I volunteered to work the Oregon Wine Symposium in Portland this February and knew this was my opportunity to visit the Willamette Valley which I had been wanting to explore for some time. I contacted Bree Boskov who is a Master of Wine and in charge of the entire Symposium. As luck would have it, she lives in the Willamette Valley and graciously agreed to spend some time tasting with me during my stay.
As I drove from Portland to the Yamhill-Carlton area it started to rain which didn’t come as a surprise. I made appointments with several vineyards over the next couple of days and was very excited about them all. I did not have an appointment with Soter Vineyards but I knew I at least wanted to pop in and grab a bottle of wine. I pulled up the long gravel road and ran in the rain, up to what looked like a large rustic barn from the outside. Michelle Ross opened the door and handed me a glass of Soter’s Silver Lining white blend. I immediately felt comforted and welcome. It was a delicious start to my weekend. The ambiance inside was warm and inviting with a fireplace and couches on one side and a kitchen full of bustling chefs preparing for the next tasting. There were windows on all sides of the building allowing me to admire the beautiful vineyard and the rain sprinkling down all around us. I bought a lovely 2015 Soter Vineyards Pinot Noir that actually made it home with me to enjoy with my husband. It was simply elegant.
I had an appointment with Ayoub wines so had to leave my friends at Soter and make a quick few turns up the road to Dundee. There was no sign but the address led me to believe I was at the right place. It was a beautiful home on a steep slope, surrounded by vineyard land. I was greeted by Mo Ayoub who was waiting for our tasting session. His charming home was also surrounded by windows overlooking incredible views of vineyard land. He had 1 Chardonnay, and 6 Pinot Noirs lined up for me to taste as he was slicing bread and cheese. All of his Pinots spend time in neutral oak and about 25% new french seasoned oak. On average he makes about 2,000 cases per year but obviously, some years will call for less. Mo has been making wine for 14 years, in this spot since 2011. He is a trained chef and spent 31 years as an Engineer. The transition from Engineer to Winemaker isn’t an unusual one. As a wine writer, I find it to be quite common. I think it’s the combination of the artistic mind and appreciation of facts and science. He seemed to beam most when he spoke of his 2016 Flagship Pinot. He pointed out his back window to his personal vineyard and said “100% of the grapes made to make this Pinot came from that land right there”. It was full of cherries and strawberries balanced with earthy forest floor flavors. And so, I took a bottle home. Yes, this one made it home too. In spite of the fact that it drank beautifully, he really encouraged me to lay this one down for 5-7 years. I will do my best, but I can’t be expected to make such promises when it comes to wine.
Next up I was meeting Bree for lunch at The Horse Radish in downtown Carlton. She reserved a table for us and we had a personal table-side tasting with Sean Davis, owner of Marshall Davis wines who showcases his wines at the restaurant with his wife. We tasted through a delightful flight beginning with the 2017 Rose of Pinot Noir, the 2016 Chardonnay, the 2016 Pinot Noir, and the 2015 Syrah. He sources fruit from Yamhill-Carlton as well as Walla Walla and the Columbia Valley. He boasted of his Cabernet Sauvignon from the Seven Hills Vineyard in Walla Walla which we did not taste during our flight. When I see a twinkle in someone’s eye about wine, I am a sucker. I bought a bottle. It didn’t make it home. I drank it later at my adorable little Airbnb which I will tell you about it a bit. By the way, I had the ‘Carlton’ sandwich at lunch which I highly recommend!
From here, Bree took me over to Craft Wine Co. where she has a partnership type of relationship with winemakers and cellar master, Chad Stock, Laura Cusick, and Meredith Bell. Chad gave me the grand tour of the big steel warehouse-looking building right in the center of Carlton. It is a working environment with the feeling of family. Chad’s young son, who no doubt will be an integral part of Craft wine co. someday, asked me if I wanted to taste from the ‘thief’. Of course, I obliged the young lad. He climbed up on top of the barrel and used the ‘thief’, a tool used to draw samples and take a hydrometer reading at the same time, and carefully handed it to his father to fill our glasses. What a way to grow up, I thought. We then tasted the 2016 Vitae Springs Gruner Veltliner, 2016 RedWhitePink Rose, and the 2016 Dijon Free Chardonnay. What is Dijon Free? I always say I learn something new about wine every day. Today this was it, but it’s probably a topic for a different type of blog. I took a bottle of the 2016 Grenache Soloro Vineyard since I figured there were still plenty of Pinots in my near future.
