Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Upcoming Event: Sonoma Wine Country Weekend

Welcome back to your regularly scheduled coverage of California wine country. In the world of higher education, August typically means staff training and welcoming all of the first year students back. For me, that means 4 weeks of 12-14 hour days without a single day off. That is why I am so excited for Labor Day Weekend.

In Sonoma County, Labor Day not only means barbecues, picnics, and your last chance to wear white. It also means it is Sonoma Wine Country Weekend. This grand event is a chance to celebrate the summer with all of your favorite Sonoma wineries. With events taking place on all weekend, Sonoma Wine Country Weekend will be the perfect way for Katie and I to celebrate the end of August and get us back into enjoying what we love most about this area....good vino!

Giving everyone just enough to keep them coming back for more, Friday begins with intimate lunches and dinners with winemakers from around the region. These delectable meals take place at the winery where you have the chance to sit down and break bread with the winemaker and other key players who bottle some of your favorite wines. Each meal is prepared by local participating chefs and are expertly paired with wine.

Getting started on Saturday, MacMurry Ranch in Healdsburg, CA plays host to the 31st annual Taste of Sonoma. A collection of over 150 wineries and 60 local chefs, this event provides an opportunity for wine lovers and foodies alike to drink and dine on some of the best that Sonoma County has to offer. However, this isn’t just a vendor fair where you move from one booth to the next. Other programs offered include a chef competition, intentional food/wine pairing experiences, and the Sommelier Stars Wine Tours where you can be led through a series of tastings by some of the nation’s most acclaimed sommeliers. If you haven’t had enough food and wine yet, you have another opportunity to dine with a winemaker for dinner. After experiencing Taste of Sonoma, Katie and I will be going down the road to enjoy a five course, farm-to-table meal with Quivira Wines, a leader in biodynamic and organic wine producing.

Rounding out the weekend is the 18th annual Sonoma Valley Harvest Wine Auction. Hosted at Cline Cellars, wine auction is sure to bring the spirit of wine country as people bid often and bid high a variety of lots, including specialty bottles, weekend excursions, and plenty more! Wine auction serves as your last chance to get up close and personal with winemakers as they serve as the hosts of each table.

Tickets are still available for all of these events but are going fast. Also, if you happen to have a Visa Signature card, you may be eligible for a number of discounts and benefits. Katie and I will be covering many aspects of this great weekend and will be sure to document our experiences, right here on The Oregon Wine Blog.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Roasted Vegetable Goat Cheese Lasagna

And cooking is back....... Sorry for the mini-vacation everyone! It wasn't so much a vacation as two weeks of work conferences followed by the rush that is ALWAYS August as those of us who work in higher education struggle to get everything done. It's not like we haven't known for three months when they were coming back{note the sarcasm}.... but I digress.

I have rediscovered my love of farmers markets, and have a huge new place in my heart (and wallet) for the Main Market Co-op in Spokane. For those of you on the east side of Washington, I HIGHLY recommend you check out the Co-op. You don't need to be a member to shop (but of course, there are benefits)! Their wines and cheeses are mostly locally sourced, with a ton of variety--and priced at barely over cost. Check it out! I was so blessed that the Goddess of cheese was in the cheese section while I was shopping and guided me to the right goat cheese, a smooth, locally source option that wouldn't overpower the food.

My inspiration for this recipe was from my favorite Spokane restaurant, Mizuna, where I had the most delicious goat cheese lasagna. After some searching on the internet, I combined a number of recipes, and here is the final product! As always, I recommend tasting while you are cooking. There is a reason those Iron Chefs are always doing it! We should too!

1/3 c. vertically sliced onions (I used walla walla sweets from our garden)
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 c. olive oil
5 large chopped tomatoes, seeds removed
1/3 c. white wine of your choice (chardonnay is recommended)
1/4 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp italian seasonings
1/2 tsp balsamic vinegar
Tomato paste

Heat oil over medium high heat. When hot, add garlic and onions. Saute 2-3 minutes until they begin to turn translucent. Add tomato pieces (PLEASE- use fresh tomatoes! Find a friend who has an over abundance of plants, go to the farmers market, just please get fresh, non-shipped all over the US or world. Your taste buds will thank you.) Reduce heat to medium and cook for 8-10 minutes. Add wine and cook for 5-10 more minutes. Add cumin, smoked paprika, italian seasonings, and balsamic vinegar. Continue to cook. If sauce looks too think to you, add tomato paste to your liking. Continue to taste and season until you are happy with the flavors. Continue to cook over medium heat for an hour or so. Add fresh herbs at the end in you choose to use them. Leave the sauce cooking while you work on the next stages of prep.

Lasagna ingredients:
1 yellow squash
1 eggplant
1 medium sized zucchini
4 oz goat cheese
olive oil
salt and pepper
sauce recipe above

Slice squash, eggplant, and zucchini the long way into 1/4 inch thick strips. Put eggplant on a separate plate and salt. Set aside for 45 minutes to an hour to draw the liquid out of it.

