Posted by: David Stewart | November 27, 2014

2013 a bad year for Oregon Pinot Noir?

“No industrial wine.”

This was the response from a friend at work who I discovered has a 3000 bottle wine cellar. With such large collection, he ought to have some helpful advice about Oregon wines. So I asked him which was his favorite.

He is a fan of artisanal, hand-crafted wines and only wines from certain vineyards. “No industrial wine. and dirt is important to me.” 

Wineries in Oregon are almost always quite small, with each winemaker / farmer / owner trying to scratch by with what they can make from year to year, often leaning on money from a day job or an endowment.

As such, most of these wineries need to sell wine to get it out of their warehouse and make room for the next vintage. It is a rare winery with the resources to hold on to wine until it’s ready to drink.

In the Willamette Valley of Oregon, there is a lot of year-to-year variation in weather. In recent history, there have been overly hot years (2006 and 2009), cold and rainy years (2010 and 2011) and nearly perfect years (2008 and 2012).

There is a local wine distributor who started tasting 2010 vintage Willamette Pinots when they were released and turned up his nose, made a face and declared them to be “thin and sharp.” His blog asked, “2010 not the year for Oregon Pinot?”

Of course today in 2014, 2010 Willamettes are prized, as are the 2011s. They are fragrant, mysterious wines with profound grandeur. But upon release, many of them resembled mouthwash – acidic and hard to like. In fact, some Willamette wineries are holding back their 2011s because they are convinced that nobody will buy them while there are sexy and unctuous 2012s still to buy.

How will 2013 be remembered? After a long, hot summer, there was a deluge of rain which pummeled the vineyards. The question for 2013 Willamette is: “Did you harvest before or after the rains?”

So far, my reaction to the 2013s is decidedly mixed. 

Some great producers are turning out their usual amazeballs wines with tension and complexity which should just get better over time. There are some great producers which are pouring unpleasant wines which really need more bottle age. Given the reputation of these winemakers, I’m certain that these 2013s will come around. Although I’m not buying anything I don’t like upon tasting, I’m ready to taste them later and perhaps like them then.

Posted by: David Stewart | November 26, 2014

The Radio of Wine

I know it’s hard to believe, but when I was in college, there were very few options for listening to music: records or the radio. As I started working part-time in school, I was finally able to afford to buy my own stereo and records. I didn’t even bother with getting a radio tuner, since I never listened to the radio, and it seemed like such low quality sound.

Dad said to me: “But how do you find out about about new music?”

A reasonable question! Often times a favorite musician would issue a new album, or I would hear about music from someone else. “If you like that, you might like this.” But radio presents a way to sample music directly. So when I had saved up enough money, I bought a tuner.

Wine can be quite similar. If you find something you like at a price point you are comfortable with, why not just keep buying it and drinking it!

On the other hand, you might have friends who share your tastes and can offer some insight into new wines. Wouldn’t it be great if there was something like radio for wine?

The wine tasting festival is kind of like the Radio of Wine.

You are issued a wine glass, sometimes a cheat sheet of the wines available or a “spit cup”, and cast loose to try wines. Usually there are a few nibbles of cheese to cleanse the palate, but you are on your own.

I just attended one of these events this week. For $20, we were introduced to 11 different wineries and 30 different wines. I had heard of only a few of the wineries and only tasted the wines of one of them. These were all tiny operations without their own tasting room, so the person pouring the wine is either the farmer or winemaker – or sometimes both.

How many of these places will still be around in a few years? Who knows. But guaranteed, all of them had their passion on display and their wine on sale. Here were some standout introductions for me:

Harper Voit- Winemaker Drew Voit draws from his experience at Domaine Serene and Shea Wine Cellars to craft excellent wines for his own label, and to consult with several others who were at the tasting. But none of these wines taste the same! Once again, proving the point that different growing areas for Pinot Noir can produce very different results, even in the hands of a single winemaker.

Antiquum Farms- The farming method is totally Old School, the winemaking by Drew Harper of Harper Voit, but the result is fantastic. The 2012 Juel Pinot Noir was a standout.

Eminent Domaine- Their sophomore effort, a 2012 Pinot Noir, has already snagged a 94 point score from Wine Spectator. Pretty impressive for vines planted in 2009!

Leah Jorgensen- The “Pirate Queen” has followed a very different course than the rest of the pack. Cabernet Franc is a leading star here, and a Loire-inspired style.

