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.

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