As the country awakens from slumber, so does the countryside grow green and fragrant with flowers.
Wineries and vineyards, however, have not been sleeping: vines and wines have been cared for, and now winery owners and staff across the country are evaluating how they can reopen to the public and still keep everyone safe.
On Friday, May 15, Oregon’s governor opened up the state, but no gatherings more than 200 are allowed, which postponed the 2020 Wine Media Conference slated for late August in Eugene; it will now be in early August 2021.
“The timeframe for tasting rooms reopening still remains uncertain,” said Executive Director of the Willamette Valley Winery Association (WVWA) Morgen McLaughlin in a May 13 press release. “The Willamette Valley’s individual counties must submit a plan to the state government for final approval. Most importantly we are encouraging a gradual and thoughtful reopening of our region.”
In addition to frequent cleaning and social distancing, some changes to expect include:
- Expanded outdoor seating areas.
- Greeters to manage customer flow and monitor distancing.
The WVWA has created a new resource page related to COVID-19 where you’ll find wineries which have provided new protocols, contact details, and consumer information on their websites.
“When wine tasting rooms do open, we encourage consumers to call each winery for further information and details before visiting,” continued McLaughlin. “As much as the first few months may be far from business as customary, I have no doubt each winery will work hard to create the most authentic Willamette Valley experience as possible, with safety of guests and personnel our top priority.”
With vineyards, farmlands, coastline, volcanoes, desert, rangelands, and more, I look forward to visiting again because Oregon’s diverse landscapes make it one of the best places to experience spring, summer or fall!
It’s only an hour or so to many Willamette Valley wineries from Eugene or Portland, and from the Willamette Valley, only an hour to the coast or the Casades. Driving east to west, you start at highway 1 and move from the cool foggy shores of the Pacific Ocean windy through the coast range to cross the Willamette Valley where you’ll find the majority of vineyards on the west side of Interstate 5. Driving further east, you work your way through the rugged volcanic mountains of the Cascades to descend into the arid but beautiful sage brush dotted Great Basin desert and cross Highway 97. Coast, mountains, desert: I love it all!
While I haven’t ruled out a trip to Oregon this summer, for now, I’m visiting virtually and dreaming about what I’ve done on previous visits and what I’d like to do next time.
And while I’m dreaming I’m drinking: what else but Oregon Pinot Noir!
Because while I have samples to write about, on my last press trip, I returned on Alaska Airlines from PDX so I took advantage of wine flying free (and industry discounts!) and bought a case of wine, plus I went in on a case of Montinore with another wine writer, and she also brought wine back for me! Some of these wines I’ve been writing about but I’ll tell you, it is nice to just open a bottle and enjoy it and not have to write about it! Except I usually do end up writing about it because I am so excited to share how good it is!
What makes Oregon wine so good? For one, Oregon is a national leader in sustainable, salmon safe, and biodynamic winemaking; and many winemakers embrace dry farming, also.
So we are celebrating Oregon Wine Month with five wines, with three that are certified biodynamic by Demeter.
And because May is also BBQ month, we paired these wines with foods from the grill: salmon, asparagus, and a yellow bell pepper stuffed with sausage:
- Cheese plate:
Sue’s homemade sourdough baguette with goat cheese, herbed brie, drunken goat, mancheco, aged gouda, fresh strawberries, candied pecans; I love pate with pinot noir but couldn’t find any and trying to avoid shopping!
- Fresh green salad:
strawberries, goat cheese, and candied pecans tossed with a cherry balsamic vinegarette.
- From the grill on a bed of wild and red rice blend:
> fresh wild Pacific salmon from the Monterey Bay
> yellow bell pepper stuffed with chicken sausage
Oregon Biodynamic and Sustainable Pinot Noir
- 2016 Left Coast Pinot Noir – Cali’s Cuvee – Willamette Valley SRP $24
- 2016 Cooper Mountain Vineyards Pinot Noir “Mountain Terroir: meadowlark” Willamette Valley SRP
- 2016 Brooks Estate Pinot Noir Eola-Amity Hills – Old Vine Pommard SRP $55
- 2016 Antiquum Farm Pinot Noir Willamette Valley
- 2014 Montinore Estate Pinot Noir “Graham’s Block 7” Willamette Valley
2016 Left Coast Pinot Noir “Cali’s Cuvee” Willamette Valley
13.5% alcohol – SRP $24
Pommard, Wädenswil, and Dijon clones
“The short story is that we can do private events and tours for group sizes of 10 and under. We’ll have an open seating lawn area under the oaks where bringing your own seating and wine glasses is encouraged. Finally we’ll have indoor and outdoor full service seating with a capacity for 55 people.”
Fun experiences at Left Coast: In addition to visiting their tasting room, Left Coast offers several fun ways to experience their wines, their vineyards, and their story, the 45 North Experience, the Left Coast Estate Experience, the Pizza Pairing Experience, and the Sparkling Cave Tasting Experience. I’ve enjoyed two of the four and can definitely recommend them!
