The Unique Oregon Wine Industry: R.Stuart & Co., McMinnville, Oregon

There is a reason why I love Oregon wineries. and it isn’t simply the wines but the people behind the wine. From time to time, I meet people who really shine in this industry, not only in overall quality of their wines but in their personalities. Today was such a day. I had the chance to experience the amazing hospitality and kindness today from the R. Stuart & Co. wine family.

Rob Stuart, Owner & Winemaker of R.Stuart & Co.

Rob Stuart, Owner & Winemaker of R.Stuart & Co.

Today is a Monday. Mondays are generally not known for being great wine-tasting days since most tasting rooms are closed. Monday closings are common because most tourists come on Saturday and Sunday.

Having said that, I still saw it as a unique day to visit some wineries in McMinnville, Oregon. If you haven’t been to McMinnville, it’s time to visit this pleasant and unique town with many attractions. It’s located about an hour south of Portland and 30 minutes north of Salem.

If you make the trip, it will be well worth the visit. McMinnville is situated in the heart of wine country, with Yamhill-Carlton wine country to the north and Eola-Amity and McMinnville AVAs to the south.

Today, I decided to stop by and visit R. Stuart & Co. Wine bar in downtown McMinnville. Tasting room staff, Hunter and Rebekah greeted me with open arms. They offered me a mixed tasting of a number of wines, including two sparkling wines and finishing with a Cabernet Sauvignon Tawny port called the “UnPort”.

This isn’t your normal kind of tasting. Not many places in Oregon can offer you sparkling wine, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Tempranillo, and a finish with a lovely Tawny.

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One of my favorite new wines:  2008 Autograph Pinot Noir

R. Stuart & Co. produces about 16,000 bottles of wine, split between two separate labels: R. Stuart & Co. for single vineyard wines and reserve; and Big Fire for easy drinking, day-to-day every-day kind of wines at a price point that won’t break the bank. While R. Stuart & Co. does not own the vineyards they source from. it works closely with the growers, enabling the company to pick the very best.
This is where I will take a short break and give you some background on Rob. A New York native, Rob initially started his professional career in biochemistry and went on to start his wine-making journey first in Napa, California, and then as a winemaker in Yakima, Washington, and finally, in Oregon. After twenty years of working for others, he decided it was time to make the wine he loves. R. Stuart & Co. was founded in 2002.

After my initial tasting, I was then invited to barrel-taste the brand new 2013 vintages with the charismatic winemaker and owner, Rob Stuart at their winery, a converted Granary in downtown McMinnville.

We tasted through Pinot Gris, Pinot Noirs from all over the valley, Tempranillo, and finally three separate non-vintage Ports made from Cabernet Sauvignon ranging in age from 1991 to 2007.

Rob actually climbed up four levels of barrels to get our amazing last tasting of 1991 Port. A stunning and wonderful port if you can get your hands on it.

A special thanks to Rob and his team for their amazing hospitality and kindness. I couldn’t have asked for a better hosts.

Thank you!

Visit R. Stuart & Co. Wine bar in McMinnville, Oregon, Sun.-Tue.: 12 p.m.- 6 p.m., and Wed.-Sat.: 12 p.m.- 8 p.m. They are located at 528 NE 3rd St. McMinnville, OR 97128.

Make sure to ask them to tell you about the Three Clowns story of their Cabernet Sauvignon wine, it is full of twists and turns, Delta flight attendants and Texas.  As Rob states, “it’s like a fishing story, it becomes more embellished as time goes on.”

Side note: I heard that if you join the wine club, Maria Stuart, Robs’s lovely wife, pairs every new club release with a recipe. What a great benefit! For more info on their wine club, click here. 

Planning a trip to McMinnville?

Here are some downtown tips I’ve heard from the locals.

Place to stay: 

Hotel Oregon is one of  McMenamins renovated classic hotels. This hotel, built in 1905, has quite the history from being a Greyhound bus depot to a Western Union and finally soda fountain and beauty parlor before McMenamins took over.   It is a four-story restored building with 42 rooms complete with a pub on the ground floor and a great summertime rooftop bar.

Great food at a great price:

Like Thai? I certainly do, especially when it’s reasonably priced. Try Thai Country off of the main street of NE 3rd Street.  According to one Yelp! reviewer, “This isn’t the best Thai food in town, it’s the best in the state.” I certainly enjoyed their green curry!

Prefer Italian? Try Nick’s Italian Cafe. I’ve heard it’s stellar! It’s right across the street from R.Stuart & Co. Wine Bar. on NE 3rd street.