Preheat oven to 500 degrees. While eggplant is sitting, place squash on greased jellyroll type pan or large glass baking dish. Baste with olive oil and put salt and pepper on it. Place in oven for 10-12 minutes, rotating half way. Remove as squash starts to brown. Leave on pan for 2 minutes after removing from oven. Then, remove from pan and set aside. Continue this with remaining squash and zucchini. Once eggplant has drawn water out, use a towel to soak remaining water out. Then repeat roasting process, but only roast eggplant for 6-8 minutes.

Once you have finished roasting all of the vegetables, grease a 8 by 8 glass pan. Place a thin layer of sauce in the bottom of the pan. Add a layer of vegetables on top. Think of the veggies like noodles, which we aren't using in this recipe. Layer vegetables on top of one another until you cannot see the bottom of the pan. Then, add goat cheese, covering the layer. On top, add another layer of vegetables until you can no longer see the cheese under it. Then finish with the remaining sauce. Cook in oven for 45 minutes at 375 degrees. Allow lasagna to rest for 15 minutes before you dive in.


Le Tour de Pinot Stage 5: Willamette Valley Vineyards

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The stage was set for an awesome finale ride to Le Tour de Pinot on August 22. A ride to Willamette Valley Vineyards from The Oregon Wine Blog headquarters in Corvallis has been a goal for more than a year, since the early days of the 2009 Tour when it was just Rick, myself, a pair of spandex, a heavy bike, and a mixture of sweat, blood, and Pinot on the backroads of Oregon. It was the night before the ride, plans were made, water bottles filled, jerseys washed, and the support vehicle loaded...then I got the text from Portland.

"I think the burger I ate for dinner is causing the same effect on my stomach as you had before the last ride" sent Rick.

In what can only be described as gastrointestinal irony of an epic proportion, Rick was taken down and out with only 12 hours to recover for the ride. Determined, he sent his final message for the evening, "I'll sleep it off and be fine in the morning." If only that were true. The next morning, an hour before departure, I received a report of toast and water's failure to enter a blissful union with Rick's stomach, and that was the end of the official tour for Rick. The man, the myth, the legend was going to have to sit this one out.

When the realization hit me that Rick wouldn't be riding to WVV that, I was gripped with panic. You see, Rick is the Lance Armstrong to the Le Tour de Pinot team. Providing the guts, graphic design, cycling prowess, and best fitting spandex on the team, Le Tour wouldn't exist without Rick. Most importantly, though, I was counting on his lively rendition of Eye of the Tiger to push me through the final hill up to the winery. If Rick wasn't riding, who was going to sing Eye of the Tiger? Who I ask?

I knew I had to refocus and do it quickly, or I would crash and burn like General Motors pre-bailout. Further complicating the situation, none of the other 3 riders would be joining me for the entire journey; Linda was set to meet me in Albany, Andrea and Micheal taking a route down from Salem. I would be alone for the first and last 15 miles of the 64 mile journey.

I'm solo, I'm riding solo, I'm riding solo, I'm riding solo, sooloooo.
I'm riding solo, I'm riding solo, sooloooo

yeah it's like S... O... L... O...
S... O... L... O... S... O... L... O...

I had to find a new motivational song. In a final act of desperation as I was carb-loading, I turned to ITunes, and "Regulators" by Warren G and Nate Dogg came up. Old school, sure, but with that I mounted up and hit the road facing a steady headwind the entire way. Upon meeting Linda, it was clear that she wasn't in full swing either. Her bike was on it's way to Louisville for an Ironman, and her sub bike didn't get along with her cycling shoes. Nonetheless, we persevered for 32 mountainous miles to Enchanted Way, the mecca of Oregon Wine Country: Willamette Valley Vineyards and the grueling hilly driveway that comes with it. I bore down, guzzled some Gatorade, and took it head on. It was probably a stupid idea, but I did it...stumbling off of my bike at the base of the tasting room to meet the rest of our party. Micheal, Linda, and Andrea used more pedestrian tactics to make it up the hill, and none were worse for the wear...well, except Andrea who went over her handlebars early in the ride for the only carnage of Le Tour.
Zac, our support driver, also joined us at this point and into the tasting room we went. Know what's just a bit awkward? Walking in to a world-class tasting room with a wedding getting set up on site in full-out cycling gear, sweaty, and hair unkept. Despite our appearance, Wende met us with a smile on her face, a glass of pinot gris for us in her hand, and off on a special tour we went. Wende shared with us WVV's extreme commitment to sustainability, as well as the unique corporate structure of the winery and it's place in the Oregon industry. One of the most notable features is the winery's commitment to Forest Sustainability Council certified sustainable cork on all wines. Did you know you can recycle cork at every Whole Foods Market in the US thanks to WVV?
To the barrel room we went. If you haven't been in Willamette Valley's barrel room, it is certainly a special place. There, Wende shared the winery's barrel philosophy, and also poured us a special sample of the 2009 Pinot Gris straight out of the tank. While not yet bottled, the Gris is showing very nicely and will definitely stand up to previous vintages. It pairs perfectly with crab and seafood, and at around $16 a bottle you can't go wrong.
As we wrapped up our tour outside, a random interloper popped his head over the railing on the deck and started to slightly taunt our attire. That's right, it was none other than Clive Pursehouse, at the winery with a wedding party unrelated to Le Tour de Pinot. Luckily, he was able to join us for some tasting prior to going back to his officiator duties.
We wrapped up our time at WVV with some cheese and more wine (I highly recommend the 2007 Tualatin Estate Pinot Noir if you can come across some) and we hopped on our bikes for the journey back. After a quick stop at the gate for a photo, we were on our way to our respective destinations with the 2010 tour in our rearview mirrors. Well, except for the finale dinner which will be held soon.
So, that's a wrap. We're not exactly sure what form Le Tour de Pinot 2011 will take, but you can count on a wider variety of rides taking advantage of Rick's proximity to the Portland area and my proximity to the Corvallis area. We couldn't have done it without our sponsors. Thanks to Avalon Wine, a premier wine shop here in Corvallis, for serving as the main tour sponsor this year. Pop in to their shop for tastings every Saturday, or browse the extensive online selection in the comfort of your home. Also supporting the tour were Block 15 Restaurant and Brewery, the best beer in Corvallis, and Mahlum Architects, a pretty sweet firm that does a ton of work on college campuses in the region.

