An Insider’s Guide to the Willamette Valley

Having worked in the Willamette Valley in Oregon since 2012, I am often asked, “Where would you go if visiting the Willamette Valley?” My answer generally will include places that I know that person is likely to enjoy.  However, if it were up to me, I would have some specific, special recommendations. Here are a few of my top recommendations.

Grape Escape Tour

A Grape Escape Tour

Tour companies: Either select a designated driver or take a tour.   While tours aren’t cheap, they generally are cheaper than a DUI ticket, and they are much more enjoyable because everyone can drink. Tours also generally include the tasting fees (depending on the winery, $15-$20 per person), but check with the company when you are booking your tour.

  • For groups of 4+: Grape Escape – Ask for Ralph, and he will take great care of you. This is probably one of the best deals out there. Furthermore, if your group isn’t big enough and you don’t mind going with others, it will likely be even cheaper. The tour guides are very knowledgeable.  While you will be riding in a large 10-passenger van, they pay the tasting fees and include small snacks such as meat and cheese plates for you to enjoy at one of the winery stops. Let Ralph know where you would like to go and let him know what places I recommended. He’ll do his best to set everything up in advance for you. I consider this a no-nonsense tour with great staff and service. They will also pick you up from your hotel in downtown Portland.
  • For couples 2-4 people: Oregon Select Wine Tours – Ask for Jeff. Jeff has been giving tours for a very long time, though you wouldn’t guess it since he’s a young entrepreneur. With Jeff’s beautiful SUVs with leather interiors, you will be riding around in style. Jeff works with a lot of the hotels in wine country, so if you are staying outside of Portland and at the Allison Inn and Spa or the Black Walnut Inn, I would recommend contacting him. If you are looking for a nice anniversary or couple’s weekend with class, Jeff is the way to go.  He also said he would honor a six hour tour at the price of a five hour tour, so make sure to mention that I sent you.
  • For younger groups of 6-12: Wildwood Adventures – Ask for Maria. Maria and her husband started this company this past year and have seen tremendous success with the younger, more active demographic. It probably helps that they both came from Nike before they decided to drop everything and follow their dreams. They have a winning combination of wineries to which they like to take their folks, but if you specifically want certain places, let them know.

Wineries

Here are some of the wineries that I traditionally recommend visiting whenever people ask me. Picking my favorites is always so hard, since so much depends on the person who is asking. Following are places where I would spend my day with my dearest friends. I generally like to stick to four wineries maximum as more than four becomes too much and I’d rather enjoy each winery than rush to the next and to the next. Wineries these days are opening earlier and earlier; some open now at 10:00 a.m. Make sure to check their hours, and, if possible, book a reservation. Avoid Mondays because most wineries are closed then.  Some wineries also have limited hours during the fall season.  Generally, I prefer to visit when there is less of a crowd, so I recommend visiting on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, or Thursdays, if at all possible. Your doing so is generally not expected, but it is appreciated, and you will also get the best service if you do this.

  • Bubbles: Always start with bubbles. Argyle Winery in Dundee is always my first stop, I love their Pop tasting menu, which features all sparkling wines.  You are sure to enjoy them.
  • History: Try a few Rieslings and Pinots from one of the most historic vineyards in the valley: Hyland Estate. Brady, Michael, or Hannah will take incredible care of you. Let them know I sent you, and they will honor a two-for-one tasting.
Red Hills Market Pizza and Beer

Lunch at Red Hills Market

  • Lunch: Stop for lunch at one of these two incredible spots:
    1. Red Hills Market for some stone-fired pizza and a beer on tap, and, at the same time, rub elbows with winemakers and vineyard managers from nearby wineries.
    2. Enjoy a Pinot Burger at Dundee Bistro with some truffle fries!
  • One-on-one with a view: Enjoy an incredible view and top-rated wines, with a private one-on-one tasting, at either the Dusky Goose (closed Tuesday and Wednesday) or Soter. Both have world renowned winemakers and have some of the most beautiful views in the valley.  Make sure to call ahead to set this up; you won’t be able to get in by showing up.
  • Traditional and on the way back into Portland:  Visit one of the most established wineries in the valley: Ponzi, Adelsheim, Archery Summit or Bergstrom. Be aware that these are well-visited places, and a phone call to them the day before will go a long way. Also, tasting fees may be higher depending on the location.  Sometimes the fees are waived with a purchase, but each place is different, and this shouldn’t be expected.