While these experiences are currently not being offered because of the COVID 19 crisis, expect them to be available soon, especially the Chevy tour in the great outdoors with people in your group.
The Left Coast Estate Experience is a Vineyard Tour and Tasting for groups of 6 – 14 people who ride in the back of a 1950 Flatbed Chevy Truck. Yes it’s safe! I’ve done it and loved it!
During the 90 minute tour and tasting through the Left Coast property, guests sip wines among the vines producing the grapes that end up in the glass with a final stop at the tasting room to enjoy a glass of wine from our current tasting flight. $60 per person; advanced reservation required.
For the complete Left Coast Experience, follow the tour up with a lunchtime, dinner time, or happy hour Pizza Pairing Experience which is available Fridays from June – September for groups of 4-10 people where you learn the art to pairing wine and pizza. They have a wood fired oven and a HUGE butcher block table in their culinary classroom where they create the most incredible, creative gourmet pizzas (and I mean Sue style creative!) As pizzas were made for our consumption, we learned which Left Coast wine went best with which combination of flavors. $45 per person; advanced reservation required.
Don’t have time to take a tour or a class? If your visit is a Saturday or Sunday, plan on enjoying pizza anyway! They sell for $26-30 each.
Color: Medium density, translucent, raspberry, mauve pink rim
Nose: Raspberry, strawberry, rhubarb, mushroom, minty sage,
Palate: Bright, tart acidity, cranberry, pomegranate, mulberry, menthol, almost a minty freshness, eucalyptus, woodsy mint, clean mineral finish, it is not a heavy hitter nor is it super rich. There is more complexity on the nose than on the palate, however it is a very pleasing wine. There is a lovely cleaness to the wine.
Pairing: While there were so many choices on our cheese plate, we could not get past the herbed brie and the goat cheese with the pumpkin crackers. The pumpkin crackers and the goat cheese made us realize why Pinot Noir is such a great Thanksgiving wine. It lends itself to all of those baking spices and earthy richness. Think, sweet potatoes, mushroom, thyme, dressing with pecans. Cranberries over turkey. All would be delicious with this wine. Sue felt the wine complimented the meal perfectly, but was best of all with the chicken Italian sausage in the stuffed bell peppers. I agreed, that as much as I cannot tolerate bell pepper, the fennel in the sausage was a perfect match for this wine.
TRY: Chicken sausage with fennel or with Thanksgiving
Also TRY: Left Coast’s Bee Bubbly Sparkling Wine
2016 Cooper Mountain Vineyards Pinot Noir “Mountain Terroir: Meadowlark” Willamette Valley 13.9% alcohol
I’m a huge fan of Cooper Mountain’s biodynamic dry farmed Pinot Noir and Chardonnay; they make a sulfite free pinot also that is so fresh bright and alive, and the Chardonnay is worth laying down for at least five years.
So it’s a shame that it is the only one of the five wineries in this post that I haven’t visited–yet! On my last press trip to Oregon, we drove by it several times on our way to other appointments, and with such a full schedule, there just wasn’t time to go there also on that trip.You know it is a must visit for me when I go in August 2021 for the Wine Media Conference — or before if possible!
Color: Medium density, translucent, raspberry, pale pale pink rim
Nose: Sulphuric funk right off the bat, underlying the funk is a bit of cranberry fruit, Very earthen, Sue kept smelling earth and sulphuric funk, I really got the raspberry, lots of raspberry. Cooking sage and herbs.
Palate: Super bright tart fruit, tart tart tart, cranberry tart, huckleberries, very mouthwatering, stone, slate, long lingering mineral finish. I got fruit on the finish, Sue found more minerals and herbs. We both responded to this wine completely differently.
Pairing: I loved this wine with the herbed brie bringing out a nice pepper quality that was not there before the two met. Loved the bell pepper and how it plays off of the earthen, herbal qualities of the wine. It was great with the salmon, and wonderful with the rich nutty rice, but best of all this wine paired best with the salad. The strawberries, the goat cheese, the caramelized nuts and the yummy cherry balsamic, rosemary vinegarette was the perfect match for this wine.
TRY: Strawberry salad
Also TRY: Cooper Mountain Vineyards Biodynamic Pinot Noir paired with duck!
2016 Brooks Estate Pinot Noir Eola-Amity Hills Old Vine Pommard
13.5% alcohol – SRP $55
Sample; we will be writing about more from Brooks including samples and comparing two wines I purchased: Rastaban 2015 and 2006!
Brooks will be opening up by reservation only on Monday June 1.
Planted in volcanic basalt-nekia soils in 1973-1974, these Pommard grapes come from the biodynamic Brooks Estate vineyard located in the Eola-Amity Hills. Only 300 cases produced!
Color: Very pale, very translucent, almost like a Sangiovese rose, strawberry in color, pale mauve pink rim.
