Posted by: David Stewart | December 18, 2014

Taking running to the next level without getting injured

There are a few rules of thumb in training for 26.2 mile marathons. Iron-clad assumptions. Do your long slow distance runs every week. Hydrate properly. Wear the right shoes. Do speed work to get yourself faster.Cascadeshalfmarathon10K2012example.jpg

But unfortunately, I was finding that following a normal training routine was breaking me down. After nearly a decade of injury-free racing, I was starting to get injured regularly. Plantar fasciitis. Hamstring pulls. Strains of the iliopsoas. These would knock my training off track, sometimes for months.

Is it possible for me to meet my running goals without injury? Or should I just hang it up?

Fortunately, I have not had to give up yet. My coach has made some really good changes to my training, which has helped me to train well while avoiding some of the worst of the injuries. Here are a couple of things which have really helped. (By the way, I’m not at all an expert on any of this stuff. I recommend that you talk to an expert, like a running coach).

Track work replaced with fartleks. If you want to run fast, you need to run faster in training. The usual way this is accomplished is on a 400 meter track. You run repeated fast loops around the track at a particular pace, interspersed with slow loops. This alternating fast-slow builds strength, speed, and endurance. In fact, one common track technique is called “Yasso 800s“, after legendary runner Bart Yasso.

The problem is that my track workouts would often be where I would get injured.

Fartlek is a Swedish word meaning “speedplay.” My coach has had me alternate fast-slow segments like track work, but integrated into a regular run. This has a number of beneficial effects: since I’m putting it in the middle of a regular run, there is more variation in terrain than on a track. There is less of a tendency to force myself to hit a particular time per repetition, so I’m less likely to push my body too far. I’m also more likely to do a sufficient amount of warm-up and cool-down miles.

There are various ways to do fartleks, which you can research online.

Replace one day of running with the bike. Serious marathon training usually means running 6 days per week. My coach started replacing one of my running days with a day on the bike. 

Biking works well because it exercises some of the running muscle groups like the quads. And it helps build aerobic capacity. But it doesn’t stress out some of the joints and ligaments as running does. So you can continue to improving your training while giving the hamstrings a rest.

By “bike”, I’m referring to the stationary bike. I suppose you could bike outside instead, but I don’t really have a decent training bicycle, nor do I have the gear needed. The inside bike is a little boring, but for me, it’s probably safer.

Weight training. Yes, there should be no excuse for me not doing work in the weight room. But this was another good alternative to doing nothing on a rest day. Proper working out on weights tends to make the runner more injury-resistant. The trick is to do the workout properly. Here’s another good place to check things out with an expert. In addition, Runner’s World has a page of recommended strength training.

And if you do get injured … Don’t let it fester! Get in to a good chiropractor or other body work professional who is accustomed to working with runners.

Posted by: David Stewart | December 18, 2014

Glove on, glove … not off?

Glove onWith the cold weather season now in play in the northern part of the world, a runner has some serious disincentives to get out into the cold and get their training runs in. I’ll avoid running on a treadmill unless the weather is utterly tragic because it’s so boring. So here in the Portland, Oregon area, that means dealing with rain, wind, cold and darkness.

Running gloves are marvelous. Sometimes its just the psychological crutch I need to brave the weather. Wicking fabric keeps sweaty hands warm. Maybe too warm! Many times I have started a run with fingers nearly numb from cold, but in a few miles my hands are too hot to keep the gloves on because the aerobic engine is revved up.

Commonly in a longer run, I’ll find my gloves going on and off: I’ll start out with cold hands, then they get too warm, then they get cold again because I’ve turned a corner or changed direction and the wind has come up. On. Off. On. Off. Sound familiar?

Glove half-offHere’s a handy tip: Half-off. Keep the fingers engaged in the finger holes but unwrap your thumb. This keeps the gloves conveniently available to put them on again. And the fingers are often the part which needs warming.

Posted by: David Stewart | December 16, 2014

Holiday Half Magic: The Flying Bib Mystery

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Now, I don’t normally believe in “magic” per se. But when unexplained good things happen around Christmastime, it strains my detective skills.

Before the Holiday Half Marathon came along five years ago, there wasn’t really a Christmas-themed race in the Portland area, and now we have one. There is artificial snow blowing around, inflated Santa Claus’s and plenty of runners dressed in elf ears and pointy shoes. I ran it in 2013 and had a great time, so I was thinking of running it again in 2014.