If you are looking for a major wine radio experience and you are in the Portland, Oregon area for Thanksgiving 2014, there is a Thanksgiving Weekend open house at Beacon Hill Winery from 10AM – 4PM, Friday and Saturday the 28th and 29th of November, 2014.

And be on the lookout for wine tasting festivals. They are a great way to tune in on a new wavelength.

Posted by: David Stewart | November 25, 2014

Thanksgiving Wines 2014

The tradition of celebrating Thanksgiving might seem a uniquely North American tradition, though it is celebrated at a different time in the US and Canada. I was surprised to learn last year that the tradition of insane shopping on the day after, known as “Black Friday” has become a global phenomenon. I was sitting in a dark pub in Bucharest, having dinner with some young friends when I learned of this. My reaction went something like this:

“Hang on, Black Friday? You guys don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, right? Then why on earth do you have Black Friday?”

It turns out that global commercialism has propagated the Black Friday tradition in Europe at least and probably elsewhere. Why not invent a holiday to train shoppers to spend money?

Fortunately we Americans can stand down for at least one day, focus on gratitude and peace, and enjoy a traditional meal together. If you celebrate it, my hope is that this year’s feast will be a fun time for you, filled with laughter and joy.

Food and wine blogs are filled with recommendations for libations of all kinds for the day. Here are a few of my suggestions for the day.

An essential Thanksgiving toolbox

I think a great Thanksgiving meal should be built around the following:

  • Sparkling wine for appetizers. Nothing says celebration like a sparkler! The only beverage which can legally bear the name “champagne” is made in that region in France, but there are many interesting options from elsewhere. For top dollar / best reputation, champagne might be the only reasonable choice. However there are many pleasing options ranging from Spanish Cava, Italian Prosecco or less pricy options from the Loire region of France (specifically Vouvray).
  • Red and white for the main meal. You can’t go wrong with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, respectively. A California Zinfandel is a nice option for both value and flavor flexibility. I would stay away from a Cabernet just because the more delicate flavors of poultry don’t stand up well to the intensity of the wine.
  • A desert wine. Port is an outstanding option, since wonderful options exist throughout the price spectrum.
  • Safety / sobriety. Always be sensitive to those who don’t drink, whether because of medical, legal or moral reasons. Those who have to drive after the meal should not put people’s safety at risk. Having wonderful non-alcoholic options is really critical. One of the winners for me over the years is a sparkling apple cider from Martinelli’s. Also having plenty of water to drink is important as well.

Hosting a crowd

One of the most important roles for a host where alcohol is served is to be sure that designated drivers are identified and kept safe and sober. Don’t even risk this. Identify the DD, monitor their consumption and push non-impairing options. If it seems that they are over the limit, spring for a taxi.

Unless you know that most of your guests have fairly developed taste in wine, I wouldn’t recommend getting too fancy with the pours. All options should be considered with an eye towards purchasing multiple bottles at a price which won’t kill the budget.

That said, there is nothing quite like pouring from a magnum or larger bottle for a crowd. I noticed that this year, our local Costco is carrying several magnums at quite reasonable prices.

Cava or prosecco are wonderful sparkling options, and can be obtained and kept cool relatively easy in an ice chest.

For red, here’s a secret – California’s J. Lohr has a terrific Zinfandel called Painter Bridge, which is at a sub-$10 price point and is quite good. I have had friends prefer it to more expensive reds in side-by-side tasting.

For desert, I like Graham’s Six Grapes Port. Usually available for under $20 in grocery shops, it’s an excellent value for a special bottle.

I have also been impressed by the appearance of Sauternes in our local grocery stores at a reasonable price – meaning under $15 for half-sized bottles. If you are unfamiliar with it, Sauternes is a region of Bordeaux which produces a lovely honey-colored sweet wine which is balanced by acidity and usually doesn’t have a high load of alcohol. Of course, you can spring for a Chateau Y’Quem for over $1000 per bottle, but I wouldn’t advise it. (Or if you do, can you please invite me over?)

Visiting someone else’s house

If you are bringing over a gift bottle as a house-warmer, This could be the chance to share something special with your discerning friends. However, unless there are many good wines being brought, I would not recommend it. Most of the time the “something special” could get lost in the crowd and you might feel like your gift was dishonored. Better to bring a desert wine like the Graham’s Six Grapes or Sauternes.