Our last stop in Carlton was Flaneur Wines. A small winery with huge, ambitious growth and changes in the works. Russell Lichtenthal with Hospitality and Sales gave me a tour of the facility and led us through an exquisite tasting of Chardonnays and Pinot Noir. Russell accompanied our tastings with high energy and as he told stories about each wine and vineyard land where the grapes were sourced. In particular, he emphasized that the meaning of Flaneur is to move about aimlessly; to take things in, and enjoy life. The back of the bottles read “The Flaneur originated in Paris in the 1840s to describe a curious stroller, a connoisseur of life, walking at a pace slow enough to be led by a turtle”. I thought about how nice would it be if we could all adopt a little of that mentality into our own lives. We walked around the corner to an old grain elevator which will soon be home to Flaneur’s event space. He said they do not want to remove the rustic sense of smooth wood and hard work, but the remodel will allow for parties and tastings and the iconic structure will surely remain a special part of the little town of Carlton. I took a bottle of the 2014 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir of the Eola-Amity Hills and Ribbon Ridge Vineyard. It made it home but didn’t last long. Its beautiful spice and crushed blue fruit were a nice way to welcome me home.
Day one was full and it was time to check into my Airbnb in Carlton just a 5-minute drive from town. The Figment Nest-studio cabin was a loft above a garage behind a home over-looking a vineyard. There was no WIFI or TV. I spent the evening gazing out the back window at the beautiful views with my bottle of Marshall Davis Cabernet. It was the quietest my mind has been in a very long time.
I woke up on day 2 to a snowy winter wonderland. I channeled my inner Clevelander and headed out to embrace the day. I lived in snow and wind for 29 years, and driving in it would surely come back to me. I must admit, being in Phoenix, Arizona for 18 years made me doubt myself a bit. I was pleasantly surprised; it actually wasn’t even close to the conditions I was used to in Cleveland. I popped in Carlton Bakery for some coffee, a Gouda ball, and a Pecan & Chocolate cookie. Yep. I always feel like I have permission to eat whatever I want when I am not at home. We are all so regimented in our daily lives. Maybe I wanted to pretend I was the Flaneur. I had some time before my first appointment so I drove into McMinnville for a second cup of coffee at Union Block Coffee.
My first winery visit was Antica Terra in Dundee. I heard that Nate Ready, who may be the only Master Sommelier in Oregon used to work there. Admittedly, that piqued my interest so I made an appointment. I must have driven around the block 10 times as there was no sign or address that I could see. It was right in the middle of a residential neighborhood and it was snowing so I kept passing the building. It was also a big steel warehouse-looking building from the outside. I stepped up to the door and was greeted by the gregarious Akoni Lagua. We walked into a pretty sterile-looking room with barrels and concrete floors. Akoni led us back to this private dimly lit room with a large dark wood community-style table full of cheeses, meats, and bread. The room was lined with wine from ceiling to floor. I had heard a rumor that the folks at Antica Terra like to share other wines with their guests, along with their own, so I wasn’t surprised (yet very grateful) when Akoni started us with a glass of 2010 Pierre Gimmonet’s special club Champagne. It was such a wonderful palate cleanser. He then led us through a flight of Antica Terra and Lillian wines. We tasted Antica’s 2015 Ceras and Botanica Pinot Noirs along with the 2014 Antikythera Pinot Noir. We then tasted Lillian’s Roussanne and Cabernet Sauvignon, 2013 and 2014. The Lillian line is made by winemaker and, one of the owners of Antica Terra, Maggie Harrison. She started making wine at the iconic winery Sine Qua Non and started the Lillian label in Santa Barbara. In 2005, Scott Adelson, John Mavredakis, and, Michael Kramer, three friends of Harrison asked her to come to Oregon and be the winemaker of Antica Terra. The friends had dreams about owning a vineyard together. She was reluctant until she saw the land and agreed to take on the role within seconds of viewing the site. To end our tasting, Akoni let us taste a 2001 Chateau Musar blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cinsault from Bekka Valley, Lebanon. It was a pleasure to enjoy a wine from a somewhat still obscure region, and a family with a history of wine-making dating back to the 1930s.
