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.