On the other hand, if you are the designated supplier of wine to the party, consider options which will be widely popular and appreciated by the specific group. My usual rule of thumb is to supply one bottle for every two people. This really should allow for non-drinkers, those who only drink a little and still have some left over at the end of the meal.

A small, private gathering

That’s what we’re having this year at our house – just my wife and I plus our two adult daughters. Here are my picks from the cellar:

  • Sparkling: NV Bodega Cruzat Brut – This is a delightful everyday sparkler from a high-altitude region in Argentina. I obtained it from the good folks at Garagiste, and have been very happy with it.
  • Red: 2006 Belle Pente Estate Reserve Pinot Noir. This is a reprise from our 2011 Thanksgiving, and is an excellent Willamette Valley wine from the Yamhill-Carlton AVA. The owner / winemaker at Belle Pente suggests that this wine is probably not going to improve any more with age, so it’s time to drink up.
  • White: I might skip the white this year. I’m not sure anyone will drink it, although we have plenty of good options to choose from.
  • Desert: This one is a puzzler. I have several port options in the wine rack to chose from. I really like local Oregon winemaker Coehlo, whose tasting room is in Amity. They have a number of excellent port options, and I have one I could pull out. On the other hand, I did get a Sauternes from a famous producer, so I might pull out one of those.
Posted by: David Stewart | December 31, 2013

30 days of push-ups for runners

Does the runner in your life take on strange personal challenges for no apparent reason other than to challenge themselves?

Traditionally the winter is supposed to be about base building. Under this rule of thumb, a runner will use the cold months to gain strength so that when things warm up, training miles will be on a stable base. Or so the thinking goes.

This Christmas, the plan was to spend a full two weeks visiting friends and family in Colorado. My experience last year was that the altitude and cold in the Denver area is not something that I’m used to, and it makes it very hard to train effectively, so I didn’t have high expectations for good running.

Then I chanced upon this 30-day Push-Up Challenge on the internet. It was pretty simple: 100 push-ups a day for 30 days.

Oh, gee, push-ups. Push-ups are something my running coaches have advised me to do for years but which I have not done regularly or well. Like some runners, I am built with the T-Rex look: big thighs and itty bitty little arms. My wrists are probably the tiniest in my family. The story I told myself is that it was probably too late for me to ever have much upper body strength.

The nice thing about the 30-day challenge was that it allowed for beginners like me to start off with “cheater” push-ups, on my knees. It also allows that you don’t need to do them all in one session.

I am nearing the end of the 30 days and I’m really pleased with my progress. I started out not even able to complete 100 knee push-ups. Within the first week I was able to finally complete 100 cheaters and started mixing in regular toe push-ups. Currently I am doing about 80% toe push-ups and I’m hoping I’ll be at 100% by the time I complete 30 days. (Admittedly, I only did 50 on Christmas Day!)

Of course, although I might dream of having bulging biceps, the reality is that I have a typical ectomorph body type which means that all the workouts in the world will not easily build muscle mass. But the goal was to build core strength and do something to improve fitness which would leave me with no excuse due to weather.

Thanks to push-ups and short 8:30 pace maintenance runs, I’m spending this holiday season with a pleasant kind of soreness on my arms, chest area and legs. The kind of soreness you feel when you are working muscles and improving fitness. A nice feeling versus being discouraged because of lack of exercise.

Where to now that the 30 days are almost up? I feel more confident that I might be able continue to improve. I’m not sure I’ll continue 100 per day forever, but what about extending things to 100 days? It’s worth considering.

Posted by: David Stewart | December 18, 2013

Leaving home to learn more about … Oregon Wines

How is it that when you travel someplace, it can sometimes give you insights into where you come from.

For example, vacationing in the front range of Colorado I met a couple of Oregon surprises.

I had a marvelous dinner at the Summit Steakhouse which I am told is one of the one or two nicest places to eat in Aurora, Colorado. They had a single Oregon Pinot Noir on the wine list, a Sokol Blosser. I wasn’t particularly stuck on having something Oregonian, but I enquired as to what year they had. Waiter returned and said they had a 2008. Score! Why not enjoy a bottle from one of Oregon’s historic wineries from a historic vintage? It gave us a chance to reminisce about our first visit to their tasting room in 1984 (which was one of the first purpose-built tasting rooms in the state) and the pioneering work of Bill Blosser and Susan Sokol-Blosser in establishing a winery in the Willamette Valley, their fight with phylloxera and ultimately their brand new tasting room.