With that...
Risin' up, back on the street
Did my time, took my chances
Went the distance, now I'm back on my feet
Just a man and his will to survive

So many times, it happens too fast
You change your passion for glory
Don't lose your grip on the dreams of the past
You must fight just to keep them alive

It's the eye of the tiger, it's the cream of the fight
Risin' up to the challenge of our rival
And the last known survivor stalks his prey in the night
And he's watchin' us all in the eye of the tiger

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Upcoming Event: Columbia Blend from Puget Sound to Portugal

There are blends and then there are blends. If you’re a fan of the latter, there will be a mind blending experience on September 12th at BLEND Seattle. Jamie Peha is at it again and this time she has brought the Portugese into the picture. Not since Carmen Miranda came stateside has Portugal taken the world by storm quite like this. Blend will showcase wines from Portugal, California and Washington.

Blend will offer you exciting opportunities to sample what happens when wine makers decide to dabble a bit. The art of making wine is sometimes summarized as “the art of getting out of the way of the fruit,” letting the wine show itself. Blending however is most definitely an art form and when done well, the selection of combined varietals that most capture the winemaker's imagination can be a real treat for those of us on the other end of the bottle.

There will be 40 wineries in the house - what the young demographic calls "the heezy." Among those wineries you'll find some of Washington's most established, including Delille Cellars and Hedges Family Estates. Another Washington mainstay, J. Bookwalter wines may be the most versed at blending pound for pound (boxing reference). While J. Bookwalter makes plenty of single varietals, their blends make them stand out in a crowd. Their Subplot series, as well as the Couplet, Anthithesis are worth looking out for.

New kid on the block Bart Fawbush will be bringing his Bartholomew Wines to the table, both figuratively and literally. Those who've not yet tried Bart's blends are in for a real surprise. While his blends tend to stick to the more traditional Rhone or Bourdeaux style pairings, I find his Reciprocity (a Cabernet and Carmenere blend) to be a game changer.

Jamie Peha's events up the ante for wine tastings, and that's most evident in the seminars she puts together. This event includes two blending seminars with Chateau Ste Michelle and Columbia Winery. An additional $15 gets you the opportunity to actually be involved in blending your own wine. $15, you cannot be serious? Seating for these is limited, however, so if you're interested, act fast.

In addition to the wine and the blending opportunities, there will be cuisine provided by chefs from some of Washington's finest inns and B&Bs and an exciting contest to win a trip to Portugal. I’ll see you on the 12th of September; the seminars begin at 2:30, but the main event starts at 4pm. Tickets are here.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Wenatchee's Saint Laurent Winery

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Not long ago, I found myself in Wenatchee for the 10th Annual Wenatchee Omnium and some bicycle racing. If I’m not mistaken, “omnium” is Latin for "pure suffering in warm weather." The scenery and rolling hills - and in some places obscenely steep hills - make for some beautiful and challenging cycling in the Spring and Autumn when the West Side is a bit soggy. Wenatchee, Washington is still most known for it's apples and for good reason; people love apples. However, a few winemakers have set up shop in Wenatchee and they hope that folks will come to think of Wenatchee as a Washington wine destination. Of the wineries that have set up shop in Wenatchee, one of the best known is Saint Laurent Winery. Sarah, the head honcho for marketing and publicity over at Saint Laurent, invited me to come by if I was in the neighborhood for some samples of Saint Laurent's wares.

Saint Laurent is perched upon a hillside in what is technically Malaga, WA, and the view from Saint Laurent over the river valley is incredible. While there, I met up with Emily, who asked if I was interested in some barrel tasting. The answer to this question should be perpetually yes, but in this case I had a bike race later in the day, so I had to pass. A pity, that.

Emily gave me a tour around the incredible grounds, which include a beautiful garden, a gazebo, and some white wine grapes, including Riesling, that have been planted in on-site vineyards. Sarah thinks that Wenatchee has a serious future as a wine travel destination. Given its close proximity to Leavenworth and Lake Chelan, some top-notch wineries, and its beautiful terrain, it's quite probable. New wineries are opening each year in Wenatchee and while it's young, it's growing. For now, and perhaps for the foreseeable future, Saint Laurent's breathtaking location will be the crown jewel for this burgeoning wine region.

