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APRIL 29, 2012: Unwine'd: Celebrate Oregon Wine – Portland, OR


No matter how much the dedicated oenophile tries to keep learning and exploring, we all have our ruts and favorites when it comes to wine. In an effort to break out of my California Rhone Haze, I decided to head up to Oregon wine country to entice my palate with some Pinot. I have to admit I had almost no personal experience with wines from this state. A few pinot gris here and there, one or two Noirs in a class or at the home of a pinot-loving friend. So I was thrilled that I got the opportunity to attend this event. Sponsored by the Oregon Wine Board (as a kick-off to Oregon Wine Month), the tasting was only $50 and featured 80+ wineries from all over the state, along with some of the most amazing food from 14 Portland restaurants that I've ever had at a public tasting.

We spent the first four days of our vacation traipsing across the Willamette Valley visiting as many tasting rooms as we could, but we barely made a dent. Grape growing began in the 1960s and now encompasses over 20,500 acres, 72 different varieties and 16 AVAs. Though the bulk of production is in Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Riesling. What started as a few pioneers, trying to break away from the CA Davis mold now includes over 400 wineries, many of them family-owned making less than 5000 cases a year. While ranked 3rd in number of wineries, the state is fourth in total production.

ORunwinedfloor.jpgOregon is also on the forefront of the organic/biodynamic movement with 38% of the state's vineyards OCWS certified, which showcases the wine industry's commitment to sustainable grape growing and winemaking practices. Almost all of the winemakers we talked to used native yeast fermentation, which was a bit of a surprise to us. This is pretty rare in CA outside of the organic/natural winemaking scene. Taking what nature gives was quite the theme of the vacation and a bit of a risk in a climate that isn't always so friendly to grape ripening. We were told that 2008 was a vintage to age, where 2009 was warmer so it's more approachable now. It was certainly our experience. While we preferred the 09s in straight up tasting, I could see, with the few we had that were allowed to open up and breathe a bit, that the 08s had more intensity and structure. Regardless of vintage, they were nothing like CA pinots from any region and the obvious difference in terroir was what made the trip so interesting.

The Left Bank Annex was a great venue. While it did get fairly loud once everyone was inside, having the event over two floors mitigated the usual crush of people. There was plenty of room to move around, not much waiting time per winery, plenty of water and even a few tables to rest your glass on to catch your breath. All in all this was a truly first rate event that really showcased the vibrant and friendly wine community that is currently thriving in Oregon. We can't wait to go back.


Carlton Farms Porchetta
from Terrace Kitchen

Pork Belly Reuben from
Hunt & Gather Catering

Chanterelle covered Goat Cheese
from Fern's Edge Goat Dairy

Chocolate Rhubarb Truffles
from Xocolatl de David


Tastings this large present so many choices a plan is necessary. I decided to visit the smaller Pinot producers that had received good accolades, but generally weren't open to the public or too far afield for us to visit on this short trip. I also made a point to hit up the few Rhone producers so I could compare their versions to my CA faves. I'm sorry, but I had to break up all the Pinot.

The Pinot Noirs that really stood out and I will admit to drinking the whole pour:

2006 Amalie Robert, Dijon Clones, Willamette Valley – $40
2008 Anam Cara Cellars, Heather's Vineyard, Chehalem Mountains – $60
2009 Brooks Wines, Janus, Willamette Valley – $35
2010 Vincent Wine Company, Ribbon Ridge – $24
2009 Seufert Winery, Bishop Creek Vineyard, Yamhil-Carlton – $30
2009 White Rose Estate, White Rose Vineyard, Dundee Hills – $70
2009 Winderlea Winery, Ana Vineyard, Dundee Hills – $48

My favorite whites of the day:

2011 Abacela Albarino, Umpqua Valley – $18
2010 Andrew Rich Roussanne, Columbia Valley – $20
2011 Helioterra Wines Pinot Blanc, Willamette Valley – $16
2010 Seven of Hearts Viognier & Roussanne, Columbia Valley – $18
2010 Torii Mor Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley – $18
2011 Troon Vineyard Foundation '72 Vermentino, Applegate Valley – $18
2009 Winderlea Winery Chardonnay, Willamette Valley – $36

I'd be remiss without a few Rhone Shoutouts. These made me quite happy:

2009 Abacela Syrah, Umpqua Valley – $21
2010 Helioterra Wines Syrah, Columbia Valley – $22
2008 Quady North Syrah, Rogue Valley – $25
2009 RoxyAnn Winery Syrah, Rogue Valley – $30
2010 Seven of Hearts Chatte D'Avignon GSM, Columbia Valley – $25

I tried a number of tempranillos, a grape mostly grown in the southern Oregon AVAs, but none of them really grabbed my attention. This was not a huge surprise to me, since I'm not generally a fan of this varietal, but I was hoping perhaps OR versions might help change my mind. Oh well.

FINAL NOTE: If you want to learn something at an event like this and not just get drunk – which can be fun and is easy to do – you need to go in with a game plan. Most event sites list at least who will be pouring and sometimes even the wines available to taste. Choose a theme, region or even a price point. It will make you focus more on what you're actually drinking and help train your palate. Plus, you might even remember what you tasted if you don't try to drink everything. Believe me after about 20-30 wines things start to get a bit fuzzy even if you are spitting.

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