The wine itself was a wonderful and powerful 2008, well balanced with both fruit, acidity and complexity. A true Oregon classic and truly unexpected.

Honestly, in spite of their history, Sokol Blosser rarely pops up at the top of my wine preferences these days. Although they are amazingly historic and their tasting room view was eye popping when we visiting in July, I’m sad to say I have none of their wines in my cellar. I might need to reconsider based on this bottle.

The other surprise came when I raided my sister’s cellar. She really prefers Bordeaux, Rhone blends and Barolo, so I wasn’t surprised when the only pinot noir I found was a single bottle from Oregon. I saw it was a 2006 so I suggested she should drink it now.

The 2006 Andrew Rich Willamette Valley “Cuvee B” was a muscular wine, not surprisingly, but with enough acid to provide balance and not flab. The nose was excellent Oregon forest floor and the palate is rich with red fruits and cherry notes.

I’ll need to visit Andrew Rich at the Carlton Winemaker’s Studio and check out their other wines. I think it’s another score.

Posted by: David Stewart | December 10, 2013

My Favorite 2010s

As the year 2013 runs to a close, the press feels compelled to send out their “Top 10 of the year” lists. In the vinous world, Wine Spectator released their Top 100 wines list for the year, and a Willamette Valley Pinot Noir landed at number 3. What should be surprising here is the year of that wine.

Those of us who lived through the “summer” of 2010 in the Portland, Oregon area remember that there was just not a lot of summer to be had.

Like any other kind of agricultural product, wine grapes mature and ripen more quickly in direct sunshine and heat. Sometimes too quickly – the sunny 2009 vintage featured fruity wines with lower acid. But the general assumption is that these wines should be consumed relatively young because their acid and tannin structures would not build in complexity with age.

When those 2010 wines were first released, they were honestly not very impressive. Mostly they seemed pretty acidic and not very fruity. One of my friends was even more critical. But the common wisdom says that these cooler years take a little longer to develop, but in the end they can be wonderfully fragrant with a couple of years of bottle age.

Now, three years from the harvest date, many of those 2010s are really drinking nicely now. If you can find them. The fragrances are enchanting and the acids have softened. The lesson here is that in cool years like 2010 and 2011, what you taste at first release may not yield a very good idea of how the wines will turn out.

Here are a few of my favorite 2010 Pinot Noir wines from the Willamette Valley. Most of these were in the $20 or so range depending on where you can find them.

  • Four Graces Willamette Valley Pinot Noir – Although this wine listed for around $30+ in the tasting room, I discovered that around this time of year last year you can grab it for under $20 at Safeway. This makes it an amazing go-to wine for mid-week dinner. (Note: Local Safeway stores just made the 2011 version of this wine available for under $20 when you buy at least 6.) The Black Family do a consistently excellent job with their entry Pinot. Here are the community reviews:

https://www.cellartracker.com/wine.asp?iWine=1300896&searchId=BD64267C%23selected%253DW1300896_8_Ka0bfb05e4e4b643548fc0352d5aba958

  • Boedecker Stewart Pinot Noir – Husband and Wife winemakers Stewart Boedecker and Athena Pappas make a series of highly regarded single vineyard Pinots, but they also create a his and hers blend from the year’s grapes. I had the privilege this autumn of touring through the couple’s urban Portland winery during fermentation – tasting through the various lots. At the end, we sipped Stewart’s wonderful cuvee and I was hooked. List price is a bit steeper here but it’s worth it. Community tasting notes:

https://www.cellartracker.com/wine.asp?iWine=1500793&searchId=4F9CDB26%23selected%253DW1500793_8_Kf8d5a2e13bd8771e26d03c65c229599f

  • Thistle Pinot Noir – I am a big fan of Jon Jennison’s highly praised Pinot Noir. Even though their Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris wines are great, the Pinot Noir is an excellent value. Jon and Laura are wonderful hosts in their tasting room and their 2010 Pinot Noir is tasting really quite good now. As with several producers on this list, the price is less if you join their wine club.

https://www.cellartracker.com/wine.asp?iWine=1477490&searchId=FA1A223D%23selected%253DW1477490_1_Ked38bf0c3337a4e451715f9e69e04daa