Have a wonderful, happy and safe Thanksgiving! Cheers!

Oregon’s Top Values Under $20

Thankgiving is a time for sharing–Why not share a wine that won’t break the bank?

After moving to Oregon, I was stunned not only by the incredible Pinots but also by the price of these beauties. I decided to go in search of the best values in the Willamette Valley. It is often a question I get asked from friends from out of state, and I decided it was time to create a list of some of my favorites.  With the help of other bloggers and lots of visits to local wineries, I found four top values just in time for the holidays. With all of these wines priced under $20, why not enjoy all four?  Cheers!

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2011 Oregon Brooks AmyCas– $15

This Alsatian-style white wine is a blend of Pinot Blanc (27%), Riesling  (26%), Pinot Gris (20%), Gewurztraminer (14%), and Muscat (13%).  This blend makes this a very interesting and versatile white wine with crisp acidity and a touch of residual sugar.

Tasting Notes: Lychee, rose petal, and white floral with a lemon-lime finish.

Winemaker: Chris Williams of Brooks Winery

Thanksgiving pairing: Due to its versatility, you could pair this wine with a spicy turkey dish or simply with a white meat such as chicken or veal with a creamy sauce(especially with mushrooms).

 Visit them from 11am to 5pm Tuesday through Sunday with no appointment necessary. For more information, click here.

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2012 Oregon Rainstorm Pinot Gris – $14

Rainstorm is a 100% Pinot Gris from Willamette Valley which has been aged on its lees for 4 months, giving the wine a nice roundness.   With 0.4 percent residual sugar, it is not an overly dry wine and offers good acidity and modest 12.5% alcohol, making it a refreshing wine to drink alone or with food.  This 2012 Vintage is a vintage that is clearly showing amazing wines and character. Act soon to get your hands on many 2012 whites and reds from Oregon.

Awards: 89 Points – Wine Spectator

Tasting notes: Lemon-grapefruit crispness, some tropical fruit, and stone fruits like apricot, with a bit of slate and minerality.

Winemaker:  Nicolas Quille of Rainstorm Winery

Thanksgiving pairing:  I picked this particular Pinot Gris as it was a medium-bodied Pinot Gris that wouldn’t get lost in the spices and butter of traditional Thanksgiving cooking. Brussel sprouts tend to be commonplace in Thanksgiving dinners. One option would be to cook the Brussel sprouts with bacon in order to create bitter and salty components to that dish, which would then create an ideal contrast and pairing. The crisp acidity of this wine will cut through the bitterness and saltiness, creating a pairing to remember.

You can find their wines in national chain supermarkets and most recently at Costco. For more information, click here. 

2010 Oregon Evening Land Celebration Gamay Noir – Eola-Amity Hills– $19Gamay Noir

Celebration Gamay Noir was a gem of a surprise for me after visiting the Evening Land tasting room in Dundee, Oregon. This is not a typical varietal seen in Oregon, as Gamay Noir is more notably grown in Beaujolais and in the Loire Valley. Here in Oregon, it is grown organically and bio-dynamically.

Gamay Noir is actually a close relative to Pinot Noir. Gamay Noir is a cross between Pinot Noir and an ancient white varietal, Gouais. Today, Gamay Noir is commonly made into Rosé or into a young table wine that is uncomplicated and easily drinkable.

Tasting Notes: Medium-bodied, with a beautiful balance of acidity and freshness with ripe red fruit, cranberries and raspberries. It has a touch of herbaceousness and earth, making this wine an easily pair-able wine for Thanksgiving

Winemaker: Isabelle Meunier of Evening Land Vineyards

Thanksgiving pairing:  Given its medium body and fruit, this wine would be well suited for white-meat pairings like pork, chicken, or an herb-roasted turkey.  You could even pair it with some light cheeses as appetizers.

Visit them in Dundee  Thursday through Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. except major holidays. For more information, click here

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2012 Oregon Underwood Pinot Noir– $10.99

Now, this is a Pinot Noir I have been wanting to talk about for a while. A blend of a number of different vineyards throughout Oregon, this 2012 Pinot Noir from Union Wine Company embodies the 2012 vintage by showing the beautiful ripeness of the season and what Oregon can offer at a great pricepoint like $11.  Made by up-and-coming winemaker Ryan Harms, this wine is made for “working people” and at a price point that everyone can afford.

