Wine bloggers will gather this weekend in Portland, Oregon for our annual conference. Even though I won't be able to attend, I thought I would share some of my impressions of Oregon wines. My fondest memories are of my visits to the Willamette Valley with my partner Bob Tovey, especially our visits to Carlton and the Dundee hills. Another highlight was our visit to Phelps winery in the Hood River AVA. Owner, Bob Morus told us that for every mile you go east there is one inch less rainfall. That's why you grow both Pinot Noir and Zinfandel within thirty miles of each other. Bob's Pinot Noirs are great even though the grapes are grown on the eastern slopes of the Cascades just north of Mt. Hood. Hood River is one of two AVAs that include both Oregon and Washington State. On the Washington side Syncline and Memoose produce excellent wines. The other bi- state AVA is Walla Walla. Zerba is a good example of an Oregon winery producing estate wines from the Oregon side of the Walla Walla AVA. Cristophe Baron's fabulous Cauyue wines are considered Washington state wines even though the "atelier" and vineyards are all in Oregon. Deborah Hansen's vineyards are all in the same stony "calloux" amidst the Oregon apple and cherry orchids as Christophe 's even the wines are made at Cougar Crest winery just outside of Walla Walla in Washington . Even though it would make sense, somehow Washington and Oregon have never been able to market together. Kind of like trying to herd cattle and sheep at the same time.
A less well known fact is that several Willamette Valley winemakers make great wines from the Walla Walla AVA. Ron Lachini, who I discovered in his first year at a Seattle wine event, has made excellent Pinot Noir from day one, but he also makes outstanding Bordeaux style blends from Walla Walla grapes. Ken Wright also makes great wines from Walla Walla grapes. He makes a spectacular Chardonnay from Cililo vineyard grapes grown in Washington . Ken is as close as you get to a cult wine celebrity in Oregon. His vineyard designated Pinots are fabulous. We especially like Canary, McCrone and Freedom vineyards. Since the great recession, it is possible to obtain Ken Wright wines directly at the Tyrus Evans tasting room in Carlton without having to be in the mailing list.
IMHO , some of the most famous Oregon Pinots aren't that great -Beaux Freres, Archery Summit, Serene, Argyle, Patricia Green to name a few seem overrated to us especially compared to our faves at much more reasonable prices. Drouhin is on the cusp for us. A little too pricey for what you get, though can never forget the 1992 that we drank in 2002 . It was spectacular! At age ten, we felt we were committing infanticide. We are not really talking about price, but price/quality. Back in Carlton, at the winemakers studio we discovered Ayoub and Retour. I probably shouldn't tell you about these - very small production, high prices, incredible wine.
There are so many other wonderful wines in the Yamhill/Carlton/Ribbon Ridge area, but let's move on to the Red Hills of Dundee. Here you will find a veritable feast. Lange, Winderslea, Tori Mar and De Ponte Cellars are highlights. The winemaker at Tori Mar, Jean Tardy, comes from an old Burgudian winemaking family and makes top notch Burgundy style Pinots. The Pinots from De Ponte are beautifully made by French winemaker, Isabelle. Everything Isabelle touches turns to gold, not just the Pinots, but the melon, the rose, you name it. Here's another secret! Ssh! When I first met Isabelle, she was wearing a very warm sweater in the middle of summer. Now, admittedly, Dundee is not the warmest place in the world, but her dress seemed extreme. Isabelle told me tat she had moved from the sith of France to start a new life with her children and shortly thereafter she gave birth to a new revolutionary wine , "1789", the year of the French revolution. Try to get your hands on sime at the De Ponte tasting room.
Okay, so you don't like back roads in the woods. You want to stay in town. Some of the best kept secrets are hidden in McMinnville. The whole Oregon wine industry was virtually started in the 1970s by pioneers such as David Lett. Everyone thought David was crazy. He planted Pinot Noir and Pinot blanc into wilds of Oregon I remember his 1976 Pinot Noir. It tasted like many of it's California cousins - a little clunky, a little chunky, but no worse than anything it of California. Up to his death a few years ago, eyrie wines were always in the lead. Now under his son, Jason the tradition continues with some interesting modifications. Bob and I will always remember his "Blackcap" Pinot - dark as ink, full of flavor