While there are so many more that I could visit, reducing this list to only a select few wineries can be hard. These are my personal recommendations and generally where I personally would take my friends visiting from out of town. Every year there are new wineries opening up and this list may change over time but it serves as a good base to plan your trip. Visiting during the summer can be a busy time to visit but the weather couldn’t be better. Spring and Winter may be wet but you have less tourism traffic and have a chance to do more one-on-one tastings. I personally prefer to go in the middle of the week and in the Spring or Winter time as this gives me a great opportunity to learn as much as I can from the staff and have a more dedicated tasting.

Shipping Wine Home:

At the end of the day, if you haven’t already purchased a case of your favorite wine but instead picked up a few from each location, The Newberg Mailroom is where you’ll want to stop and drop your wine off to have shipped to your final destination. Sometimes you can ask your tour operator when scheduling your tour that you may want to do this at the end of your tour and perhaps to do this quick stop for you. I would recommend filling a case of 12 bottles because it won’t matter whether you send 6 bottles or 12—the shipping cost will generally be the same.

If you are flying with Alaska Airlines, there is a special program called Oregon Wines Fly Free. You can see the details at: http://www.oregonwine.org/oregon-wines-fly-free/. If you are planning your trip, take this into account, because sometimes shipping wine can otherwise be expensive; thus if you can just take it with you, I would recommend it.  If you do decide to ship your wines yourself, just make sure you get the right packing material, either from a winery or from the Mail Room in Newberg.

General Overview of the Valley:

For a map of the Willamette Valley and links to a number of other places to visit: http://willamettewines.com/

You can also pre-order a brochure to help you finalize your plans by filling out the form at this link:  http://willamettewines.com/brochure/

To learn more about Oregon wine, make sure to check the Oregon Wine website which is full of events and promotions in the state.

 

Enjoy!  If you enjoyed my recommendations, feel free to share them with others, and let me know if you enjoyed your tour. Cheers!

 

A Thirst for Cider: Oregon Cider Week

What was once old is new again. This holds true not just for fashion but also for cider. The US has now experienced a cultural resurgence of cider and is developing quite a thirst for it.

Once Colonial America’s drink of choice, the U.S. is quickly returning back to its roots for inspiration. According to federal data, draft cider sales rose 700 percent between 2011 and 2012; in 2012, U.S. cider sales topped $90 million.  Why?  First, thanks to the interest and subsequent growth of craft beer, the craft cider industry has grown as well. Furthermore, the interest in and demand for something new and different, and perhaps healthier, has created the perfect opportunity for cider.

Data also suggest that the average cider drinker is 20-35 years old. A number of these younger drinkers, particularly in the Northwest, are looking for something authentic, original, and different from the mass-produced sub-par cider and beer. Given all of this data, the Pacific Northwest is the perfect place for a craft revolution.

The resurgence of interest in cider has been very notable in Oregon.  On June 20, Oregon kicked off its third annual Oregon Cider Week with Cider Summit Portland, featuring over 140 ciders from 37 producers, from 6 states and 7 countries. This event will continue on to Seattle, Chicago, and Berkeley. Portland showed its support by coming in droves: 3,000 to 4,000 visitors over two days, to be exact. It was a well-attended event with a lot of people enjoying the sun, the music, and the cider being poured by artisan cider houses.  The rest of the week featured events throughout the state including a number of tap takeovers, happy hours, tastings, and dinners.

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I had the honor of attending the Cider Feast Dinner at St. Honoré Boulangerie off SE Division Street in Portland. Hosted by St. Honoré Boulangerie, Chef Dominique Geulin, and Kevin Zielinski, E.Z. Orchards’ owner and cider maker, this five-course French-style dinner showcased ciders from Finnriver Farm and Cidery,  Virtue Cider, Reverend Nat’s Cidery, 2 Towns Ciderhouse, and E.Z. Orchards.

Cider Feast Dinner

Cider Feast Dinner

The pairings dinner featured a beautiful Goat Cheese and Rainer Cherry tartalette, a mixed green salad tossed with Finnriver Black Currant Cider vinaigrette, a plate of country pâté and chicken liver mousse paired with a E.Z. Orchards cider mustard, and a gorgeous Alsatian-meets-Northwest tarte flambé. This feast was all finished off with a very interesting Cider and Saffron Sabayon.

