Our motto was, "Spit and go!" Our task was monumental: Ten wineries, two livers, and eight hours until our dinner reservations. This was our 2005 Oregon wine tour.
Our plans changed a few times during the trip, starting with a wrong turn from the B&B that led us to our first winery. We hadn't intended to visit ten wineries, and to be honest, we didn't. We sampled wines from that many wine makers because some producers - Adelsheim and Shea, Sineann and Medici - had doubled up.
The mystery of the wine tour is the name of the tenth wine maker, which I could not recall thirteen months later. The Butter Bitch believes that the tenth wine maker's wines weren't very good, and I won't speculate. Likely, we will return to the missing winery in the future and have our memory jogged. For now, it is as Faulkner said, "Memory believes before knowing remembers."
Before I explore the wineries and my memory, I'll advise our dear readers not to attempt this task. Even with frequent spitting, a little alcohol is absorbed through the skin inside the mouth. This isn't a problem for the first ten wines, but after the hundredth, one does best to walk.
There is only one way that we visited so many wineries, and that is by driving and by the driver abstaining at several locations. It helps to be with someone who is adept at describing wine, plus the driver can sniff at the wines to get an idea of their bouquet, if not their flavor. Abstaining at certain locations, or sharing a glass, is a fiscally prudent approach, since a number of Oregon wineries - probably all - charge for their tastings. A decade ago, Oregon wine tastings largely were free, as they are in Washington's Woodinville area. Times have changed.
As in California, there are companies who will drive booze hounds - I mean wine connoisseurs - to several wineries. This is another excellent option to explore in Oregon and other wonderful wine regions.
Unfortunately, the wine tour occurred over a year ago, and we did not keep notes. We had hoped to convince the other Ethicureans to repeat the trip and refresh our palates, but plans did not work out. Below are summaries of the wineries and highlights of the wines they make.
Anne Amie, not Domaine Drouhin
Our bed and breakfast was located just outside of Lafayette, Oregon, providing a central location from which to explore the North Willamette Valley. Our dinner reservations were in nearby Dayton, allowing us to run the wine circuit, loop over to Dayton for dinner, and drive a short distance back to our comfortable beds.
Domaine Drouhin - our intended first stop - apparently is never open on Thanksgiving, so it is fortunate that we turned left too soon and drove past Anne Amie instead. Neither of us had heard of the winery, and decided to make it our first stop of the day. It was 10 a.m.
Anne Amie used to be Chateau Benoit, producers of not terribly exciting wines, and was purchased by an Oregon philanthropist in 1999. The winery sits atop a small hill overlooking sloping vineyards. We were the first to arrive and enjoyed having our run of the place. The pinot noirs ranged from bright-colored tart wines to bold fruit bombs offering loads of blackberry, cherry and tobacco. Our plan to "just sample and not buy" crumbled. The wines were too good to ignore, unlike our wine budget.
As we left, a half dozen cars arrived to explore the winery's offerings. We would be in the midst of large crowds for the rest of the day.
Anne Amie mentions that they perform minimal treatment of their vines, but they make no claims of biodynamic or organic production.
Patricia Green Cellars
The growth of the Oregon wine industry has led several successful wine makers to start their own cellars. One of these is Patricia Green, who made excellent wines for Torii Mor during the 1990s. She left after Torii Mor's 1999 vintage to begin her own cellars, which often are referred to as Patty Green.
We circled back to navigate the rough road leading up to what looked like a large warehouse. The building's heavy steel doors were open to the gray November weather, and inside it was chilly. Green makes wines that are denser and chewier than traditional pinot noirs, with a strong, pleasant, bramble-barnyard nose that the Butter Bitch refers to approvingly as "stinky."
Her wines burst with enough berry, tobacco, and alcohol to stand up strongly flavored meats and heavy dishes. The Butter Bitch is a big fan of Patricia Green, and I am willing to drink the wines.
Adelsheim and Shea
Adelsheim Vineyards is counted as one of the pioneering Oregon wineries, along with Erath, Ponzi, and Eyrie. Beginning over 30 years ago, the Adelsheims have made excellent Oregon pinot noirs. In recent years, they have added wines made from small vineyards and have expanded to plant vines in the Ribbon Ridge AVA.