The Saint Laurent wines themselves are very good. The winemaker is Craig Mitrakul, who you may remember from the piece I did on his own label, Crayelle Cellars. Craig was chosen to make the wines at Saint Laurent based on his background, as well as his ability to make "classic approachable wines."

Sarah sent me home with a number of Saint Laurent wines to sample but I want to take the time to hone in on a two: the Riesling and the Wahluke Cabernet. I think these two wines are fantastic examples of the range of wines that Saint Laurent is producing, and the quality of all their wines. The 2009 Riesling is slightly sweet at 2.4% residual sugar; very nicely balanced and beautiful to drink. The fruit elements of the wine are on display and the resulting nose is full of floral elements, with rich tropical fruit character on the palate.

The 2006 Wahluke Cabernet is a gorgeous wine and a smooth and well balanced example of the varietal. The wine is well integrated, showing the tannins, and highlighting the interesting oak program used on this wine. Craig uses a mix of Hungarian, American and French oak that results in a very approachable wine loaded with dark fruit character and excellent rounded mouthfeel.

All the wines Craig makes have an elegance to them and are not in the least bit bullying. The Saint Laurent Wines beautifully balanced and very smooth and ripe in character. Craig credits the vineyard sites on the Wahluke, and the vineyard management of Michael Mrachek for helping create such approachable wines. The fruit comes from two different vineyard sites in Wahluke Slope that when blended create the perfect harmony and approachability that Saint Laurent is aiming for in the Cabernet.

While we can look for Wenatchee to grow as a wine destination, its a great place to pay a visit sooner than later. Its dry climate is a great escape in a soggy Autumn or Spring for us west-siders, and Saint Laurent is worth the visit.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Double-decking my way through Yamhill-Carlton

Last week, Clive shared his musings on Solena Grand Cru Estates Winery in a way only he can, with an apropos comparison to golf, a link to urban dictionary, and some outstanding wine. Approximately two months ago, I had the opportunity to visit Solena Grand Cru Estate as well during an ill-fated yet fabulous journey through the Yamhill-Carlton AVA with a group of the wine bloggeratti.

My plan was genius, if only it had worked out in implementation as it had in my uberlogistically-focused mind. Yes, it's a blessing and a curse, just ask my friends. You may recall that I regularly operate the finely-tuned German automachine that was the featured backdrop for our Meditrina and Sin Dawg pairing.  On this particular day, the locking system was malfunctioning and as much as I like crawling in and out of my car like a Nascar driver, I had an appointment in Portland for the repairs to be made -- Portland being 90 miles from The Oregon Wine Blog headquarters and the location of the nearest automachine shop that I trust.  Conveniently, that very day was the Pre-Wine Bloggers Conference tour of Yamhill-Carlton organized by Lynnette Shaw of Solena, departing from Portland an hour after my service appointment.

Drop off the car, pick up a loaner, head to the meeting location, spend an awesome day of wine tasting, return the loaner, pick up my car, and drive back to Corvallis for my bowling league at 7:00 PM, then to work the next day.  That's right, I said bowling league.  Rick and I were in a bowling league this summer, so what.  Think bowling and wine don't go together?  Well let me tell you...  I digress, that's the topic of a whole different post.  Things started off swimmingly, and only got more interesting from there.

Lynnette had contacted me a few months before the Wine Bloggers Conference with a welcomed invite to participate in the Yamhill-Carlton tour sponsored by Solena.  The tour was primarily for out-of-town bloggers, however, The Oregon Wine Blog was happy to serve as a local rep of the blogging community.  And, as TOWB was going to be everywhere but the Wine Bloggers Conference, I jumped at the chance to engage with the blogging community.  All Lynnette would tell us was that we were going to the Grand Cru Estate, Soter Vineyards, and Anne Amie Vineyards, departing at 10:00 AM and returning to Portland by 5:00 PM...and that we'd know our transportation when we saw it.

Upon arriving at the predetermined meeting point, I looked around and all I saw was a garbage truck and a City of Portland bus.  No, this wouldn't do.  Turns out I was a few minutes early and shortly an entirely different type of bus pulled up.  Red, tall, and sexy...with legs that went all the way up...we were to be the vintage journey on Double Decker PDX, a vintage open-air double decker bus straight out of England.  Lynnette on was onboard with two staples of Portland for the out-of-state guests:  Stumptown Coffee and Voodoo Donuts.  As the bloggers rolled in, two things became quickly evident:  wine bloggers are an odd bunch and clearly many had enjoyed Oregon wine country the night before.  Before long, we were off...and into McMinnville we rolled where the first mishap occurred.  Turns out, GPS isn't always to be trusted and it's hard to turn around a double-decker bus on many roads.  Oops.  A little behind schedule, we started the winery tour.

Solena Grand Cru Estate Winery

Clive did a great job speaking to the specifics of Solena and the Grand Cru Estate, so I'll talk of my experience specifically. Boy, we were in for a treat. We walked through the tasting room door and was by the winemaker who shared some Pinot Gris and walked us around the winery. Soon, we found ourselves down in the barrel room where each blogger was handed a wine thief, ahead of us sat 7 open barrels of different vineyard-designate Pinot Noir from the 2009 vintage. 7 barrels of wine, wine thiefs, and bloggers? Recipe for awesomeness! 2009 is showing to be an amazing vintage, keep your eyes open for the Monks Gate from Solena.