  • Atticus Vineyard Pinot Noir – I am a big fan of Ximena’s winemaking style and the 2010 represents yet another terrific accomplishment. I remember the first time I tasted Atticus at a Father’s Day event in Carlton, Oregon. I brought home a bottle from the tasting and pulled it out some months later and was blown away by how much the wine had improved with time. Another husband and wife winery partnership, Ximena and Guy produce amazing wines every year. This one is a little more expensive than the others but also worth it if you can find it.

https://www.cellartracker.com/wine.asp?iWine=1297516&searchId=733743A6%23selected%253DW1297516_1_Kdf09b888b1634f69849a951682d6cbce

  • Twelve Pinot Noir Reserve – John Lenyo makes the wine and Linda Lenyo greets you in the tasting room with their high-value Pinots. This year they introduced a series of single clone bottlings and a “Reserve” designate. Frankly the $25 Willamette Valley is terrific, but as a member of their wine club I was able to get a good price on the single clone and reserve bottling.

https://www.cellartracker.com/wine.asp?iWine=1503645&searchId=AB4B9BAB%23selected%253DW1503645_1_K5d599e43b7826dc3082a26a4217c7753

Posted by: David Stewart | November 30, 2013

Thanks for New Wineries

This Thanksgiving weekend, I was thankful for my friend Joe’s list of potential new (to me) Willamette Valley wineries to try.

Anne and I planned our effort with precision: Like hitting your favorite rides during high season at Disneyland, it helps to have a strategy on the biggest weekend of the Oregon vinous season. Make a wrong move and you can get caught behind limousines full of woozy tasters.

Our wicked clever plan was to span nearly all of the sub-AVAs of the Willamette Valley, starting from the furthest out and working our way back towards home.  Here was our rundown and recommendations after our Friday after Thanksgiving expedition:

J. Wrigley http://www.wrigleywines.com/- MacMinville AVA – ­ Plan your trip carefully because it takes some time to get here, and Google Maps can steer you into a locked gate. Just drive into Sheridan and look for the sign to J Wrigley as you enter town.  But in spite of the difficulties, it’s worth the journey, both for the smashing view and terrific wine. John and Jody have just enclosed the tasting room this year although they have been releasing wine since 2009. Like most of that cool vintage, their 2011 Pinots are still emerging and will take time and patience to come together. They also previewed their unreleased 2012s, which are really drinkable now.

Fab find: MAC Cuvee at $28, though I will wait on the 2012s to be released.

Ghost Hill Cellars http://www.ghosthillcellars.com/ – Yamhill-Carlton AVA – Also with a new (and uninsulated) tasting room. Maybe it was just me, but the vibe came off as much Ozarks as Oregon. “Your cat just caught a chipmunk” was the comment from another couple who came in after us. That pretty much summed up the scene. The Pinot Noir Blanc was pretty special, and had more structure than a typical Oregon Pinot Gris.

Monk’s Gate – http://monksgate.com/ – Yamhill-Carlton AVA (Although it looked like it was over the line in Dundee Hills) – Back when Ron and Linda Moore cleared their land in the late 90s, they discovered that their property had been a shortcut for the nearby Trappist Abbey whose members do not use vehicles. Rather than limit their access by their deer fence, the Moores built a gate. Thus “Monk’s Gate” was born. The tasting this weekend was a vertical of pinots from 2007, 2010, 2011 and 2012 futures. The 2012 was coming along nicely, though perhaps not as far as the J Wrigley ’12. The 2011 had a terrific nose with a nice smokiness on the palate. These $34 pinots were a reasonable value. I’ll probably be back.

Saffron Fields http://saffronfields.com/ – Yamhill-Carlton AVA – This brand-new tasting room is indeed a jewell. In fact they have a room called the “jewell box.” Adorned with distinctive modern art, surrounded by a Japanese garden from a famous landscape architect, it would not be hard for the venue to overshadow the wine. And in fact, the wines poured and sold there are from four different winemakers under four labels: Roots, EIEIO, Tendril and and Saffron Fields, all from grapes grown in the vineyard above the tasting room. The styles from Roots and EIEIO were nearly opposite from each other, Roots was austere and Burgundian while Jay MacDonald’s EIEIO was quite a bit more fruit forward. Tendril “White Label” is one of the prestige pours in the valley. But I will probably give this place a little more time to come together, both in terms of the room and the wine.