Their best wine - in my not humble opinion - remains the Elizabeth's Vineyard Reserve, which is a silky smooth pinot noir that greets the drinker with a pleasant barnyard smell and rich cherry fruit that is not overwhelming. They also make very good chardonnays (oak- and steel-fermented), pinot gris, and the little known Alsatian varietal, Auxerrois. The latter is a crisp white wine that smells of pear and honey.
Shea Wine Cellars hosted their wine tasting in the Adelsheim building for several years. We sampled several of their pinot noirs which were uniformly good but also very expensive, moreso than Adelsheim. We enjoyed the opportunity to sample their wines, but Adelsheim was our goal, and we reserved our pocketbooks for the wines we had sought. We also thought that the Adelsheim wines were better balanced and not as young - read, harsh - as some of the Shea wines.
Shea moved after 2005 and is building a winery on their own vineyards. These vineyards have provided grapes that resulted in a number of excellent wines, from Shea and other wine makers.
Sineann and Medici
The Butter Bitch already has written at length about Sineann, and I plan to include Medici in a later feature about three eclectic Oregon wine makers. Sineann is a dangerous place to visit, because the spittoons are difficult to reach. We suspect that Sineann's wine maker, Peter Rosback, wants people to drink his wine, not just taste, and who can blame him?
Medici has some of the oldest vineyards in the Chehalem Mountain AVA, and the wines - made by Sineann's Peter Rosback - are unlike any other Oregon pinot noir that I have sampled. You'll have to wait to find out why.
We spent a lot of time sampling the wines, enjoying the cheese and bread, and letting our heads clear. By now, it was mid-afternoon, and there were at least two wineries left to visit. The rear of our poor car was visibly lower from the weight of wine that we added, including Sineann's excellent Red Table Wine.
We were committed to reaching Cameron Winery during our tour, having been convinced the previous night by our waitress. Cameron is another eclectic Oregon winery, not only for their hearty, unfiltered wines but also the quirkiness of their crew. This is a group of people, led by wine maker John Paul, who enjoy good wine and having fun, as shown by a quick view of their wine labels and newsletters. Sadly, we still have not found their Vino Pinko, a rosato wine that features the image of Che Guevara.
I'll include Cameron in a later post, but for now will advise visitors to heed the advice shown below, and not be Jacques Derrières.
Forty years ago this year, David and Diana Lett came north from California and went against the advice of his professors at U.C. Davis, to plant pinot noir in Oregon. Lett has enjoyed great success, and earned the moniker "Papa Pinot" for his promotion of the great Burgundian grape in Oregon. In the late 1970s, his pinot noir stunned the wine world by showing well against Burgundian Premiere Cru wines in a blind taste test held in France. There is a lot to tell about Eyrie, whose vineyards have been under organic practices since they were planted. Rather than condense the story of the Letts and Eyrie to a few lines, I will include them with Cameron and Medici in a separate post.
Panther Creek's recent wines are fruitful and tannic to the point that even our exhausted taste buds could distinguish characteristics of the wines. After so many wines, one's taste buds are unable to detect any but the strongest flavors. We were tired and chatty, boasting to the wine pourers that this was our tenth winery of the day. We weren't the only ones who had visited a number of wineries, based on the slurring of a couple next to us. At least we retained our ability to speak.
How to describe the barrel samples and early tastes of the 2004 pinot noirs? Chalky, tannic, full of black cherries and blackberries, dusty, bold. These are strong wines made more in the Californian than the Burgundian style, with little refinement. These wines may as well have been made with cabernet sauvignon. There was no suggestion of pinot noir characteristics in the nose or mouth.
Resting our taste buds at Golden Valley
A neat trick of the wine industry is that you drink beer after a long day of wine tasting. The bitterness of beer triggers taste buds that are not worn down by endless sips of fermented fruit, and the drink helps to wash the purple off your tongue. We walked from Panther Creek to nearby Golden Valley Brewing, makers of fine organic beers. A small glass of pale ale for me, and wheat beer for the Butter Bitch, soothed our sore tongues. It was just after 5 p.m., enough time to relax, rehydrate and rest before venturing forth once more, this time to dinner and the inevitable bottle of wine that would accompany our meal.
You may have guessed by now that we ordered pinot noir with dinner. There are many fine wines produced in Oregon, but pinot noir is such a noble grape, and we had spit out so much that it was time to enjoy ourselves.