After our fill of barrel tasting, we headed upstairs to a gourmet lunch prepared by Chef Matt Howard and paired with Solena wine. With a corn soup, plank-roasted salmon, flat iron steak, and strawberries with shortbread, Matt expertly prepared Oregon's finest culinary treats for the group. While Clive found the Domaine Danielle Laurent to be his favorite, I was really digging the Hyland Vineyard Pinot. We had such a great time at Solena, by time we hit the road we were running 45 minutes behind. Mishap 2 occurred on the way to Soter...turns out, GPS doesn't indicate which roads are gravel and which are paved. Touche.

Soter Vineyards

Open by appointment only, we were lucky to have an audience with winemaker Tony Soter and some of the finest wines in the Willamette Valley. Located near Carlton, OR on the Mineral Springs Ranch, Soter is housed in a gorgeous refurbished barn. Tony shared some of his philosophy on wine and winemaking, seeking to create a "signature of place in the glass" using a custom clone of Pinot Noir. Awesome people, awesome wine, and goats on the property instead of lawnmowers. My kind of place. If you get a chance, check out the 2006 Beacon Hills Pinot Noir. Now about an hour behind schedule, back on the bus for us for some more donuts and the trip to Anne Amie.

Anne Amie Vineyards

The third and final stop of the day took us to Anne Amie Vineyards, at the old Chateau Benoit estate near Lafayette. Winemaker Thomas Houseman met us and took us through full slate of wines and shared the history of the winery. I'll be honest, at this point my palate was a bit shot so I don't remember much specifically about the wines, however, I do know that Anne Amie is pretty bold and daring in their large portfolio of white wines, and of course, Pinot Noir. After tasting probably 15 current releases, Thomas took us through the production area and into the tasting room where he had a special treat for us: aged white wines. After some phenomenal conversation and a 1996 riesling, we were back on the bus about 2 hours behind schedule.

Right about then, the car dealership called. They had to order parts that wouldn't be in until the next day, but I was welcome to keep the loaner until then. Just as I hung the phone up, my phone battery died. Super. I was due at bowling and there was no way I was going to make it, was without my car, and couldn't call to let my teammates know that I was still alive. At least I was in great company with a stomach full of good wine and food.

So, I missed bowling, but got to drive a brand new car back to Corvallis and up to Portland again the next day to get my vehicle. Thankfully, my team did fine without me and I had an awesome day seeing the best Yahmill-Carlton has to offer. I'll tell you what, though, that day was enough to throw my planning inclinations right out the window.


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Who Needs Golf: Solena Estate; Gran Cru Estates


On our way down to McMinnville for the IPNC Passport to Pinot we were invited to swing by and check out Solena Estates brand new Grand Cru Estates facility outside of Yamhill. The Grand Cru Estates facility, which opened last November, sits right off 240 and is a sight to behold as you pull up the gravel driveway. Lynnette showed us around the facility and we tried to stay incognito so as to not disturb some IPNC guests there for a blending seminar and lunch.

Grand Cru Estates, in Lynnette’s words, is "a sort of country club, but instead of golf, the focus is wine." This is perhaps the most genius thing I've heard in a while, and let me explain. Wine is the celebration of life, of living, in both a literal sense and also in a kind of olde timey Bacchanalian sense assuming that by "old timey" you mean Greek mythology. Which is exactly what I'm talking about. Further it is my personal opinion that golf is the opposite of the celebration of life, it's rather the celebration of aging, an acceptance of the regrettable reality that no other athletic endeavors are available to my frail frame anymore. "I should look into this golf thing."

Grand Cru members make their own wine with the fruit from the Solena Estate vineyards. Members can make a 1/4, 1/2 or full barrels of wine, and they really get to do everything from blending to racking. There are currently 30 or 40 members of the club, and members get access to the entire facility for one full day each calendar year, a private club room with lockers for wine, and a ton of other cool benefits.

The Gran Cru facility is also the production facility for Solena Estates, where they’re making wines with a focus on Willamette Valley Pinot Noir and a lot of warm weather varietals grown predominantly in Southern Oregon. Some of the fruit, however, is sourced from Washington, specifically the acclaimed Klipsun Vineyard. I have to chuckle at the "warm weather" distinction because it was 96 degrees in the Willamette Valley on the day of our visit.

In addition to the tour and rundown of the Gran Cru club we also got to taste through the wines being made by Solena Estates. They make a variety of excellent single vineyard Pinot Noirs as well as a Cuvee and Pinot Gris. The 09 Pinot Gris is sourced from 3 different vineyards including one from Southern Oregon. This was the first of two such Gris we tasted on our trip that was blended this way (Panther Creek also does one). I think it's the way to go for Oregon. While it may not be a "proper" AVA wine, the result is undeniably delicious. The strength of the Willamette AVA grapes balance extremely well with the acidity present in the Southern Oregon inclusion to really round out the wine.

