On The Great Oregon Wine Trail

Sunrise over Willamette Valley from Black Walnut Inn


I'm playing hooky again from the Culinary School wine class, visiting Oregon to help find unique, artisanal wines for the Touring and Tasting wine clubs. Well, truth be told, it's more "r and r" with wine tasting, golf and Shakespeare, but we're getting a brief look at the terroir of Oregon and getting to sample some nice wines. Perhaps our visit can help you plan a wine country trip to the area. The photo at left is taken from the balcony of the very plush Black Walnut Inn, that sits on top of the Dundee Hills with a panoramic view of the Willamette Valley.

The Oregon Wine Board has a comprehensive site packed with information. If you look at their map, you'll see the four main viticultural areas:
  • Willamette Valley,
  • Eastern Oregon 
  • Southern Oregon
  • Columbia Gorge
Fine Oregon wines are finding international recognition, particularly Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris from the Willamette Valley, which is of the same latitude as France's Burgundy, with the cool growing season needed for the temperamental grapes. Thin-skinned grapes, Pinot Noir, and its "cousin" Pinot Gris, are  prone to mildew, rot and disease. It takes a brave vineyard manager to grow them, but the rewards are gratifying. Black Walnut Inn's 2007 Dundee Hills Pinot Noir is a good example, with aromas of violets and roses and a ripe cherry flavor. The Dundee Hills AVA lies at the heart of Willamette Valley and is the result of basalt lava flows in the Miocene. The red "Jory"soil is brick-red, silty, clay loam and produces brillant, structured wines with good minerality. The terroir is also expressed well in the Lange Estate Winery and Vineyards wines.

Exploring Wine* states: "Pinot Noir is a very finicky grape that defies definition when it comes to style and expectation in the finished wine. Pinot Noir celebrates both its sense of place and the human touch; depending on where it is grown and who is growing it, this varietal may produce a wine very unlike its nearest neighbor or the most distant vineyard".  A tasting at Trisaetum, in the neighboring Ribbon Ridge AVA, proves the above assertion by producing Pinot Noirs in a completely different style, not only from its neighbor, but from the different blocks of its Estate vineyards.

We had a lovely time with Margie Olson, owner of Torii Mor Winery, along with her husband Donald. Their vineyard is perfectly situated on the south side of the Dundee Hills, with great sun exposure and breezes, and thick Jory soil sitting on basalt--the grape roots reach 30 feet and more down into the bedrock for a nice minerality. Besides great terroir, they have artesian water (some of which they bottle), a panoramic view of the valley and Mt. Hood beyond and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) GOLD Certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. A little bit of paradise on earth! In addition to brillant Pinot Noirs, Torii Mor also produces Pinot Gris, Syrah, Viognier, a Rhone blend and a port. Margie had just returned from a very successful trip to Las Vegas where their wines were placed in many restaurants, including the Bellagio.

We also enjoyed the view and terrific wines at Winderlea Vineyard and Winery with one of the owners, Donna Morris. Their sustainably built winery is familiar from Sunset Magazine and their wide-open balcony was crowded with noisy customers enjoying their wine tastings. Winderlea Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays can sell out quickly, understandable given their character and finesse.

2010 has been a difficult vintage in Willamette with a cloudy summer and cool temperatures. We heard that vineyards had to be aggressively farmed this year, with both grapes and leaves thinned to allow the remaining grapes more sun to aid in ripening. Grapes in most vineyards are not pulled yet as the sugar level is not quite up and showers are forecast starting tomorrow. You can almost feel the tension in the winemaking community as they hope for one last spell of sunshine so they can bring in their grapes before the real rains begin. The bright spot is that the flavor of the grapes has already developed--we had a taste of them off the vine--so this 2010 vintage may be stellar, despite the anxious wait for harvest.

You can enjoy this tasty treat at the lovely Brookside Inn centrally located in the wine country of Willamette Valley, surrounded with acres of waterfalls and gardens, or make it at home and enjoy it with a chilled glass of the 2009 Rex Hill Pinot Gris.
4 Tbsp. butter, in two parts
1 bunch scallions, chopped
1 -2 ears fresh sweet corn on the cob (or 3/4 cup frozen)
3 cups water
3/4 cup course ground corn meal
4 oz. goat cheese
3 Tbsp. Herbs de Provence, in two parts
4 Tbsp. sour cream
8 eggs
8 slices cured salmon
The night before, brown the corn, scallions and 2 Tbsp. Herbs de Provence in 2 Tbsp. of butter. Set aside. Put 3 cups water in a pot and bring to a low boil and slowly whisk in the corn meal. Cook over low heat for 20 minutes, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon. Stir in the corn/scallion mixture and the goat cheese. Spoon into 8 individual tart pans and refrigerate overnight.
The next morning:
Remove the polenta cakes from refrigerator and allow to warm to room temperature. Melt the other  2 Tbsp. of butter in heavy skillet on medium heat and brown the cakes in the butter.
Serve topped with a poached egg, cured salmon and a sour cream garnish. Sprinkle with the remaining 1 Tbsp. Herbs de Provence. Serves 8.
* Culinary School class text: Steven Kolpan, Brian H. Smith and Michael A. Weiss, "Exploring Wine" Third Edition, (The Culinary Institute of America).

0 Comments--Click HERE To Add Or Read:

Post a Comment

Thank you for your feedback...