On Sunday, the WWG decided to make a pilgrimage to an area that currently rivals France’s Burgundy region for the hearts and minds of Pinot lovers everywhere–Oregon’s Willamette Valley. I was primed to hit four wineries in about five hours on Sunday, so like any athlete before the big game, I needed to fuel up for a long day of Pinot tasting. In Portland, that means one thing – Voodoo Doughnut!
Be prepared for unique doughnuts. Be prepared for double entendres. Be prepared for a long line. On Sunday morning, I waited about an hour in Voodoo’s outdoor line for my bacon maple bar, which was a salty/sweet delight! My friend had the O.D.B. (look it up, this is family-friendly programming here folks) which is topped with oreos and peanut butter. Enough said! So with a sugar and caffeine high (Stumptown is brewed here too), the WWG and travel buddy were ready for a day amongst the vines.
When visiting the Willamette Valley, it is hard not to run into world-class Pinots, so for this trip, I based my winery selections primarily on word of mouth recommendations. My wine class instructor highlighted wineries near Newberg, Oregon – Penner-Ash and Bergstrom — which wound up being my first two stops of the day and were notable primarily for the Shea-sourced Pinots they served. Not open to the public, Shea Wine Cellars appears to be one of the best spots in the area for Pinot grape growing. Shea only keeps about 25% of its fruit in-house for wine-making and sells the rest of it to other producers in the area. Judging by what I tasted from the other producers, try a Shea Pinot if you get the chance!
Penner-Ash – Tastings at 15771 NE Ribbon Ridge Rd in Newberg, OR; open from 11am to 5pm Wednesday through Sunday. Penner-Ash has a very modern feel with smiling sunflowers greeting visitors upon entry. In addition to Pinot Noirs, the winery also serves some Rhone varietals that I usually enjoy, Viognier and Syrah. My experience at the tasting room was solid, and I particularly liked the winery’s 2009 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, which is sourced from a variety of vineyards in the area, including some grapes from Shea. It is a fruit-forward Pinot that retails for $45 per bottle. If you like more structure and earth flavors in your Pinot, check out Penner-Ash’s 2009 Estate Dussin Pinot Noir, which retails for $60 per bottle. That was my travel buddy’s favorite bottle at Penner-Ash. So overall, it was a solid start to the WWG’s winery day with the next stop only 5 miles down the road.
Bergstrom – Tastings at 18215 NE Calkins Lane in Newberg, OR from 10am to 4pm daily. One of my flight seatmates recommended Bergstrom on the way to Portland with the phrase “You’re going to fall in love.” He was right. I loved my time sitting on Bergstrom’s veranda, overlooking the valley, eating a picnic lunch, and enjoying their beautiful wines. Somewhat surprisingly, the whites at Bergstrom probably offered the most fodder for the day. Bergstrom has stopped production on a Riesling, which the WWG loved, to concentrate more on a traditional Burgundian varietal, Chardonnay. The 2009 Oregon Riesling with its crisp peach flavors, floral aromas, and dry style was almost a steal at $18 a bottle. Next came the 2009 Sigrid Chardonnay. It was light, crisp, fruity (lemons and apples), elegant (not too oaky in my opinion) and generally superb. However, it was also $78 per bottle. I’m not sure what the strategy will be at Bergstrom going forward, but my frugality would push me into the arms of its Riesling and away from its Chardonnay, right now. Hopefully, Bergstrom meets somewhere in the middle of those two price points for its Chardonnays going forward. But overall, I’ll be sad to see the Riesling go. For Pinots, I really liked the 2009 Shea Vineyard offering at $48 per bottle (note the Shea trend). It was full of cherries and spices, and it went well with the elk jerky I purchased at the prior day’s farmers market. Of note, one of the nicest parts of the Bergstrom experience was the staff’s willingness to bring the wines to us on the veranda. It was my first time with such an experience at a winery, which made it extra relaxing and enjoyable, especially while eating lunch. Thanks for making the WWG feel at home, Bergstrom!
Next, we went to the Dundee Hills, which is about a half an hour away from the Newberg area.
Domaine Serene – Tastings at 6555 NE Hilltop in Dayton, OR from 11am to 4pm Wednesday through Monday. Domaine Serene’s tasting facility sits atop a hill with an amazing view. The view alone is worth a stop. The tasting experience is extremely polished with a corporate feel in comparison to the other wineries the WWG visited that day. I’d also note that Domaine Serene’s Chardonnay expressed more oak than I care for (see the I Hate Chardonnay, Right? post for reference on why), and my favorite Pinot Noir wasn’t on the regular menu and retailed for about $75 a bottle, which was on the high end for the day. Overall, great setting, good wines.
Domaine Drouhin – Tastings at 6750 Breyman Orchards Rd. in Dayton, OR from 11am to 4pm daily. Domaine Drouhin ranks right up there with Bergstrom in terms of the WWG’s overall winery experience in the Willamette Valley. Like Bergstrom, Domaine Drouhin offers an outdoor seated tasting, which I find highly relaxing and enjoyable. And the wines were great too! I was particularly impressed with the $30 per bottle Chardonnay. After hearing the winemaker’s strategy of keeping the wine crisp and fresh in stainless steel, it was almost love-at- first-description and definitely love-at-first-sip for me. For those of you, like me, who look for unoaky versions of Chardonnay, Domaine Drouhin just might do the trick for you. Also, I really enjoyed the $60 per bottle 2007 Pinot Noir Laurene, which tastes of smooth red fruits and was one of the most elegant expressions of Pinot that we tasted all day. Bravo, Domaine Drouhin!
And Bravo, Oregon! After the day of wine tasting and a good night’s sleep, it was time to return home.
Until we meet again,
The Wandering Wine Girl