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!

 

Being Pregnant and Loving Wine

I am often asked, “How did you do it?”

I work in the wine industry. I am a wine writer and a wine lover,  However, honestly, until you start carrying a life inside you, you won’t understand this problematic situation.  Yes, it was initially hard to stare at those beautiful wines and pine over how delicious they must taste. The good thing is that you can taste them—just that you just can’t imbibe them.

Most recently on NPR (National Public Radio), I heard the latest findings from the American Academy of Pediatrics stating that pediatricians say that women absolutely should not drink while pregnant. While I can agree with this determination, there were so many studies before this stating that moderate to minimal drinking has been proven not to cause any cognitive disabilities.

How to process this information?  One thing to consider is that the baby you are carrying is so tiny, as are its developing organs.. Therefore, that baby’s tiny liver can’t handle the same amount of alcohol that you can. If you start to feel the effect of the alcohol, then the baby is most certainly feeling it. With this in mind, I have abstained from drinking wine on a regular basis.

It is easily avoidable to consume any alcohol during pregnancy because it is a choice all of us make for ourselves all the time. As I work in the industry, I simply taste and spit, and while I may consume a bit of what is left over in my mouth, it is quite minimal. All in all, I have perhaps consumed one glass of wine during my entire pregnancy up to now.

It is also recommended by doctors that especially you should not drink at all during your first and second trimesters (up to 27 to 28 weeks) since this is when the baby is still developing all of its vital organs. A 2013 study found that there is abundant evidence that binge-drinking while pregnant is harmful. It found that drinking in the first trimester increases the risk of symptoms such as wider range of intellectual and physical disabilities by 12 times; drinking in first and second trimesters increased risk 61 times; and drinking throughout pregnancy increased it 65 times.

All in all, there are ways around drinking alcohol, and I would like to share these with my readers. This is how I did it.

  1. Sometimes simply having something in your hands while everyone else does is all you need. I have also often replaced my beautiful Riedel glasses of wine with a Riedel filled with the following:
  2. Soda Water: You can either buy a soda machine such as a SodaStream, or you can simply pick up seltzer water at the store. The only issue with a SodaStream machine is the need to buy the cartridges, which I replace every two months or so according to the amount of water I drink. I also often add a few ounces of orange, grapefruit, or pomegranate juice to a large glass of soda water and enjoy. This is my go-to drink at night, and honestly, after a while, you won’t even notice you aren’t drinking alcohol.
  3. Non-alcoholic/ Virgin drinks: When going out with friends or at restaurants, haven’t you always wanted to try some of those exotic sounding drinks that at $3-$6 seemed too expensive as a non-alcoholic option? Normally, you would have opted,perhaps more economically, for a glass of wine instead, but now, well, you can justify it…you’re pregnant and have no choice!  If there aren’t any obvious non-alcoholic drinks on the menu, just ask the bartender or waiter if they can make them “virgin” (non-alcoholic) for you. Most of the time they can. I’ve found some delicious drinks this way, and I can still enjoy a great Bloody Mary or Mimosa sans the alcohol with my friends at breakfast.
  4. Smoothies and Juices: I got a Vitamix super-blender just before I got pregnant, or rather, it was gifted to me by my mother, who stated it would be indispensable when I needed to make soups, baby food, etc. I use this a few times a week to make sorbet, smoothies, and soups. It’s fast and easy to clean, and you know exactly what goes into your food.  Nevertheless, be careful, as an 8-oz. smoothie can be the equivalent of 300 calories, which is technically all you need in extra calories for that tiny baby, so make it a power smoothie with superfood veggies and fruit. I’ve found some incredible recipes on Pinterest for smoothies—check them out here.

In conclusion, you can and should replace alcohol as much as possible during your pregnancy with non-alcoholic drinks. At first I didn’t think this would be possible, but now, at 7 months into my pregnancy, I have realized that an expectant mom can completely do this and should do this, if not for your own health, then for that of the baby. Think of it as a 9- (really 10-) month cleanse for your liver—admittedly longer, though, if you plan to breastfeed.  Feel free to email me any comments or ideas you might have as well. I’d love to add them to this list.

Cheers!

 

 

Drinking Now: 2012 Cornerstone Willamette Valley Chardonnay

Chardonnay is a white wine varietal, originally from the Burgundy region of eastern France, like Pinot Noir, and is actually now grown all over the world from England to New Zealand to Oregon.

Chardonnay, perhaps one of the most enjoyed yet snubbed varietals to date. It is now coming back with vengeance due to the efforts of the Oregon Wine industry. Chardonnay is quickly becoming the other wine varietal that Willamette Valley is becoming known for.

The Chardonnay grape itself tends be quite neutral but can be heavily influenced by terroir and oak. It can be vinified in various styles, from crisp and lean mineral wines of Chablis, France to the New World style with oak, butter and hints of tropical flavors.

2012 Cornerstone Oregon, Willamette Valley Chardonnay

2012 Cornerstone Oregon, Willamette Valley Chardonnay

Tasting Notes: 

Today, I am enjoying a 2012 Cornerstone Willamette Valley Chardonnay on a hot summer day in Portland, Oregon.  I held onto this Chardonnay because I knew it would evolve beautifully with time.

Color: Pale hay color

Nose: Citrus, pineapple, apricot, touch of butter, and green apple

Palate: Lemon lime, mineral, vanilla, green apple with a nice long finish. Medium plus acidity.

Overall: Classically styled yet modern Chardonnay with the right amount of acidity, touch of butter and diverse palate (it is sourced from great regions of the Willamette Valley from Yamhill- Carlton to Chehalem Mountain AVAs). It has the minerality of Chehalem, yet the body you would expect from Yamhill- Carlton.

 

Basics:

Appellation: Willamette Valley

Vintage: 2012

Aging: 15 months in French Oak barrels, 28% new, 100% Malolactic Fermentation.

Vineyards: Carabella, Gran Moraine, Willakia

Bottled: February 2014

Pairing: With the light touch of butter, this would pair wonderfully with a cold shrimp cocktail and crab legs. A perfect summer lunch wine.

Price: $40

Cases produced: 300