Willamette Valley Wine Tasting – Portland

7 Jun

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We spent a couple days taking day trips from Portland to explore the wonderful world of Willamette Valley pinot noir. I’ve already talked about the highlight of the trip, Big Table Farm. But the valley was full of great wineries worth a look.

Oregon is no longer a hidden gem, with loads of accolades from the wine press and deep-pocketed investors pumping up the wineries. The French have taken notice of WV’s similar climate to Burgundy, and have launched ambitious French-led wineries at Domaine Drouhin and Evening Land. The emphasis throughout the valley is on lower alcohol than what we typically see in Sonoma and Central Coast pinot from California. There’s less fruit, less booze, and more subtlety. Generally.

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Scott Paul is an interesting place. An American who made his money producing music, Paul is the only place I can think of that is so confident in the quality of his American pinot that he pours them side by side with top-flight examples from Burgundy. Unfortunately, they weren’t pouring burgundies when we were there. Instead it was wine club pickup day, featuring a bunch of small producer champagne I had never had. It was wonderful.

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We also had a great brunch from the Henry’s Diner cart just outside Scott Paul. Breakfast burrito with homemade sausage and Tapatio sauce on a picnic table on a gorgeous day after having some of the best champagne I’ve ever had — pretty great.

Unfortunately, I was pretty lazy about taking pictures, so that’s it. But a few other notes from places we visited:

– Beaux Freres wines were fantastic. My party of winedouches all agreed that their wines were the best we had that weekend, full of earth and minerality, with a good balance of fruit and tannins. They’re also a no-nonsense experience. Appointment only — but show up for your appt, sidle up to the bar, guy pours three wines, you chat about the wines and and sip. No sales pitch, no fancy tasting room. Similar to Joseph Swan in Sonoma. I much prefer this than . . .

– Soter is beautiful. They basically stripped the top of a hill and built an incredibly beautiful facility that is a tech mogul’s Napa winery fantasy. It reminded me a lot of Ram’s Gate Winery in Sonoma in being an almost too-beautiful place. Soter is all about holding your hand and walking you through a guided tasting of their portfolio. It’s a beautiful experience, but I don’t prefer these super-fancy fake tasting experiences. They make me feel like someone is compensating for weak wine.

In this case, Soter’s wine was pretty good. Not my favorite, but definitely worth trying.

– Sokol Blosser has also moved into fairly new fancy digs. The picture at the top is the view from their winery, including their solar panel array. Sokol is one of the original pioneers of modern Willamette Valley wineries. They’ve been around for a while and make some pretty nice wine. But they have set up this new building for the masses. There were probably 40 customers when we were there. You actually had to try hard to get the servers’ attention, like you were at a bar.

– Penner Ash is like Sokol Blosser in fame, appeal to crowds, and having moved into a new building. Of these three big wineries, I liked Penner’s the best. They get bonus points for making an affordable, fun Riesling, a rare sight in WV. Penner is also one of the few woman-led winery.

Overall, I loved visiting WV and hope to spend more time tasting there. Even with the influx of money and attention, the experience is much more Sonoma than Napa, and there are still plenty of off-the-beaten-path gems. And the quality of the wines is generally fantastic.

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