My next stop was Bergstrom wines in Newberg. I showed up early due to the weather and I wasn’t the only one to do so. The winery filled up quite quickly after my arrival but Blanca Gonzalez, Tim Kane, and Chris Yeatts took great care of me and led me through a beautiful flight of Chardonnay and Pinot Noirs. We tasted the 2015 Gregory Ranch Pinot Noir from the wettest and coldest vineyard location, the 2015 Silice Pinot Noir, the 2014 and 2016 Le Pre Du Col (meaning Meadow on the Mountain) Pinot Noir, and the 2015 Sigrid (meaning elegance & power) Chardonnay, named after winemaker Josh Bergstrom’s grandmother. Josh is the son of owners, John & Karen Bergstrom. The views on this property are absolutely breathtaking. I imagine the staff must feel giddy knowing their office sits upon this gorgeous landscape, and their job is to chat about some of the highest quality wine in Oregon. John Bergstrom grew up in Sweden in an agriculture and logging village. John found a passion for the Pacific Northwest and came to Oregon as a teenager to make a better life for himself and eventually his family. Initially, he took a route far from one in wine-making, becoming a surgeon. He had a successful medical practice and he and his wife raised 5 children. His passion for agriculture took him back to his roots and he made his dreams of wine-making a reality. The fourth of their five children, Josh, is the current winemaker and vineyard manager.
My last visit for the day was to Adelsheim Winery. I started my winery visits yesterday with a winery that caps at about 2,000 cases. I ended with Adelsheim where they make about 45,000 cases per year. It’s wonderful to understand how both handle their operations. Elizabeth Clark, a Wine Educator handed me a glass of 2015 Pinot Blanc and we strolled through a tour of the winery. The tour was followed up by a flight of wines. We tasted the 2015 MLC Chardonnay, 2015 Caitlyn reserve Chardonnay, and the 2015 Chehalem Staking Claim Chardonnay along with the 2016 Adelsheim Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, the 2013 Elizabeth Reserve Pinot Noir (Elizabeth made sure to tell me this was not named after her, but David Adelsheim’s daughter!), and the 2015 Breaking Ground Chehalem Mountain Pinot Noir, which I bought and enjoyed once I got to Portland the next day. The Adelsheim family, nearly 50 years strong, is proud of their certified sustainable vineyard. Gina Hennen has been their winemaker for 10 years and strives to make the best possible wines from Adelsheim’s 9 vineyard sources, 8 of which they own. From what I could tell, they all take good care of each other at Adelsheim and have the utmost respect for each other at all levels as well as for the wines. It’s no wonder the meaning of Adelsheim is ‘Noble Home’.
I popped into the Carlton Tavern for a Mushroom & Swiss burger and a glass of Ken Wright’s Pinot Noir to end my day. Yep. That burger was devilishly good and I didn’t feel one bit guilty about my indulgence. I headed back to the Figment Nest, cracked open the Grenache from Craft Wine Co., and indulged yet again, this time in wine, silence, and views.
I woke up Monday morning with the sun shining and on a mission to head up to see the Columbia Gorge River. I got in my car and the yellow light in my car said ‘low tire pressure’. I stopped for a cup of coffee at Flag & Wire in McMinnville and asked a couple where to get air for my tires. They told me to go to Les Schwab and they’ll take care of it. They looked at me like I was crazy for not knowing about them. Apparently, this is a common problem when it gets cold after an unusually warm winter. So I went and got gas and headed to Les Schwab. I learned 2 things from this brief experience, one: in Oregon in a town with less than 40,000 people you can not pump your own gas, and two: I love Les Schwab! I pulled up they filled my tires and said you are good to go. Off I went on this sunny day that was given to me to explore the stunning views of the Columbia Gorge and Hood River. During my wine studies I’ve researched a great deal about the Columbia River and the Gorge, so for me, it was like putting a face with a name. Or, maybe I should call it putting an influence with a grape?