregon Olive Mill in Dayton, Oregon. Photo courtesy of Dan Eierdam.

On the grounds of Red Ridge Farms, the Oregon Olive Mill is one piece to a destination experience puzzle. Durant Vineyards, producers of top-quality pinot noir among other varietals; the Red Ridge shop, featuring an array of home and garden gifts from estate-grown lavender to herbs, salts, the oils and vinegars; the beautiful nursery inspired by the green thumb of Paul’s mom, Penny, where visitors can purchase olive trees and lavender plants; and the Garden Suite and Stoneycrest Cottage where travelers can lay their heads amongst the tranquil 120-acre estate are the individual components that elevate the sum of its parts.

As trial by error, an understanding of terroir and an appreciation of climate drive the winemaker to hone his craft vintage over vintage, so, too, is the progression of the master miller. Durant possesses the patience, tenacity and reverence to leave behind a rare legacy.

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Durant Vineyards at Red Ridge Farms

Durant Vineyards at Red Ridge Farms

It’s been six weeks now since my husband and I spent a couple days in the Willamette Valley for my best friend’s birthday.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention what a wonderful stop we all had at Durant Vineyards at Red Ridge Farms. There’s actually quite a bit going on at Red Ridge Farms; Durant Vineyards Tasting Room, a nursery, lavender field, olive grove, olive pressing, and a vast selection of pottery that spills outside in front of their store...

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