Omero Cellars ­http://www.omerocellars.com/ – Ribbon Ridge AVA – We first met Omero winemaker Sarah when she was an assistant winemaker at Belle Pente and had just planted her Ribbon Ridge vines. She is working very hard now, producing 6,000 cases. The 2011s she was pouring in a tent on her vineyard were fragrant and delicious. This is an outstanding new addition to the Willamette Valley and one we’ll be very interested to track. If you visit outside of the Thanksgiving weekend, they have a tasting room in Carlton.

Tresori Vineyard http://tresorivineyards.com/ – Chehalem Mountains AVA – Another husband and wife team, Joseph and Maureen Longo, named their vineyard Tres (three) Ori (gold) to reflect their heritage and their triplets. I liked the palate of the 2011s they were pouring, with a flavor element which might come from some of what they use for fining. With the altitude of the vineyard, they have a terrific view from their property, but since the tasting room is uninsulated and the temperature was a bit nippy, the wines were a little too cold to taste properly. If Pinot is too cold, the aromas really are not as open. Joseph was working hard to warm up the wine with his hands to try to address some of this.

Posted by: David Stewart | September 28, 2013

Name Game in Willamette Wineries

ImageIf you are tooling around the back roads of Willamette Valley wine country with its stacks of blue tourist directional signs pointing to different wineries, you might be forgiven for being confused. Not only are there scads of wineries in the Valley but some of the have very similar sounding names.

Three of these, Soter, Stoller and Solena had for years been a particular point of confusion for me. I couldn’t keep them straight!

This weekend I was doing a little cellar reorganization and ran across bottles from all three. Having visited them, it’s now a lot easier to keep them straight in my head. Because they are really quite distinct.

Solena – In an industry filled with characters, Laurent Montalieu extends his expansive gallic persona to visitors privileged to meet him. Solena’s winery has a unique open-sided design, visible from a distance. It is built with the philosophy that Oregon’s natural temperature is ideal for wine fermentation. Not only are their wines tasty, you can learn a lot from them at their “Saturday at Solena” events. These events offer an insight into some focus topic. For example on one Saturday they had “Clone Wars”, and poured tastes of each of the Pinot Noir clones they grow on the property before they are blended into their final wines.

In a stunning move, the Jackson Family (of California’s Kendall-Jackson wines) has purchased the Solena winery plus 50 acres of Laurent’s vines. They are promising to build a new tasting room close to the old one, but it’s a sign that Willamette’s star is rising in the wine world.

Stoller – The Stoller Family has deep roots in Oregon agriculture, so it is no surprise that they reflect small town hospitality at their winery. The rolling hillside location, just outside of Dundee was the host site for the Fueled by Fine Wine Half Marathon in 2012, which means they opened their fields to hundreds of sweaty runners and family members sipping wines from about 20 other wineries. Welcoming indeed!

Their new tasting room is also a joy with its vista of the vineyards. It’s just off Highway 99W, the spine of northern Willamette’s wine route, so it’s easily accessible. The Stoller JV Estate Pinot Noir is from some of the younger vines, but is a nice value at $25. They also have a older vine SV Estate Pinot plus several other varietals.

Soter – You might be forgiven for missing out on Soter Vineyards. Its tasting room experience is by appointment only so they can seat you at a table with other tasters and have a relaxed tasting experience with a staff member. We were able to attend a free tasting during June of this year, thanks to our membership in the Domaine Serene wine club. Their tasting room had its walls swung wide open to the surrounding vineyards on that warm summer afternoon. Not only was the setting perfect for tasting wine but we got to swap stories and tips with another couple sitting across from us.

Tony Soter is known as a top producer of Oregon sparkling wines but the still wines (red and white) were excellent. We ended up buying a couple of bottles of the 2010 Mineral Springs Ranch Pinot Noir, which was recently highlighted as a “top 50 Oregon wine” in this month’s Portland Monthly Magazine.

Posted by: David Stewart | September 2, 2013

Story Bottles

I admit it – I’m a sucker for a good story.

Part of the fun of living so close to a world-class wine producing region is the opportunity to meet the people making the wine and to hear their stories. Sometimes the best stories are about wines which will never make it big outside of Oregon. Here are two that we encountered for the first time this weekend.