But I procrastinated (as usual) and didn’t think to sign up until after the race filled up. (Unfortunately, a bit of a pattern with me).

A week before the race, I found out that a running buddy wasn’t going to run the race because of injury. Since her entry was going to go to waste, she graciously offered for me to take it over. The race is nicely organized for changing registration for a nominal fee. So we met up and executed the name change. So far so good – I was going to race after all!

Race day had perfect December running weather – temperature in the mid-40sF, clear skies and very little wind. At my current (lack of) training, I decided to just have a nice run and not get injured myself.

All was well, until about mile 9 in the race: I saw someone taking photos and instinctively checked to see if my race number was visible on my racing bib. That’s when I discovered it. I wasn’t wearing my bib.

Even if you are a non-runner, you know what these bibs look like: a rectangle pinned to the runner’s shirt with a unique number on it. Like most races these days, this bib also had a chip integrated into it, which would electronically register my start time and finish time to yield my official results. If the electronics fails for some reason, the number lets the organizers record a finish time the old fashioned way, by writing down the finish time. It’s also a way for race organizers to identify and punish “bandits”: people who are trying to cheat and run without registering for the race. 

Normally the runner attaches their bib by safety pins to their shirt. I really hate doing this, partly because I don’t like tearing up my technical running jerseys with these pins, which often rust and stain the shirt. Yuck. So many years ago I bought a Race Number Belt from Amphipod. This is a great gadget which holds your number on without pins. But after decades of racing with it, it failed without my realizing it. (Maybe I need a new one?)

So there I was nearly done with my 13.1 mile race, running without that bib I had legally obtained from my friend! Nothing to be done about it, since I had no idea when it had come off. So I decided to just finish the course. If the organizers decided to prevent me from finishing the course, well it would serve me right for losing the bib.

I really hate saying this, since I absolutely do not approve of bandits, but I did manage to finish the race without being punished, other than getting a few dirty looks. I suppose I should have just stopped running at that point, but since I only had about four miles left, I kept running. Sheepishly I recovered my dry clothes bag and slunk off without drinking any of the free beer or eating the hot chili. Not so magical.

According to my Garmin Forerunner 405CX GPS watch, I ran the race within a few seconds of my race time the year before. So I decided to check the official race results and estimate where I might have placed in my age group had I actually kept my number on. Since I didn’t finish with my precious bib – and thus without my timing chip – I knew I wouldn’t be listed in the official results.

Except, I was. Listed in the official results.

Full pause. Wait. What? Who is that guy from my home town with my same name and age? I checked the tag I had ripped off my dry clothes bag, and the number matched the number in the race results.

There is simply no way that the organizers could have recorded my time without my bib with its timing chip. And to make it more confusing, the time recorded was more than two minutes faster than my actual finish time.

In essence, my race bib, along with its timing chip, magically flew past me and finished the race before I did. Christmas magic indeed! The Half magic included a flying bib!

Posted by: David Stewart | December 15, 2014

Most exciting wines of 2014

Since it’s December, it’s time for the end-of-the-year parade of listicles. I combed through my tasting notes for the year and culled out the wines which were most exciting and interesting to me. Most of these represent some kind of a surprise for me or education for me. I list the price I paid for these wines, though your price and availability may very.

10. 2010 Snowy Peak Élevé – ($21) – Probably the biggest surprise is that it’s from Colorado. Who knew they made decent wines there? Snowy Peak makes their wine in Estes Park, just outside of Rocky Mountain National Park. Their Élevé is a Rhone-style blend of Syrah, Petite Sirah, Mourvedre and Viognier. We found it an excellent food wine. Although I suspect it’s not readily available outside Colorado, it’s worth looking up if you can find them, and the tasting room is a nice visit in Estes Park.

9. 2011 Domaine Saint-Damien Gigondas “Vieilles Vignes” ($27) – Gigondas is a village in the Provence region of France, in the foothills below the Dentilles, not far from Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Because this is the southern Rhone, this blend is very strong in Grenache, and “Vielles Vignes” means “old vines” in French. There is an energy and complexity in this wine which is at once fresh and ancient. I ran across it locally in a wine shop so it should be available still.

