Needless to say, after our shenanighans in Portland we were moving a little slow on Saturday morning. Took our time getting out of town before we made our way to Multnomah Falls for a walk and an ice cream cone.
By the early afternoon we made our way toward Carlton, OR. A small country town in between Dundee and McMinnville.
We made ourselves at home then made out way to Cuvée, a French restaurant established by Chef Gilbert Henry (originally of Alsace). It was hard to describe our meal and experience in a way other than “perfect.” With a combination of an asparagus gazpacho, the poisson du jour (sea bass), clams marinière, coquilles St. Jacques it was light and refreshing but so flavorful. It was another one of those spots that you need to make time for.
Onto the main event! Oregon wine country.
Something everyone should know: Damn near everything, other than the wineries, is closed on Sundays and Mondays. If you are planning a trip make sure you are in the area Tuesday through Saturday. We missed out on quite a few things as a result… sad face :(.
Now… to be fair most of the wines we tasted were from the 2010 and 2011 vintages, both of which were cold and/or damp (similar to what we experienced in CA but on a grander scale). The were dubbed as challenging, winemaker vintages that separated the men from the boys, girls from the women etc etc. In some cases they were almost considered “a disaster waiting to happen,” especially in the case of 2011.
We tried to go into with an open mind. However for most of the wineries we visited these two vintages really had an effect. Overall we were pretty underwhelmed except for two all-stars who seemed to rise above challenging years: Shea Wine Cellars and Soter Vineyards. For length purposes I am focusing on those two; feel free to contact me directly if you want some more info.
We were lucky enough to visit Shea even though they are not generally open for tastings. Most of their fruit is sold to other producers in Oregon and even some in California but they keep their hands on a few specific lots. They have an array of clonal wines that focus on different blocks of the vineyard; all of which are excellent depending on your style of Pinot Noir but sell out real quick-like. Their style and consistency is something to be envied. With lower alcohols, very particular lot selection and an oak program that doesn’t last more than about 10 months, these guys have it down. Many thanks to winemaker Blair and to owner Dick Shea for hosting us!
- 2010 Estate Pinot Noir – The staple. A blend of a few different clones and vineyard blocks to make a consistent blend year in and year out. If you are looking for an introduction to Oregon Pinot I suggest starting here. Great red fruits, acidity and balance. Worth drinking on its lonesome or food.
- 2011 West Hill Pinot Noir – My favorite of the day. It did cater to my California palate a bit as it was a very forward and a bit more luscious than the ’10 Estate. This wine was immediately met with a, “I’ll take two of those,” statement. If you lean towards a California style of Pinot Noir and want to start easing into the Oregon scene I recommend this guy.
- 2012 Barrel Samples – Wow. Just wow. This is where the artistry of making multiple wines from the same vineyard came into play. They like to play with different percentages of whole cluster fermentations with just about each clone and block. Not to mention the oak selections for each. It was an awesome experience and it tastes like 2012 is going to be legend…wait for it… DARY!
Soter Vineyards had a bit more of the classic wine country/wine tasting feel with a b-e-a-u-tiful open barn, view and very good wines. Tony Soter founded the winery with a pedigree that most would love to be able to tout: Araujo, Shafer, Viader, Dalle Valle and founding father of Etude; but he doesn’t. The first thing our hostess, Hillary, told us was while he has had some great experiences he wants Soter Vineyards to stand on its own. Mad props for that. We continued with a great tasting and educational experience as we talked shop for almost two hours. We tasted through the entire lineup and ended up signing up for the wine club.
- 2012 North Valley Compass Cuvee White – A interesting twist of 55% Chardonnay and 45% Gewürztraminer. An easy choice for a hot afternoon and at $22 you should only have one comment, “Shut up and take my money!”
- 2010 Mineral Springs Ranch Pinot Noir – Their staple estate wine produced from the surrounding property. A good benchmark, a little lean but if you like classic Oregon or Burgundian Pinot Noir this will be right up your alley.
- 2009 Mineral Springs Ranch Pinot Noir (White Label) – The Pinot Noir that only makes it out during specific vintages, or as I called it “the big guns.” Coming from the best block of the vineyard located on the highest point of the property. A bit of an investment at $85 but worth it. This Pinot did cater to California palate, like Shea’s West Hill, but was very distinct.
- 2009 Mineral Springs Ranch Brut Rosé – As if the whites and Pinots we tried were not enough the bubbles were what sealed the deal on joining the wine club. Yeasty, bready, fruity goodness with excellent balance. The only thing that we were disappointed about was that they were sold out of the Blanc de Blancs!
With two amazing experiences in the bag even the less-than-impressive stops we made couldn’t dampen our spirits. We ended our excursion at a Paulée, an AMAZING restaurant in Dundee. It just so happened that we ran into Chef Sean as we were sitting down at the bar for a bite. We chatted for a while comparing wine countries, restaurants and cuisines before having one last gluttonous meal. A beet salad followed by a barrage of foie gras, bone marrow, duck pâté, duck burger and amazing house-cured charcuterie. If you don’t stop here for a snack or a meal you are doing it wrong!
Whew. Thanks for sticking it out through three very long a detailed recaps! Long story short (in your best Governator impersonation): get your ass to Portland and Oregon wine country. Both are bucket list worthy.