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.