Posted by: David Stewart | July 17, 2009

The Anniversary Trip

Deb and I celebrated our 26th wedding anniversary this week!

To celebrate, we took a little trip down memory lane and down the Yamhill Valley for wine tasting and B&B-ing in the Willamette Valley’s wine country.

When we first moved to Oregon at the end of 1983, my sister Susan took us around to several of the local wineries, close to her vet practice in McMinnville. Since she moved away, our taste in wine moved away from the Pinot Noirs grown in the northern part of the state and more towards the bolder tasting reds of California and Chile.

When we moved here, there were only a few local wineries: Sokol-Blosser, Chateau Benoit, Erath, Argyle and Ponzi were most prominent. In the intervening years, a lot of new places have sprung up, and most of the old ones are still around. (Although Chateau Benoit has changed significantly with the retirement of the Benoits).

Here are the places we visited this time. Many thanks to Joe Morris for his recommendations for several of these.

  • Adelsheim – Back when we moved to Oregon, we only knew of one winery with a dramatic hill-top view (the poor, departed Chateau Benoit). Now there are many! Adelsheim’s has a wonderful tasting room and conference center to complement their view. They also prominently display a menu from a White House dinner which featured one of their wines. We ended up buying a cold bottle of Chardonnay with which to eat our Thriftway lunch on their patio.
  • Penner-Ash – another gorgeous conference center / tasting area. We bought some 2008 viognier, which had a wonderful spicy taste.
  • WillaKenzie – Another hill-top location, but it seemed less about the view and more about the tasting. These guys have one of the best web sites I have seen, with each part of the vineyard popping up to tell you the varietal planted there. I ran into Portland Fit Green AC Rick there, with a tour group. We bought some of their 2008 Pinot Gris and 2006 Kiana Pinot Noir (they name their wines after members of the family and staff).
  • Belle Pente – A hidden gem! This was a blast from the past in more than one way – no fancy tasting room, just a meet-up with the winemaker themselves. Tasting is by appointment only, and they are set off a gravel road. Tasting is done in the work area of the winery. The winemaker’s assistant worked with us, and pulled bottles out of cases and uncorked them for us. She tasted along with us to make sure we knew what we were getting. In addition to the retro tasting, they also had a wonderfully spicy Gewürztraminer, which they made with someone else’s grapes, and we fondly remember the Sokol-Blosser Gewürtz we enjoyed back in the 80s. We got some of that, some of their pinot noir, and some chardonnay.
  • Cliff Creek – once we got into Carlton where our B&B was located, we stopped at a couple of tasting rooms in town representing Southern Oregon wineries. In the Rogue valley and points south, they grow more of the kind of wines I like – big, bold, rich reds. They had a fantastic claret, which is a blend of Cabernets and Merlot. We got this as well as a 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon.
  • Troon – is the other southern tasting room in Carlton. Founded back in the 70s by a Scotsman, they have some rather quirky names for some excellent wines, like "Druid’s Fluid", a nice blended table wine. We got this in addition to an Old Vine Meritage, which is basically a claret made from their oldest fines.
  • Ponzi – I was amazed that after living in Beaverton for over 25 years that we had never gone tasting in our own back yard. So on the way home, we stopped by Ponzi, one of the oldest winemakers in Oregon. A nice forest setting for their tasting room just off of Scholls Ferry Road, but they don’t actually do any production there, so all you see there are "show barrels". We tasted through their whites and reds, but felt like we were not ready to pay $25 per bottle for what was basically a red table wine.

We spent the night in a lovely bed and breakfast inn called The Carlton Inn which is on Main Street in Carlton. Heidi and her friendly Brittany Spaniel "Jake" greet you at the door of this classic 1915 house with updated amenities. We stayed in the Garden Room on the first level, just off of the breakfast room (and the coffee!), the other rooms are on the second floor. The breakfast was amazing, and well worth it. I highly recommend this Inn as a romantic getaway for your exploration of wine country.

Our anniversary dinner was only two blocks from the Inn at

Cuvee, a very nice French restaurant. The food is fantastic, and Felipe, the waiter, is a crack up. We shared Pommes Frites (ON, they’re French Fries), and I had a Tejine (Moroccan lamb stew) and Deb had Coquilles St. Jacques.

It was an awesome weekend, and we mostly enjoyed hanging out with each other and remembering past exploits. Some big differences though that from past tasting trips:

  • Fancy tasting rooms – back when we first moved to Oregon, they used to say that California’s Gallo winery would throw away more wine in a year than the entire state of Oregon would product. Now, Oregon is the third largest producer in the US, behind California and Washington. But so many wineries are capitalizing on their location with a combination fancy tasting bar, dining room, patio and conference center. Most of these seem very upscale for our little state.
  • Cost for tasting – Back in the 80s, it was unheard of for anyone to charge money for the privilege of tasting their wines. Of course, back then the wines were all under $20 as well. Now, count on spending from $5 to $15 for tasting through a "flight" of wines, which may get waved if you buy some. One tasting can easily be shared by two, however, which helps defray the cost. I’m told that charging money helps keep away people who just want to get drunk on the cheap, although it doesn’t eliminate it.
  • Spitting – I decided this time that since I was the designated driver that this time I would spit out my tastes in the provided spitting bucket, rather than swallow. This is probably the right way to taste wine, so you don’t get your taste buds deadened by the alcohol, but it was a change for me.
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  1. […] recession taste in wine As I wrote in this earlier post, we recently rediscovered the wines and wineries of our home in Oregon. For years, I have been […]


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