The Willamette Valley of Oregon is a quaint, but thriving and growing wine destination. I ventured there in June to explore the Pinot Noir heaven that exists there. You may hear wine aficionados frequently compare Pinot Noirs of Oregon to those of Burgundy, France. Such a finicky grape varietal can only grow in certain conditions and since both Burgundy and Willamette Valley exist at a Latitude of 47 degrees, they are often compared. Having the same latitude and maritime weather, creates conditions similar to one another.
This trip was not for the weak at heart, as in seven days, over 20 wineries were visited. The highlights of the trip will be featured in several posts over the next few weeks.
My amazing travel companion was Brian, and we stayed in a cabin in McMinnville owned by wine proprietors. The cabin was steps away from two acres of Dijon clone Pinot Noir. In the distance was a view of the rolling hills laced in pines and on a clear day, the Coastal Mountains. The air was fresh and crisp and the temperature was in the 50s.
After unpacking, we were invited over to enjoy wines made by our hosts. We walked over to the main house and tasted a 2011 and 2012 Pinot Noir and chatted about the differences in vintage years and the wine industry itself. The two acre vines consist of 777 Dijon Clones (aka Triple 7 clones). They chose this clone of Pinot Noir due to its high yield production. Harvest here occurs in late September or early October, so the vines had just finished flowering and fruit production was just starting on the vines.
On our first day out, we visited Dundee. Within the Willamette Valley, there are six American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) and the Dundee Hills are where the very first vines were planted by David Lett back in the 1960s. We started at Torii Morr and had a cellar tasting led by Dana. We had a cheese and meat platter and tasted a great portfolio of wines in the barrel room (cellar). Dana opened a large garage-like door to give us a view of the Olson Vineyards which contains Pinot Noir and a few rows of Chardonnay that they are experimenting with. He was a great host and we discussed the trade, wine economics and wine making techniques. The winemaker, Jacques, designated three barrels for us to taste from – we tasted 2013 Pinot’s from different vineyards and clones. Most of these are blended together to formulate a great wine. Some are used as single vineyard wines. My favorite was the Olson Vineyard.
Next up, we visited Erath. This was a quick stop as most of the wines are in distribution and we wanted to look at the tasting room and facilities.
Last, but not least was Argyle. The entry of Argyle is laced with emaculate gardens of ferns, hydrangeas and begonias. Absolutely beautiful! We started here with a glass of bubbly and enjoyed a picnic outside. The weather was perfection with sunsine and a high of 74. After our picnic, we went inside to taste their entire line up. We were able to do a couple of vertical tastings of the 2011/2012 Nutblock Pinot Noir’s and the 2011/2012 Reserve Pinot Noir’s. Vertical tastings are great opportunity to compare vintage years. The 2011’s were more fruit forward with notes of cherries and raspberries. The 2012’s had more smokiness components that added texture and boldness to the wine.
After unwinding at the cabin for a bit, we ventured off to downtown McMinnville to dine at Nick’s Italian Cafe. This place is a watering hole for winemakers. We were surrounded by wine artists and enjoyed every second of the impromptu conversations. For a night cap, we went to the rooftop bar of the McMinnville Hotel. I had Pinot Gris on tap.
This was a GREAT start to our Oregon wine country adventures.