8. 2012 D’Anu by Joe at Carlton Cellars Sangiovese Seven Hills Vineyard ($23) – Alaskan Joe Williams makes an amazing and very reasonably priced 2012 Pinot Noir, but his Washington Sangio was a hit with me and my wife and daughter at a recent tasting event. This is not an overly tannic wine but fruity and delicious. I got some of his Pinot but the Sangio was the surprise.

7. 2013 Domaine Drouhin Oregon Willamette Valley Pinot Noir ($27 in volume) – While everyone has been swooning over the luscious and opulent 2012 vintage of Oregon Pinots, the surprise is venerable Domaine Drouhin Oregon releasing a value-priced 2013. This release is marked “Willamette Valley” which means there are grapes sourced from outside their Dundee Hills estate. Immediately my mind went to “Eola-Amity”, since DDO bought a new vineyard last year from that appellation. The surprise is a more value-oriented wine from DDO with their classic winemaking style. (I can’t seem to find this wine on their website, so you may need to call the winery to get any.)

6. NV Kramer Vineyards Müller-Thurgau Celebrate ($22) – It’s fairly rare to see much sparkling wine in Oregon, even though our grapes are the same which traditionally go into Champagne. Kramer is one of those long-time Willamette Valley winemakers that have been around since the 1980s. But the surprise is this bubbly is made with Müller-Thurgau. When we first move to Oregon in the 1980s, white wine made with the Müller-Thurgau grape was fairly common, but today it’s nearly unheard of. These are refreshing and reasonably-priced bubbles and a definite surprise.

5. 2012 Antiquum Farm Pinot Noir Juel ($37) – As I’m writing this, I happened to speak with someone who claims they have never had a bad Pinot Noir. I think he was doing it to get a reaction out of me (and he succeeded), but I told him I’ve had to kiss a lot of frogs along the way to find a prince or two. That said, the 2012 vintage of Pinot Noir is so tasty, I have not found a frog in the bunch yet. But out of all of the 2012 wines I have tasted so far, the Antiquum Farms

4. 2009 Heitz Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($49) I’m fairly late to the party, since Heitz is one of the oldest wineries in Napa. But I finally got a chance to hang out for a while this year and talk to their staff. The Martha’s Vineyard grapes are unique because the resulting wine has a kind of minty smell, supposedly from the Eucalyptus that grows nearby.  Their general Napa Valley designated blend includes some of those grapes, so there is a hint of mint in the nose. This is more expensive than wines I would usually buy, but it seems like all Napa Cabernets are steep.

3. 2012 Maysara Pinot Noir Jamsheed ($23) – Of the many excellent 2012 Pinots, this is probably one of my favorites and quite reasonably priced. Maybe it’s because I love the American success story of the Momtazi family and perhaps I got carried away by their amazing new winery facility. But of all the 2012 Momtazi Vineyard wines I tried at a recent tasting event of seven different wineries, this one hit the right notes of quality and price.

2. 2012 Acrobat Cellars Pinot Noir ($13) – Every year, Wine Spectator picks its top 100 wines of the year, and then does a kind of strip tease, announcing another of the top 10 every day. The full list of 100 wines for 2014 only had three wines from Oregon. Imagine my surprise when one of those three wines was a sub-$20 Pinot from the far southern reaches of the Willamette Valley! King Estate is a treat to visit if you are down in the Eugene area, with a sweeping view of the valley. This wine is not only affordable, it’s complex and interesting and worthy of your table – or cellar!

1. 2012 Arterberry Maresh Pinot Noir Dundee Hills ($22) – These vines are some of the oldest in the Dundee Hills planted back in the 1970s. I remember the Arterberry Maresh label from the 1980s when we first moved to Oregon, but it disappeared from view until the last year or so. This wine has some of the most interesting aromas I have ever gotten off of a Pinot Noir – apricot, mint and barnyard. When I bought some and brought it home, there was the smell of bananas. I was told that in some years there is a freak of nature, and the nose turns into something very unique for a Pinot. I look for good things from these guys with this very historic label.

Posted by: David Stewart | December 12, 2014

Get out of that rut – Eola-Amity edition

A few years ago my sister Susan was visiting Oregon. She was setting up shop for a few days at a friend’s house in the town of Keizer, which is right outside the state capital, Salem. We both had a free day in common, so we decided to get together.

“Is there anything we can do for fun around Salem?”

Well huh, that is a head-scratcher. Frankly after living for 30 years in the Portland area, the state capital didn’t get much of my attention, other than the Oregon State Fair, and it wasn’t August.