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For me, it was a beautifully-paired dinner by Chef Geulin, and I will make sure to return during St. Honoré Boulangerie’s happy hour for more cider-based cocktails soon. What is unique about St. Honoré Boulangerie is that they create not only beautiful breads and quiches but also wood-fired pizzas. I was happy to taste some of my favorite cider producers, from E.Z. Orchards to Finnriver to Reverend Nat’s, all paired in this great cider dinner. I look forward to seeing the other great events Portland has to offer.

Stay tuned!

 

 

Cider, a drink meant to be shared

Cider is rapidly becoming America’s darling as an alternative to beer and wine. This fermented apple juice is not only rich in flavor but also in antioxidants. Moreover, it is gluten-free.  Cider is, in a lot of ways, “apple wine.” Given all this, it is clearly a drink meant to be shared, if not for your health then for your friendships, according to Mr. Franklin.

“He that drinks his cyder alone, let him catch his horse alone.”

     ~ Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanack

Cider has a truly interesting history.

The History:

Once considered America’s favorite drink, cider was widely consumed by the early English settlers on the East Coast.

Due to the inedibility of the apples the English settlers found upon arrival, the colonists requested apple seeds to be sent from England, and they began cultivating orchards. Initially the cultivation of barley and other grains was difficult, so cider became the beverage of choice. Furthermore, due to its low alcohol content, cider was a beverage that could be consumed throughout the day and as an alternative to water when sanitation was an issue.

However, later, the Temperance Movement and Prohibition slowed and nearly eliminated the production of “hard” cider.  It wasn’t until later that apples gained popularity as a table fruit.

Modern Day:

Today, craft cider is rapidly gaining popularity just as is the craft beer movement. In particular, the Pacific Northwest offers a unique location where the soil is rich, the water plentiful, the winters mild, and summers ideal, making this area a perfect location to grow apples.

As craft beer consumption has exploded, drinkers are now looking to find the next interesting beverage. Craft cider offers a great alternative to beer.  Besides being gluten-free, it is slightly sweeter (depending on the cider you choose), and it also is a great food-pairing option.

The cider industry is ripe for expansion, especially with the fact that ciders fill an interesting niche market. With its being sweet, gluten-free, and natural, and having a low alcohol content,  cider creates an appealing market option for women and for drinkers seeking the next big thing.  It has also caught the attention of the larger breweries such as MillerCoors, Anheuser-Busch, and Carlsberg A/S.  In February of 2013, MillerCoors and Molson Coors bought Crispin Cider Co.  Anheuser-Busch also introduced their premium-priced Stella Artois Cidre and a low-calorie Michelob Ultra Light Cider.

Despite all these big breweries purchasing up some of the small cider houses, there are still plenty of individual craft brewers making the kind of cider that may not appeal to the mass market.  However, in the quantities these individual craft brewers produce, this is not an issue.

According to the Northwest Cider Association, “cider can range from light, delicate and sparkly to rich, dark, and full of complexity. There are hundreds of varieties of cider apples that can grow a wide variety of luscious flavors, fragrant aromatics and intense tannins. These are the building blocks for good cider. Cider makers carefully select their preferred varieties to get the flavors they seek.”

Cider appeals to all those looking for a new taste experience:  from wine lovers, beer lovers, and chefs, to foodies and anyone who is curious. Everyone can now enjoy the new resurgence in the world of cider, and all the new flavors are there to experience.

Basque-Style Cider, also known as Sagardo 

Having returned from Spain recently and having experienced the Basque style of cider, I was looking forward to finding cider with a similar dryness and almost bitter taste. A cider house in Basque country is also known as Sagardotegi, in Basque. The word sagardotegi is built on three roots: sagar (apple) and nardo (wine) give the word Sagardo, literally “apple wine”, translated into French from cidre. The suffix –tegi means a building or activity in a place. The word translates as “place of manufacture of apple wine (cider).”

The Basque country of Northern Spain is well known for its cider, and, like traditional French-style cider, Basque-style cider tends to have a bittersweet taste to it that pairs extremely well with foods of the region. From the picture below you can see how the Basque style of cider is stored and later retrieved by lucky cider lovers.  The cider is aged in large oak barrels and retrieved by customers on a rotating basis of about 20 minutes so that the barrels are always partially filled. The ritual of capturing the cider is called “Txotx.”  See the photos below! In this case, we were on the outskirts of the lovely city of San Sebastian, Spain (Gipuzkoa), at a place called, Petritegi Sagardoa.