Enough messing about, onto Pinot Noir. Solena Estate makes a couple different single vineyard Pinots, as well as a Cuvee. All of their Pinots are quite nice but for the sake of time I have to focus in on the Domaine Danielle Laurent Pinot Noir ($45). I strongly suggest you spend some time with this wine. First off, we had the 2007. The mystery continues for me about how people who supposedly know anything about wine could have poo-pooed this vintage for Oregon Pinot Noir. This wine is beautiful. I picked up some burnt gun powder on the nose. Saying this to Gwynne and Lynnette elicited a skeptical reaction and Gwynne asked me when I had last handled a musket. (We went on to discuss a curious scene we had witnessed in Bellingham where four lonely looking Civil War reenactors had assembled on a side street to recreate the not-so-famed Battle of Bellingham).

Back to the wine. Interestingly enough I just checked out the tasting notes from the winemaker. Lo and behold: "aromatics of flint." Flint, as those reenactors will tell you, is what you use to ignite the gun powder. I win. The wines from this estate vineyard, which was a wedding gift from the owners, Danielle & Laurent, to each other, is planted with several different Pinot clones. The wine is handled with kid gloves, and in small lots. Punchdowns are done in rotary barrels and all fermentation is done in small batches.

The result is another more than capable spokesman for the 2007 vintage out of Willamette Valley. We found ourselves compelled to purchase a bottle to take home. If you’re in the Valley, pay a visit to this beautiful facility. If you live out that way, hang up the golf clubs and start making wine instead. It's way more fun.

(My disdain for golf comes from being a caddy at a country club for three years through high school & college. This opinion of this so-called sport is in no way shared by the good folks at Solena Estate.)

Le Tour de Pinot Stage 4: Airlie Winery

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With a look of content only a belly of greasy spoon breakfast can elicit, he opened the door of his new apartment just like every other time. With a bit of a waddle, he headed towards the living room for what was meant to be an hour of rest and relaxation before the big ride. You know, the kind where you flop into that crevice in your couch that's specifically carved out in the shape of your ass. The tragedy is that the couch flopping didn't happen as intended. At two thirds of the way to blissful laziness, words every mother cringes at the mention of were spoken.

"I don't feel so well."


To the lavatory!

Three minutes later, he exits and like lasers our eyes meet.

"You ok?"

And with a look of grimace and determination similar to that of a cat not wanting to do something you want it to do, he replied,


He pauses to smoothly slide on his sun glasses.

"Let's do this."

In what was perhaps the greatest or dumbest moment of Le Tour de Vino, even gastrointestinal irregularities didn't get between him, his bike, and an afternoon of great Willamette Valley wine. Josh was ready to roll.

With that minor setback behind us, we started on what was our first stop before heading to Airlie Winery. At what has become our regular meeting place, Josh and I met up with our friend Scott at Avalon Wine in downtown Corvallis. While we were going to approach Airlie from the south, Micheal, Andrea, and Craig were planning to meet us there from the North. With our half of the crew ready, we set off in our newly-arrived (finally) Le Tour de Pinot jerseys!

Looking like we actually know what we're doing, we finalized our game plan and set off to Airlie. The ride was supposed to be about 42 miles round trip, but a short cut quickly tacked on around 15 miles or so. No worries. The weather was about as perfect as you can ask for and we made it to Airlie with no further hiccups.

We weren't sure if we had beaten the southbound group until we noticed the Volvo in the parking lot. Le Drive de Pinot? Turns out Craig drove support for Micheal and Andrea, but we can still give them crap about it.

As we walked up the end of Airlie's driveway, seated outside were Craig, Andrea, and Micheal with empty wine glasses in front of them. They were nice enough to wait for us and we then moved to a table by a small pond. Shortly after, Mary Olson (owner) greeted us with a huge smile and an incredibly warm welcome. She also had wine!

Before we get to the wine, however, let's share a bit about Airlie. Established in 1986, Elizabeth Clark (winemaker) produces approximatly 8000 cases of multiple varietals a year. While producing the typical Willamette Valley fair of Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir, Airlie pushes the boundary by also producing varietals such as their "7" white blend, Müller Thurgau, and Maréchal Foch. Airlie's property is located just outside of Monmouth and is absolutely perfect for sipping wines and having a picnic by their pond.

One thing I would like to note before I get into the wine itself is how incredibly warm and welcoming Mary is. Normally when wine tasting, crowds of people jostle for position at a tasting counter and fumble through multiple tasting menus. Not at Airlie. In what was perhaps the coolest take on wine tasting I have seen so far, Mary decided to go from group to group outside and pour wine at their tables. She was like the wine fairy! Not only did she always know what our next wine was supposed to be, but she also gave us the story behind each wine and answered any questions we had. I'm going to reiterate this again, but a huge thank you on behalf of all of us goes to Mary for her hospitality.

While we had the opportunity to try all of Airlie's wines, I'm going to touch on just a few.

2008 - 7
Why 7? Because it's comprised of Müller Thurgau, Riesling, Pinot gris, Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay, Pinot blanc and Auxerrois. You know, the usuals. I regress, this blend is anything but usual. I also have to admit that I tried it last summer at a wine pairing dinner event and wasn't much of a fan, but this time was different. For me, the key to enjoying this wine is that it holds its own as a phenomenal sipping wine on a hot day. 7 is a tad on the sweet side without any residual bite or lingering aftertaste. As I watch the temperature climb today and take a look at the five day forecast, I have a feeling cases of this are going to fly off shelves.