Had I known then what I know now, I would have suggested we drive just 15 minutes out of Salem to some of the state’s most outstanding but lesser-known wineries. Don’t make the same mistake as I did. Plan a trip to visit some of these places and get out of your Dundee Hills rut!

There are four really great wineries all within about 4 miles of each other, a mere 15 minutes outside of Salem. Your could easily tackle four tastings at these places on a weekend day. They are clustered around one particular ridge line in the Eola Hills, a zone exposed to the breezes which blow in from the Pacific Ocean up a cut in the Coast Range called the Van Duzer Corridor. 

Those ocean breezes cool the Eola Hills area during summer, insuring that the Pinot Noir grapes have a lot of hang time and don’t ripen too quickly. The wineries will say that the higher elevation vineyards which are more exposed to the Van Duzer wind will tend to have thicker grape skins and thus more flavor.

(Note: Before you finalize your plans, make sure all of these tasting rooms are open. Some may be closed during the deeps of winter.)

  • Witness Tree – A very personal small family operation. The owners and winemaker met in college and are living the dream of a “retirement” as farmers and winemakers. There is a very broad range of varietals, from their delicious Pinot Blanc, Burgundian Chardonnay, a sweet desert wine and a collection of Pinots Noir. I particularly like the Hanson Vineyard Pinot Noir, from a vineyard high and exposed to the Van Duzer winds.
  • Cristom – Named for Christine and Tom, children of the founders. Whole cluster fermentation is the hallmark of Cristom’s Pinot Noir. This is a technique of fermenting the wine stems along with the grapes. The idea here is that the stems contain a lot more of the tannins which will create structure and age-ability. So why doesn’t everyone do it? Some winemakers will add in some whole clusters in very hot years, to counter the stronger sugars created in the heat. (And in cooler years, they will often add in sugar in a process called chaptalization.) But Cristom uses some percentage of whole clusters every year. These are Pinots which are definitely built to age. Most unusually, they also have Syrah growing on their property, which isn’t made into wine on cool years.

  • St Innocent – Next around the hill is Mark Vlossak’s place, named in honor of his father who was born on All Innocents Day. St. Innocent is known for their large collection of single vineyard Pinots from the top vineyards in the valley, such as Shea, Freedom Hill and Momtazi. These wines can be a little tannic when you drink them in the tasting room, so they can be a bit of a surprise if you are not used to the style. But they age wonderfully and will develop for 10 years or longer. The back label reads out the recommended drinking windows if you are confused. The tasting room space is connected to an event room which can be rented out. I really like Mark’s wines, and have quite a few in my cellar.
  • Bethel Heights – Finally around the bend and up the hill is another historic Oregon winery. Bethel’s first vines were planted in the 1970s on their own root stock. This is most unusual, since the European vines like Pinot Noir tend to be susceptible to the phylloxera louse which eats up the roots. But apparently they have vineyard sites which are isolated enough to have survived. These are beautiful, age-worthy Pinots and the view from the tasting room porch is killer. 
Posted by: David Stewart | December 10, 2014

Can you find a decent Oregon Pinot Noir for under $20?

The perennial question, can I find a good Oregon Pinot Noir for under $20?

The easy answer here is: Yes, you can! [1]

Many grocery stores and Costco will carry decent Oregon Pinot’s for a very nice price. For example, Wine Spectator’s 2014 list of top 100 wines of the year included a 2012 Acrobat Pinot Noir, which I found for $12.99 at Costco that same week.

Nearly all sub-$20 Willamette Valley Pinots are sourced from a huge variety of vineyards and then the wine is made with a strong fruit extraction and influence of new oak. The resulting wine is drinkable and enjoyable upon release and makes for a very acceptable table wine.

As good as these wines often are though, they are usually not very subtle, or distinguishable from the oak and fruit bombs typical of California Pinots. Nor are they an expression of a singular winemaker’s handcrafting skills or unique vineyard site or vintage year. Come, come, you ask too much!

Fortunately for those of us with budget constraints, the news is still good. But you will need to do a little more digging. 

Ideally what you want is what I call the “value artisan.” Someone who makes really tasty Pinot, but isn’t trying to charge you as much as the market will pay them. 