How to properly catch your cider in the Basque country of Spain.

How to properly catch your cider in the Basque country of Spain. The“Txotx.”

You are allowed about an inch of the cider stream at a time, and this ensures that you get the freshest cider possible. It is common tradition in Northern Spain for people of all ages to capture their own cider. The trick is to capture this beverage from a distance to oxygenate the cider.  There is generally a line of people waiting patiently behind you to grab their next inch of fresh cider.

Catching the cider, quickly and efficiently.

Catching the cider or Sagardo, quickly and efficiently.

Back in the US

When I returned from Spain, I missed the cider houses and the taste of cider in Europe. In the U.S., I tried a number of the commercially made ciders, with no real success. However, one day, I was invited to join a number of friends for a homemade pizza gathering and there met Sharon Zielinski, the sister-in-law of Kevin Zielinski of EZ Orchards. Mark, Kevin’s brother, quickly introduced me to this dry, traditionally-made French-style cider—and I fell in love.

EZ Orchards is located in NE Salem, Oregon.  Kevin Zielinski is the lead cider maker; his family has owned and operated this farm and its orchards of apples, pears, and peaches for three generations.  He is focused on making the traditional French-style cider from French cider varieties that are more bittersweet in taste and have the tannin structure necessary to make a traditional cider.

What makes this French-style cider from EZ Orchards different is that it uses spontaneous fermentation, which means that there is no foreign yeast added to the apple juice, and the only yeast it has is wild yeast from nature itself. This ensures that there will be a cold fermentation process lasting from two to three months.  This also ensures that there is maximum flavor and aroma in the cider, as well as natural carbon dioxide development in the bottle, thus providing that sparkling quality that we all love and enjoy. Following in the footsteps of the traditional methode champenoise (a process very similar to that used for the creation of French champagne), the cider undergoes its last stage of fermentation in the bottle.

You might be wondering how other commercially-made ciders are made.  In general, mass-produced cider generally has yeast added to it; this yeast addition can change the output and the speed of fermentation. Additionally, mass-produced cider has carbon dioxide added at the end right before bottling takes place.

To learn more about EZ Orchards, check this video out:

Here’s a unique chance to taste and experience Northwest cider:

Rite of Spring

NWCA Cider Rite of Spring on Saturday, April 26 at the Tiffany Emerald Ball Room in Portland, Oregon. Tickets are $25

Cider Week

2014 Oregon Cider Week on June 20-29 throughout Oregon

Now, it’s time for me—and you!—to enjoy a nice glass of cider!  Cheers!

 

My Favorite Cider Houses

E.Z. ORCHARDS

5504 Hazel Green Rd NE, Salem, OR. 97305

 FINNEGAN CIDER

Lake Oswego, OR. Available at many locations

 2 TOWNS CIDERHOUSE

33848 SE Eastgate Circle, Corvallis, OR. 97333

 PORTLAND CIDER CO.

275 S Beavercreek Rd #149, Oregon City, OR 97045

 

For a list of cider houses in Oregon, Washington, Montana, and Canada, click here for the NorthWest Cider Association Members.

“Salud! Santé! Prost! Cheers!”

About the author: April Yap-Hennig

April Yap-Hennig is a wine lover and marketer with 12 years of experience in International Marketing and Communication in Europe and the United States, and with life experience also in the Caribbean and South America. She holds a Masters in Viticulture and Enology from the University of La Rioja, Spain, an MBA from Purdue University, and B.A. from University of Utah. She is also a Certified Wine Sommelier from the International Wine Guild in Colorado.  April was born in Utah, raised in the Dominican Republic and Ecuador, and has lived and worked in The Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, and Spain. Her love of wine started when she studied in La Rioja, Spain, during her undergraduate studies. This is where she fell in love with the country, the region, the people, the culture, and, finally, the wine–thus changing her life and eventually her career.

She is now the co-founder and owner of Epicurean Media, a beverage-and-food artisan public relations and marketing consultancy; she also founded and writes the Sacred Drop Channel at www.sacreddrop.com. She is forging a new future in Oregon with her husband and their hilarious French bulldog, Guapo.

Check out her websites: www.about.me/aprilyaphennig,  www.sacreddrop.com, andwww.epicureanmedia.com.