Awards: Best Buy – Wine Enthusiast

Tasting Notes:  Easily drinkable Pinot Noir with ripe red fruit of raspberries and black cherries with a medium body. Clean, with some earthiness.

Winemaker: Ryan Harms of Union Wine Company

Thanksgiving pairing:  Pinot Noir is probably one of the easiest things to pair when it comes to Thanksgiving meals. With this medium-bodied Pinot Noir, a beautifully roasted turkey in a light marinade would make it a great pairing. Given the versatility of Pinot Noir, this wine would also pair wonderfully with a bone-in ham and corn stuffing.

You can find their wines in New Seasons and Whole Seasons. For more information, click here. 

Other Great Values for Thanksgiving:

If you have any wines you would like me to try out and to evaluate, please leave your recommendation in the comments. Thank you!

Disclaimer: I have not been gifted any of these wines nor paid to evaluate them. I purchased these wines from the wineries or from wine stores independently to create this post. Have a wonderful and safe Thanksgiving holiday! Cheers! 

Red wine, White Wine and Bubbles…An Introduction to the Willamette Valley of Oregon

Having been here in Oregon now for about four and a half months, starting with a quick introduction via the Wine Bloggers’ Conference held in Portland in September and culminating with the harvest season, I have had a chance to learn a bit about the wonderful valley that I now live in. While it is not Spain’s La Rioja, with its full-bodied sour cherry and oaky Tempranillos and Grenaches, the Willamette Valley of Oregon has another breed of wine, an American story different from that of California and La Rioja.

Oregon‘s wine country, like its people, is slower-paced, more personal and less pretentious than some other wine regions. Oregon is not a state where you will find extremely large wineries; instead you will find wineries with less than 3000 cases made annually. Oregon is dominated by a mom-and-pop type of mentality and a family-like consensus-driven way of working. Oregon’s wines are mostly hand-grown, hand-harvested, hand-sorted, and hand-made. There are very few mechanically harvested wines in Oregon due to differences in training systems throughout the state. Every step of the winemaking process is touched in one way or another by a human. Oregon is also leading the charge for organic, sustainable and biodynamic viticulture.

Located right at the 45th parallel, the Willamette Valley is considered a cool-climate region for grape growing. This region is primarily known for Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris but has also become home to new varietals such as Gruner Veltliner and even Riesling. The valley is protected by the Coast Range but also benefits from the cool marine air. In Willamette Valley it is believed that a cooler climate is more suitable to Pinot Noir than a warmer one. The valley is also known for its soil conditions and mild temperatures, creating the right terroir for its famed Pinot Noir.

A few good friends from Australia who came to visit me right after the harvest season asked me to give them a tour of the region.  I thought it only made sense to take them to a few places I feel represent this valley for them to see and taste…a little red, a little white and some bubbly.

  1. Eola Amity Hills AVA, to visit Bethel Heights.  We had wanted to make it to Cristom and Saint Innnocent. but unfortunately there just wasn’t enough time. We also toured Willamette Valley Vineyard, which is among the largest in production in Oregon. Ted Casteel from Bethel Heights took the time to talk to us about how they got started in 1977. For more information or to visit them, please visit their homepage at Bethel Heights.

2. Chehalem Mountain AVA, to visit the Ponzi Wine Bar.  Founded in 1970, this is another family-owned business that is now a second-generation-run winery, with Michel Ponzi as the Co-Owner, Maria Ponzi as the Director of Sales and Marketing, and their sister, Luiza Ponzi as winemaker. As there honestly was not enough time to drive all the way up to Ponzi’s main location, I took my Australian friends to the Wine Bar they have in Dundee. We had a bite to eat with a nice tasting of wine to accompany it. I had a chance to try their Dolcetto made from an Italian varietal, which was a nice surprise. They make Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay and White Riesling, as well as Arneis and Dolcetto, two rare Italian varietals. Please visit them at Ponzi Vineyards.

3. Dundee Hills AVA, to visit Argyle Winery.  In my opinion, Argyle Winery makes some of the best sparkling wines (i.e., Champagne style) in the valley. I would highly recommend a visit to this winery to try their POP Flight.  They have a number of 90+ point wines highly recommended by Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate. They also happen to be located right across the street from the Ponzi Wine Bar, so you can grab a bite and then head over there for after-meal sparkling delights.  Please visit them at Argyle Winery.

When you are looking to find some other great places to visit, do feel free to send me an e-mail, and I will do my best to give you recommendations.  We hope to see more of you in the region to taste some of the great wines coming out of the Willamette Valley.

Cheers!