Unfortunately, there are some young winemakers who think their inaugural single vineyard Pinot would be worth over $100, so they set the price at $50 and consider it a bargain. They could be right. I don’t want to criticize anyone in how they price their product. I’m just not likely to buy at that price.

I’d rather find an artisan who is trying to keep their pricing reasonable and keep their product great. Here are some tips for finding these gems:

Get some lists together. There are lists of wineries available from folks like the Willamette Valley Wineries Association and Avalon Wines which I find extremely helpful. I also think the Oregon Wine app (available for Android and iPhone) is an outstanding resource. I have friends who keep a Willamette Valley wine map in their car and check off the places they have visited. 

Ask your friends. See if they know some hidden value gems. Particularly listen to folks within a similar budget situation. (I’m very indebted to Joe Morris, who has helped me immensely in finding tasty values.)

Do a little research on the web. Most wineries have a web site these days (although there are some which don’t). See if their list price wines are within a comfortable budget before you spend a lot of time tasting.

Use open house weekends. A lot of wineries of all sizes will open their doors once or twice a year so that you can taste wine without an appointment. The big weekends in Oregon are Thanksgiving and Memorial Day, though there is an emerging movement towards opening up on Valentines Day or the weekend before Thanksgiving.

Keep some notes. I like to use the Evernote app (available for Android and Apple) to keep track of what wines cost and my notes and observations, particularly when it comes to pricing. 

Be a patron of the artist. When you find a value artisan, make sure you buy their stuff to the extent that you can. Get to know the winemaker and try to visit them periodically. Show appreciation for their work and their pricing. 

Tell your friends. Value pricing means that these folks are dependent on word-of-mouth instead of spending on advertising. 

Here are a few of the value artisans that I try to steer friends towards:

  • Ayres – Brad and family have terrific wines and their Willamette Valley wine is usually a spectacular value. I’m also a fan of their Pinot Blanc, which is an outstanding white wine value.
  • Twelve – Linda and John are not only great value artisans, they really take care of people who get to know them. Their tasting room in Carlton should be high on your list to start your value quest.
  • Atticus – Ximena and Guy make amazingly tasty Pinot, both from their vineyard as well as purchased fruit. 

[1] I realize this is a violation of Bettridge’s law of headlines. But it’s fun to break the rules sometimes.

Posted by: David Stewart | December 8, 2014

A bootleg shoe from Nike’s top designer?

I have no idea who Nike would consider their top shoe designer. But I can imagine they would be rather unhappy if their superstar was busy on the side designing a competitive shoe and selling it on their own time. I know for a fact that my own company takes quite a dim view of this kind of moonlighting if it’s in a field related to their day job.

In fact, I have a hard time imagining any professional making and selling their own private label product on the side.

Except in winemaking.

There is a dramatic plot line in the outstanding wine movie “Bottle Shock” where an assistant is making wine on the side. Once this little side project becomes known by the winery owner, [spoiler warning] he fires him on the spot.

Wouldn’t you imagine your own employer getting a bit concerned about you competing with them on the side? No?

Here in Oregon, I know of several outstanding winemakers who do exactly this – work by day for one winery but by night with their own project.

Stephen Goff – I first met Stephen at an event called “Tu Shea”, where he was pouring his sophomore effort, a 2011 vintage Pinot Noir made with Shea Vineyard fruit. Stephen (not to be confused with Joel Gott, who makes California wines) was a former assistant winemaker at Beaux Freres, and is currently the winemaker and vineyard manager of Colene Clemens. Since Colene Clemens uses only their own vineyard’s fruit for their wine, Stephen can use grapes from other great vineyards like Shea for his Pinots.

Michael Stevenson – I’m always looking for a bargain, and usually when I find Stevenson-Barrie Pinot Noir, it’s at a good price. When I can find it! It’s not easy. Michael Stevenson sources grapes from outstanding Willamette vineyard properties like Shea and Temperance Hill. The wine also seems to be held back from the market a bit for some additional aging. Again, Stevenson had a day job, making wine for Panther Creek. But now Michael is the winemaker for Elizabeth Chambers, I wonder if we will still see Stevenson-Barries wines any more.

Drew Voit – With phenomenal winemaking pedigree, like making wine for Shea Vineyards and Domaine Serene, you would expect Drew’s skills to be in high demand. I knew about his own label, Harper Voit. I was surprised at a recent open house tasting that he is consulting winemaker for a number of other outfits as well. What’s amazing to me though is how different wines taste when they are from different vineyards. Same year, same grape variety, same winemaker – totally different taste! If that’s not proof of terroir, I don’t know what is.

