Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Willamette Valley....Check!

Last Christmas Steve gave us me a trip to Willamette Valley, Oregon....home of pinot noir.  It was something that we decided we wanted to do a year ago after sampling some delicious pinots at "Pinot Camp" in Birmingham.  It was there that over 50 wineries from Oregon came to display their wines, so we could sample and learn all about them.  We made a list of some of our favorites, and over the past year have tried many others.

After getting a few additional ideas from our friends that have been there already, and mapping out the locations of the ones we knew we liked, we had our final itinerary put together.  We flew out VERY early on a Wednesday, arriving in Portland just after lunch.  We immediately got our car and headed downtown to walk around and eat lunch at the food trucks.  We were not very impressed with the city...rather dirty and lots of homeless people (or folks who looked homeless), so we hit the road and called the hotel to see if we could get an early check-in.  Fortunately they accommodated us, so we checked in and got ourselves unpacked.

first selfie from our hotel balcony
After freshening up a little, we headed to our first winery....Et Fille.  We knew it was a small winery, and I loved their wine (Steve hadn't tried it yet), but didn't know more than that.  When we pulled in, we realized that it was a different type of winery.  It was one large building that multiple small companies used to prepare for crush, ferment, barrel and bottle their wine.  The room that Et Fille used to store their barrels was not fancy, but Howard (the owner and winemaker) took his time telling us his background, their process and describing about 8 different wines to us.  Since it was crush time, it was a very busy.  But that didn't stop him from spending 2 hours with us, giving us a tour and introducing us to his daughter and partner.  It was a phenomenal experience, and a great way to kick off our trip!  That night we enjoyed a nice dinner at Jory, the five star restaurant in our hotel.
Maysara Tasting Room

Day 2 started off great....we slept in and then drove to McMinnville to eat at a little café.  The food and service were great, and it was the perfect way to coat our bellies before hitting Maysara!  This wine was one of our more reasonable purchases this past year, but one that is also a smaller winery, or so we thought.  We pulled in to their brand new winery, and it was gorgeous! 

Their tasting room had only been opened a few weeks, and since we got there when they opened, we were by ourselves initially.  A woman poured us our first couple of tastes, and we started talking.  Though it took her lots of conversation to admit it, she is the head winemaker and was forced to pour in the tasting room because her youngest sister hadn't come to work yet.  She introduced us to her father, Mo, who took a lot of time explaining their history too.  They are a sweet Persian family, and we loved hearing their stories.  We look forward to seeing them back in Birmingham in February.

After Maysara, we headed north towards Eyrie Vineyards.  Their tasting room was not near their property, which took away all charm.  We did like their story, which is that they repair 20-30 year oak barrels so they can continue to use them over and over again.  They do this because they believe in not spoiling the flavor of the grapes, especially since they have some of the oldest vines in the valley.  They had one decent noir (2012 WV), and a good chardonnay.  Since we don't typically like chardonnays, we bought four bottles of it, and headed to our next stop.

view from Brooks deck
Brooks Winery in Amity was last on our list for Thursday, and fortunately for us, it was a perfect place to end our afternoon.  They had just built their tasting room with a huge deck overlooking one of their vineyards.  It was a stunning place, with great attention to detail.  Another great story behind this wine too.  The winemaker was a young father and owner of his winery when he died suddenly of a heart attack.  Rather than close, several local wineries pitched in to help his sister take it over.  They now have a great winemaker, and his son has grown and is attending college.  The interior walls of the tasting room is made of cork, and has the six names of the wineries that helped emblazoned along the wall.  While learning their history, we sipped on some of their delicious wines and ordered a  cheese and fruit tray. 

Inside Brooks tasting room
Thursday evening we dined at the Joel Palmer House, and everything that I put in my mouth was absolute heaven!  Their specialty is mushrooms...and almost everything on their menu has mushrooms in or on it.  For those who know me, they know that I have always disliked mushrooms.  However, over the years I have realized that I love their flavor, just not their texture so I adhered to our waitress's recommendations and went with their mushroom soup (it was pureed) and a fillet with a mushroom sauce.  It was absolutely divine!! 

Friday morning we slept in and then walked down to the hotel spa for our 90 minute massages.  It was the perfect way to begin our day!  We finally departed the hotel midday for lunch.  After our stomachs were full, we headed to the Carlton Winemakers Studio...another place where multiple winemakers share one property.  Since it is so costly to have all of the equipment to make wine, and then offer a tasting room where potential clients can grow to love your product, this is really a great idea.  The studio offers 13 different wines, but each day the flight of wines offered in their tasting changes.  We like a couple of the ones we sampled, but some just weren't as good as those we had grown to like already.  Later that day, we drove to Elk Cove (beautiful facility and grounds, but wine wasn't anything special), and finally Utopia. 

Dan, the owner of Utopia, got his start at Carlton Winemakers Studio, in fact he still makes and bottles his wine there.  However, he built a tasting room behind his house and is trying to grow his customer base so he can complete his dream to own his own winery.  He was a nice guy, and we really enjoyed his pinots.  We left with several bottles from two different years.  After freshening up, we went to dinner at Recipe.  It was another wonderful dinner, that was complimented with a great bottle of wine from Lange Vineyards.

Saturday, our last day, we had an appointment with Ayres.  As we pulled into the property, we took in the lovely surroundings.  It was 10am, so it was a little hazy, but their house was surrounded by vineyards and sat on top of a hill...it was gorgeous.  The owner had our wine set up under his pergola and he told us all about it and his background as a physician back in Denver.  His son in law owned a wine shop, but had a passion for learning more about wine and making it and moved to Oregon.  He shortly followed and together they started Ayres.  It is still family run, and another wonderful tasting wine!!

Following Ayres, we drove down the road to Torii Mohr, Lange and finally ended at Sokol Blosser.  Jill Henricksen, a friend of mine from Peoria, coincidentally lives in the area now and saw our photos on Facebook and reached out.  She came and met us for the last two wineries on Saturday, and grabbed dinner with us that night.  It was fun to catch up and see her.
Overall, Willamette Valley was a great vacation!  The Allison was awesome, great customer service and pretty views from our room.  We tried lots of new wines, and got more educated about ones we already loved.  But most of all, it was exactly what Steve and I needed....rest, relaxation and a chance to reconnect without any distractions (kids, friends, work, etc.).  We look forward to our next visit there in 2-3 years!

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