Scott especially liked it and was his clear favorite of all of Airlie's wines. He also loves himself some Goldfish crackers.

2007 Maréchal Foch
I just spent a good ten minutes trying to type out how to best describe this varietal and failed miserably. Instead, I'll let Wikipedia do the explaining for me:

Marechal Foch (pronounced "mar-esh-shall-fosh"), is an inter-specific hybrid red wine grape variety. Marechal Foch is used to make a variety of styles of wine, ranging from a light red wine similar to Beaujolais, to more extracted wines with intense dark "inky" purple colour and unique varietal character, to sweet, fortified, port-style wines. Wines made from Marechal Foch tend to have strong acidity, aromas of black fruits and, in some cases, toasted wheat, mocha, fresh coffee, bitter chocolate, vanilla bean, and musk. In the darker variants of the wine a strong gamey nose is also often described.

With that out of the way, Airlie's offering is a lighter red, but would pair perfectly with gamey or smoked meats. Others in our group really enjoyed it on its own, but I suggest pairing it to get the full effect. If anything I highly suggest trying it just for the experience as it truly is a very unique varietal.

2008 Pinot Noir ~ BeckenRidge Vineyard
Finally I'm going to point out their 2008 BlackenRidge Vineyard Pinot Noir. While still young, it had me fooled as this Pinot Noir stands up against the best of them. This offering brings forth bold fruit flavors while certainly not crossing into the "fruity" realm. Very smooth and not much tart either. While very delicious sipping by itself, this would easily win over a dinner party.

After trying all of Airlie's offerings as well as taking the the time to do some photo ops, it was time to say goodbye to Mary and hit the road. A HUGE thank you again to Mary for being so hospitable. If you're ever in the Corvallis/Monmouth area, you really owe it to yourself to stop by Airlie Winery on a beautiful day.


Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Le Tour de Pinot Stage 3: Tyee Wine Cellars


If you didn't know any better, you would have thought that Stage 3 of Le Tour de Pinot was actually the crash-laden Stage 2 of the Tour de France, that is, if you count the number of riders who dropped out for a variety of reasons within a week before the ride. Illness...last minute travel...family issues...and mechanical issues resulted in a peloton comprised solely of Le Tour founders, Rick and myself, for a ride to Tyee Wine Cellars on July 17. Indeed, fate (in the form of couple of pitchers of beer the night before) attempted to even knock Rick and me out of the running, but with some ibuprofen, water, and a little sunlight, we were on the saddle ready to rock, after all, one of the finest wineries in the Willamette Valley was waiting with the red spandex rolled out.

The ride started at Avalon Wine in downtown Corvallis, a tour sponsor and the source for Northwest wines in Corvallis. After a few photo ops, some autographs, and a rousing chat with a local about Andy Schleck's chances of winning in Paris, we hit the road at a considerably faster pace than Le Tour's Tyee stage last year. I'm positive that 15 degrees cooler, a newer lighter bike, and some awesome padded bib shorts had absolutely nothing to do with the faster pace. We're just that metal. Exactly 10 miles later, we rolled up to the Buchanan Family Century Farm, home of Tyee Wine Cellars and Estate Vineyard.

We were quickly met by Merrilee Buchanan Benson, Winemaker, and our support drivers Megan and Kathryn who would have happily scraped us up off of the road if needed at any point during the ride. Merrilee started out by taking us through the standard lineup of Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir. Tyee is all estate fruit, and the 2008 Pinot Gris really popped for me. We have a long standing love affair with Tyee's whites, and this tasting was no exception. The Noir of course is excellent, but whenever we find a white that us red-heads enjoy, it sticks out. The 2007 Barrel Select Pinot Noir is also quite special; with only 100 cases you better pick some up while you can.

After the tasting, Merrilee had a special treat in store for The Oregon Wine Blog. She led us to the barn behind the tasting room, where winery founders David and Margy Buchanan had set up a spread for lunch with local produce and of course, wine. A nice cheese plate was complemented by an unreleased 2008 Chardonnay that magically appeared on the table; and a delicious asian chicken salad paired perfectly with the barrel sample of the 2008 Pinot Noir that Merrilee skillfully poured for us. Seriously, Margy, I want that recipe! Hazelnuts grown on the farm were plentiful, and the conversation was lively and enjoyable as the trio behind Tyee shared the spirit that makes the winery special. We learned, for instance, that Tyee is now 100% on solar power, and has a strong commitment to sustainable practices. The were one of the first salmon safe wines in fact. Another cool feature of the vineyard is the use of grass in the aisle ways instead of dirt, the subject of a current OSU study that is indicating more complexity to the wine as a result.