Scott Shull – Scott is the outstanding winemaker / owner for Raptor Ridge. His appearance on this list is thanks to the mentoring he has done with other winemakers. In particular, I know he was helping the folks at Atticus in their early years, though I believe he is only providing winery space to Atticus now. Scott has really helped out fellow winemakers in a couple of very tragic situations. Once was when Jimi Brooks died unexpectedly in 2004. Scott with others helped make sure that the year’s vintage was made. He also helped in 2008 when Bill Redman was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I’m very happy to recommend Raptor Ridge wines, not only because they are terrific wines but because Scott is such an amazing person.

Posted by: David Stewart | December 6, 2014

Luck is not a factor

“Good luck in your 18 mile run tomorrow.” This from a co-worker yesterday.

Honestly, I’m not sure how she knew I was going 18 on Saturday, she must have overheard me telling someone. Up until now, when someone wishes me luck, I tend to quote the movie “The Abyss”, when the character Lindsey responds with:

“Luck is not a factor.”

I realize now that this is probably a snotty thing to say. After all, someone is just being polite. And this co-worker is a mom whose kids are involved with sports, and I appreciate the sentiment. So I followed it up with: “It’s probably more about shear pig-headedness on my part than anything else.”

“Well,” she replied, “good luck with your determination.”

Why is it that I react so strongly when someone wishes me luck? In spite of all the preparation and skill and natural talent that someone might possess, there seems to be an x-factor in life’s pursuits that can’t be explained. The highly-rated football team who can’t seem to generate any offense in a key championship game. The marathon race which results in a “Did Not Finish” in the results column in spite of months of preparation. The driver who glances at their telephone at the wrong moment and wanders into oncoming traffic at just the wrong time.

Inanimate objects are often assigned with good luck generation. Wearing your lucky shirt to give an important presentation, or wearing your team jersey to watch a key championship match. No question, a person’s mental state can be affected by supernatural powers attributed to objects.

That’s not for me. Running 18 miles is just one of the things I put myself through in order to run marathon races. Weekly long runs are the cornerstone of marathon training. Endurance is built, aerobic efficiency is increased, joints and feet are toughened up to take hours of pounding. There is even a matter of running efficiency – your body actually gets more efficient as you run more.

Of course it helps to have determination and mental toughness to run that far in one setting. But there are plenty of people who are a whole lot tougher than me and who can’t run that far. And many very determined people who are far too sane to want to.

And sometimes in spite of all the preparation and determination, things will just go pear-shaped. I’ve had long runs blow up in my face due to a variety of factors. It’s pretty embarrassing to call your spouse to rescue you in the middle of a run because you are in too much stomach pain. I usually hope I can learn something from these failures and try to do better the next time.

I think you can actually learn more from failure than from success. I remember telling this to a younger co-worker who has had nothing but success in his work career. I don’t think he believes me. Perhaps its true, but when things go perfectly, you might not ever figure out what it was which created success. Which probably leads to belief in lucky shirts. So “bad luck” might actually lead to “good luck” in the future? Only if you are willing to learn from your failures.

I’ll try not to be so snotty when people wish me luck in the future. I know they are trying to be encouraging. Maybe I need to figure out a better movie quote.

Posted by: David Stewart | December 5, 2014

The French invasion

What’s happening to Oregon? Will hipsters in Portland be trading in their skinny jeans and American Spirits for berets and Gauloises? No, but you might think so to read the Oregon wine news.

Chances are when you see wine from Burgundy in the US, it will either be labeled Louis Jadot or Joseph Drouhin. These two massive winemaking concerns source grapes from vineyards all over Burgundy.  So why have they both stuck their heads into the Willamette Valley?

The Drouhin family invested in Oregon back in the 1980s, when Oregon winemaking was still quite primitive. Their Dundee Hills vineyard sets the bar for their wonderful restrained Pinot Noir and Chardonnay style, typical of an old world aesthetic. 

2013 was a big year for new French purchases. Jadot bought into Oregon in 2013, buying the well-established Resonance vineyard in the Yamhill-Carlton district. Drouhin for their part bought an additional 279 acres in the Eola-Amity district, and blended the grapes into their wonderful 2013 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir release. 

