Posted by: David Stewart | November 20, 2011

Dialing around the extremes of Oregon winemaking

Ever since we moved to Oregon in 1984, Willamette Valley wineries have thrown open their doors during the weekend after the Thanksgiving holiday. Recently my friends Joe and Sandra had been telling me that folks in the know can beat the crowds with a little pre-planning the weekend before Thanksgiving.

So this year, we went with friends Wayne and Holly to check out a few pre-Thanksgiving tastings. I had arranged it so that we would sample both ends of the Oregon winemaking spectrum, from fancy to plain, but with a focus on drinkable wines and friendly people.

If you are planning to do a little tasting on Thanksgiving weekend, these are all good options.

  • Domaine Serene – high atop the Red Hills of Dundee is the five story winery castle of the Evenstad family, where top quality Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah pour forth. The invitation event we attended there included a barrel tasting of a 2010 Pinot in the making and tastes from various current releases, accompanied by live music and catered nibbles in a packed and merry tasting room. This is about as high as Oregon wine flies. And because it is Oregon, you rarely get the pretention (and prices) of many Napa wineries, such as we experienced at Stags Leap this spring.

    And the wine at Serene is very good. Depending on your taste preference, you can choose from the very dry high-end Pinots to the more muscular Syrah and the nicely balanced Chardonnay. The winemaker at Serene is serious about his business, with commercial yeasts for first and second fermentations. Nothing is left to chance other than the vagaries of Willamette Valley weather, which no amount of money can tame.

    I highly recommend checking out Serene; the wine tasting hours and prices are at their web site.

  • Ayres Vineyard – at the extreme opposite end of the spectrum is the garage out of which Brad pours his Pinots at Ayres. Brad and his father-in-law were sampling their current range of high-value 2010 Pinots at this drop-in event. Normally you can taste wine at Ayres only by appointment – so there is no fancy tasting room, professional sales staff or tastefully restrained art.

    And I’m serious here about value. The 2010 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir is terrific and a great stock-up value. At places like Vinopolis Wine Shop in downtown Portland, this is a marvelous sub-$20 Willamette Valley Pinot. Buying at the winery is usually a little more expensive.

    The winemaking methodology here and at many hand-crafted wineries couldn’t be more different than at Serene: nature takes its course with little outside help. The results are really special. The Ayres room is open without an appointment for this year’s Thanksgiving weekend and by appointment at other times.

  • Twelve Wine – You can’t get much more personal than dropping by the tasting room for Twelve and listen to co-owner Linda tell the tale of how they struggled to discover the best name for their new winery. Don’t worry, guys, I know it’s tough to pick a good name. They even had their first vintage for a while in "shiners", bottled wine without a label, as they struggled to come up with the right name.

    Such personal attention is possible, because the tasting room is rarely full. Unlike many local wineries which buy fruit from other vineyards, Twelve is focused on just their own grapes. And they take a very simple approach to making wine.

  • Atticus Wine – . We first tasted Atticus a few years ago in a tasting in Carlton with Raptor Ridge, and bought a little of their wine then. After a little rest in the cellar, the Pinot Noir was terrific (and frankly quite a bit better than their Rose), so I have had my eyes on them in various tasting events. So I set up an appointment for a tasting.

    Atticus is still building their winery, so the tasting was in the kitchen of the home on the property. Standing around the granite island in the bright great room of the house, we sipped their 2007, 2008 and 2009 Pinots and chatted with Ximena, one of the co-owners.

    The wine is still quite good despite the relative youth of the vineyard, and with winemaker Scott Shull from Raptor Ridge on the job, it’s not at all surprising.

    If you want to taste this wine Thanksgiving weekend, by all means try them out at the Raptor Ridge winery with Scott’s great Pinots as well.


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