A quick aside about Buchanan Family Century Farm. Founded over 120 years ago and having passed through 5 generations of Buchanan's, the wine component of this property is a relatively infant stage with first plantings in 1974. Infant in terms of years, that is. There is absolutely nothing infant about the matured, complex, and delicious wines being poured at Tyee. The farm boasts a woodland / wetland conservation area with a nature trail that is the destination for many a school field trips. Just don't let the children near my wine ;)
After a bountiful lunch, awesome conversation, and amazing wine, we were a bit sad to depart although I know we'll be back a few more times before the summer wraps up. Tyee is a must-stop destination if you are in the Willamette Valley. It's the perfect location to bring a picnic lunch and crack open a nice cool white on a summer afternoon. You won't find more welcoming winery owners than the Buchanan's, further epitomizing the great spirit and attitude of the Oregon wine industry.

Stage 3...success. Tyee is for real, and, we didn't wreck on the way back.  That is always a plus. Up next, Airlie.  Keep your eyes open for our suave Le Tour de Pinot jerseys, sponsored by the fine folks at Avalon Wine, Mahlum Architects, and Block 15 Restaurant and Brewery, and the tour poster coming soon to an interweb near you.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Passport to Pinot; A tale of Reunion & Discovery

Traffic through Portland aside, going back to the Willamette Valley is always a joyous occasion for me. I savor the opportunity to reconnect with old friends like Sheila & Nick Nicholas of Anam Cara Cellars and I always eagerly look forward to making new friends, finding new wine gems and enjoying the people & the Pinot of the gorgeous Willamette Valley.

Gwynne and I packed up our car early Saturday morning and prepared to crash the campus of Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon, which has played host to the International Pinot Noir Celebration every summer for the last 24 years. We scored a room in one of Linfield's very satisfactory dormitories, which, I might add, had fantastically convenient proximity to the Grand Tasting, Passport to Pinot.

In the run-up to Sunday's Passport to Pinot event, there were lots of wines, vineyard visits and excellent food and you'll get to read about all of that. I want to focus on Passport to Pinot because that was the event that prompted our trip to McMinnville. Gwynne and I are both madly in love with Oregon's incomparable Pinot Noir and so the opportunity to sample much of the wine that was poured over the four days of the IPNC events was a siren call we couldn’t refuse.

The IPNC is four intense days of seminars, blending workshops and pairings stretching from Thursday to Sunday morning. The Passport event, held Sunday afternoon, reprises the Al Fresco tastings from Friday and Saturday, and so typically has different attendees. It’s a great offering of a more affordable tasting opportunity for the newcomer or the slightly less dedicated fan of Pinot. Passport also allows the wineries highlighted during the Al Fresco tastings to showcase their wines to a wider audience.

The Passport to Pinot was beautifully situated in the Oak Grove at Linfield College. Each attendee was given a Riedel Oregon Pinot Noir glass and invited to have at it, giving us an opportunity to taste Pinot from approximately 60 wineries pouring at the event in two shifts. While Oregon was the most well-represented region, there were wines from all over the world. It is, after all, the International Pinot Noir Celebration. Tending toward regionalism as I do, I was very pleasantly surprised by some amazing Pinots coming from Argentina, Austria, and Canada.

We ran into Sheila and Nick early on in the afternoon, and Sheila introduced me to Cole Danehower. Cole is the author of Essential Wines & Wineries of the Pacific Northwest and Northwest Palate Magazine. Cole & I got into a disagreement about Canadian wines when he told me there was some really good wine coming out of Canada. I confess that later in the day, I came to eat, or rather drink my words after I tried the Pinot Noir from Tantalus. A few hours later I sauntered up to Cole and said, "Cole, I do believe some humble pie is in order." Humble pie goes great with Pinot, Canadian Pinot especially.

I was really taken by some of the Pinot Noir coming out of California is well. (That's a sentence I never really thought I'd write. Geez.) The wines of Carneros and Santa Rita Hills were especially nice. Santa Rita Hills is a little cooler and so I think that helps them out quite a bit.

Another surprise, and the winery with the longest line was Bodega Chacra, an Argentinian Pinot producer. The Pinot from Bodega Chacra was an ‘09 and I found it very understated. The guy pouring the wine however was very handsome, and so maybe that's why there was such a long line?

I still defer to Oregon for my Pinot Noir, and today was no exception. The Eyrie Vineyards ‘07 Estate, aka The Godfather, was really showing beautifully and it's not even released. I always find the wines of Anam Cara to be very much to my liking in any crowd. It was a pleasure to try the Roco Pinot, and I had a great time talking with Rollin Soles about our screw cap chat on Grape Encounters Radio.

It was nice running into other wine bloggers like Tamara from Sip With Me, and Allie from My Wine Words. The Passport to Pinot was a great event that also included an excellent spread of Oregon, specifically Portland, eateries. Restaurants, bakeries and caterers making a wide variety of food options that went well with this wide variety of Pinot Noir. There were some great bites from Bunk Sandwiches, Ken's Artisan Bakery (with canelé that won Gwynne's heart quickly) and Two Tarts Bakery (which also won Gwynne's heart with amazing macaroons, notice a theme).

Passport to Pinot is a great way to cram some of the amazingly rich experiences that make up the IPNC week into one day, with a much more approachable price tag. The event is as tasteful, or dare I say classy, as any tasting I've been to. Next year is the 25th year of IPNC, maybe it'll be my second. ( Tickets are already available.)