Today there were articles by both Drouhin and Jadot talking up their latest Burgundy releases. I was shocked that buried in the article was the nugget that Louis Jadot had just bought an additional 20-acre site in Dundee Hills.  Pierre-Henry Gagey, president of Jadot was being interviewed about wines from the Beaune appellation in Burgundy. 

While Gagey’s heart clearly belongs in Burgundy, when asked which region he felt was currently making exceptional Pinot Noir Gagey firmly replied, “Oregon” – Louis Jadot’s recent acquisition of two vineyards in Oregon, the most recent just a month and a half ago, proof of his conviction in the region.

This should feel like a continued validation of the small-time artisans who try to make a living making Oregon wine. But the French are invading Oregon because of the Napoleonic-era inheritance laws in France which make it hard to accumulate more top vineyard land in Burgundy.

I sincerely hope that this outside investment in Oregon will not drive out the small producers or make it even harder to produce awesome Pinot for a reasonable price.

Posted by: David Stewart | December 4, 2014

Get out of your rut!

Anyone who lives in the Portland, Oregon metropolitan area should consider themselves to be blessed to live within close driving distance of a truly world-class winegrowing region: The Willamette Valley. And unlike the Napa / Sonoma region to the south, nearly all of those winegrowers are small-time artisans who take pleasure to show you their products personally.

Some of the best-quality Willamette wines are grown on the red-soil hills around the little town of Dundee. There, you find early Oregon wine pioneers (Sokol Blosser), high-volume producers (Erath). Burgundians (Domaine Drouhin), rare cult wines (J Thomas) and ultra-premium wines (Domaine Serene). 

As a result of its high quality and its close proximity to Portland (about 45 minutes drive time), Dundee ends up being the default go-to for wine tasters from Portland. I’d like to challenge you to drive an extra half hour and branch out. The result is often lower prices while still having terrific quality.

One way to hunt down a new region is by its AVA. The American Viticultural Area is an official government designation of a geographic region which shares similar geography, soils and climate. Wines marked with “Willamette Valley” must have at least 85% of its grapes grown from within that imaginary AVA line.

The best known Oregon AVA is Willamette Valley, about 150 miles long. But within this AVA are a group of designated sub-AVAs. The Dundee Hills AVA is the one around the village of Dundee. 

A really great branch-out trip would be to visit the McMinnville AVA wineries. This is a reasonably contained area with some amazing places to taste wine. And best of all, most of the places are arranged along Highway 18 between the college town of McMinnville and Sheridan. Here are a few places to check out:

  • Maysara  – The story of the Momtazi family’s departure from Iran and eventual arrival in Oregon to start up a world class vineyard and winery is the stuff of legends. Maysara sells their grapes from their biodynamically farmed Momtazi vineyard to a number of other winemakers. They also make their own wine in a wonderful new winery building made from mostly repurposed materials from their property. If you visit for wine tasting, you will likely be served by a member of the family or a close friend. Their Maysara Jamsheed Pinot Noir is an excellent value.
  • J Wrigley – They are a little harder to find than the other winegrowers in this list but they are well worth the hunt. Stashed in the back of a massive Christmas tree farm at a top of a hill with killer views is this simple, family run operation. I love their J Wrigley Pinot Noir MAC Cuvee for quality and value. Check out the J. Wrigley jams as well.
  • Yamhill Valley Vineyards  – Closer to highway 18 is Denis Burger’s pioneering operation. The name of the vineyard is a bit odd, given they are not located in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA. But since their first vintage was in 1983, I suspect that their name dates back to a time before the AVA’s were established in Oregon. The Estate and Reserve Pinot Noirs are terrific wines at a killer price.
  • Coeur de Terre – Hidden away in a hollow off the main road is Scott’s marvelous tasting room and winery operation. My tasting notes of the 2010 Estate Pinot Noir includes the words “Wow!” and “Forest floor and cedar nose” with great structure for aging.
  • Youngberg Hill – Since fine wine grapes grow best on hillsides, savvy winemakers will put their tasting rooms at the top of a hill to take advantage of whatever view they have. At Youngberg Hill, they have taken the next logical step and built a gorgeous bed and breakfast at the winery. If you like a little more intensity and structure to your red wines than is typical with Pinot Noir, they make a nice Syrah here. Wayne Bailey is the grower and winemaker.

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