Redman Wines – We all have dreams. For the future, for our children. Perhaps for our legacy. There are more than a few small wineries in Oregon which represent the dream of a lifetime.

The story of the Redman Wines stems from Bill and Cathy Redman’s dream to do something with their lives that they really loved: owning a vineyard and making wines. Instead of regret, they took a leap and bought land, planted grapes and built a winery.

The dream suffered a blow when Bill died of cancer. When he was suffering in the hospital during the justly famous 2008 vintage, the winemaking community came out of the woodwork to help bring in the harvest and make the wine.

This is as much a story of a tight-knit agricultural community who will help each other out, even in the busiest of times for themselves.

Cathy was a warm and welcoming presence in the tasting room, talking with us newcomers and making us feel at home. They have one of the broadest selections of varietals of any local winery, from the rare Arneis grape, Chardonnay, Pinot, Blanc, Pinot Noir, Termpranillo and Barbera. The Labor Day event included tastings of all of these plus a generous selection of library wines, including that infamous 2008 vintage. The wines are good value.

The winery is located in the Ribbon Ridge area, near Ayres, Brick House and Styring. They are well worth a visit.

VX – It’s not every day you can get a history lesson with your wine. VX is named for the legendary hero of Burgundy, Vercingetorix. During the Roman conquest of the Celtic tribes in France, Vercingetorix defended the people, using a “scorched earth” policy to make the land uninteresting for the invaders. The only part of the land which was preserved were the grapes.

And thus a hero is born – albeit with an unpronounceable name.

The family was brilliant to invent “VX” as the more accessible moniker for their wines and winery. I first sampled their reds at Pinot in the City back in 2011. I have wanted to visit ever since and finally got the chance when our friends Scott and Mary Lee suggested we meet there.

Finding the tasting room can be a little challenging as it’s off the beaten path, but quite close to Portland. Off the Wilsonville / Newberg road, down a shady and twisty lane, past farm houses is a beautiful home which is available as a vacation rental.  With a good map – or a reasonable GPS – it’s not a problem.

The wines are good and an excellent value. John Grochou is the winemaker, who used to share facilities with Boedecker in NW Portland and shows a deft hand. Well worth checking out.

Posted by: David Stewart | August 26, 2013

Why Hood to Coast is a Big Thing

I’ve gone back and forth for years as to whether the “Mother of All Relays” was truly a worthwhile experience or not. This year, 2013, I come out as net positive. Here’s why:

So you get a flavor of what this means in person, here was my schedule for running Hood to Coast this year. It’s pretty typical from other years:

Friday 11AM – our team’s first runner starts from the parking lot at Timberline Lodge.
Friday 1:30PM – my van departs from SW Portland to Sandy
Friday 3:30PM – our team’s first van of runners meet us in Sandy and hand off to us
Friday 8:30PM – I finish the last run of our van in Portland and hand off to the other van
Friday 9:00PM – we rest at a friend’s house in SW Portland where we eat a simple meal, take showers and try to sleep
Saturday 12:15PM – we depart SW Portland for St Helens.
Saturday 1:30PM – we arrive in St Helens and take the handoff from the other group of runners.
Saturday 7AM – I finish the last run of our van in Mist, Oregon and hand off to the other group of runners. We drive for Olny Oregon for some sleep
Saturday 9AM – Olny, Oregon for a little sleep
Saturday 11AM – we wake and meet the other van for the last set of legs
Saturday 5PM – I finish for our team and we cross the finish line together.
Saturday 7PM – head home for Portland

If you were tracking that progression, you could see that there was only a few hours here and there for rest, furtive attempts at sleep, try to avoid the worst of injury, dehydration and other pains.

My own run totaled about 13 miles in three separate legs. 13 miles is not too difficult for me usually, but since I was running this race all-out, it takes a little more out of me. I would assume that a lot of runners of Hood to Coast are not experienced marathoners, so 13 to 21 miles of weekend running is probably a lot for them.

Obviously there is a lot this year for my team to be happy about – the weather was much cooler and rainier than I remember for the past few years so it was a real pleasure not to be overheated. Our van had a couple of first-time Hood to Coast racers, and they loved the experience.

So based on this year, I really enjoy Hood to Coast. It’s not without improvement areas. But I dearly hope we get in to the race again next year.

Older Posts »

Categories

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,205 other followers