Nose: Fruit and florals right off the bat. Baking spices and carnation, violets, roses, old tea roses, pink peppercorn, insense cedar, sandalwood, the earthen notes are definitely woody.
Palate: Tart fruit, bright acidity, there is a creaminess because of the acidity. Fresh ripe tart, pepper finish. This wine is very light and lively on the palate, yet is still a heavy hitter.
Complex and contemplative.
Pairing: With the right food, bright light and lovely, pumpkin cracker and goat cheese, yum yum yum, no wonder Thanksgiving and Pinot Noir are a hit. Also very good with the sourdough and herbed brie. Great with the caramel pecans. The pecans were not too sweet so it was a nice pairing. While asparagus can be a very tough pairing, it was the perfect pair with this wine of the evening. There is a sweet smoked quality to asparagus that has been grilled ( especially since Marshall tossed it in olive oil and rosemary before grilling.) It was perfect with the wine.
TRY: Grilled asparagus.
To TRY: Just wait for our feature on Brooks coming up soon! Reisling with uni and oysters and more with lots of photos from my visit there!
2016 Antiquum Farm Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley
14.3% alcohol SRP $40
I purchased this wine at an industry discount on a sponsored visit.
550 Cases Produced
“Our farming preserves the unique attributes of this site. No off-farm fertilizers are used. Native cover crops are encouraged and grazed year round with a menagerie of livestock. Exhaustive measures of meticulous hand labor embody our love of farming. These old world methods create one of the region’s most unique and intensely personal wines. This is more than a way of growing wine. This is a way of life.”
Color: Medium density, translucent, blood red, platinum violet rim
Nose: Fresh mint and sage, pine, cedar, sweet vanilla oak, super ripe fruit, wild forest berries on a warm day, clay,
Palate: Very ripe raspberries, tart rhubarb, not jam, more like preserves, black pepper on the finish. The iron rich volcanic soils come through, there is a lovely siltiness at the front of the palate, and a delightful suede texture. This wine has the longest finish of all with a salinity at the back that continues to make one salivate. There is such an earthiness to this wine.
Pairing: This wine loved the pumpkin nut crackers and made me yearn for a creamy goat cheese. I was so right, the wine loved the food and the food loved the wine. The acidity of the wine combined with the spice and sweetness of the cracker combined with this complex wine was a perfect pair. The caramelized pecans were also quite nice as well as the herbed brie on a fresh sourdough baguette (which has been keeping Sue quite busy lately). We found this wine to be our favorite with the salmon because of their contrasting flavor profiles. The nutty richness of the rice and the fatty richness of the salmon is so perfect with the wine. The nutty richness enhances the flavor, while the acidity in the wine is tamed by the fatty richness in the food. This wine would be fantastic with a rack of lamb coated in rosemary. The asparagus also pairs nicely with the wine due to the rosemary and the smoky finish of the grill. The finish after the food is clean and beautiful, kind of like finishing off the evening with rose water.
“I am obsessed with growing the best wines possible. Our wines are not made. They are grown, cluster by cluster, with my own hands. They are a marriage of a place, its people, and a moment in time. I invite you to visit the vineyard. Come see what happens when passion & pinot intertwine,” says Stephen Hagen. Stay tuned as I have another special wine from Antique to write about along — and I’ll be sharing more of their story with lots of photos!
TRY: Wild Salmon
TO TRY: Rack of lamb with lots of rosemary! You can even buy lamb from Antiquum!
2014 Montinore Estate Pinot Noir “Graham’s Block 7” Willamette Valley
13.4% alcohol SRP $
Sample, but I also purchased this wine on a sponsored visit.
“We farm our vineyards using Biodynamic and organic practices and create wines that honor our land and traditions – from root to bottle.”
Color: Medium light density, brickish, corral rim. The color was the same on the second bottle as the first.
Nose:The nose is light and not overwhelming. I got cherry coca cola, and a cherry cheesecake headiness. Sue got fresh eucalyptus as if in a eucalyptus grove after the rain while I got more Douglas fir; we both agreed on the dampness, and the fresh woody characteristics.
Fruit and fresh, funky barnyard, raspberry and strawberries, mint, mushroom mulch!
Palate: Bright fresh fruit, cranberry, raspberry strawberry, leathery texture, suede, there is a viscous generated by the bright acidity. There are quite a bit of tannins present on the wine, possibly due to whole cluster fermentation, or possibly due to an early harvest. Black pepper finish, black pepper on a piece of salmon rather than black pepper on a rib eye steak. It is lean, yet spicy. Tart and bright, with tannins present, but not overwhelming tannins. The finish perseveres.
We both agreed that this is a wine in its prime and ready to be enjoyed!
Pairing: Fantastic with the herbed brie, the cheese brings out the herbs and fruit in the wine, the cheese also tames the tannins, mellowing the wine. Great with the pumpkin crackers making us think about how well this wine would go with a Thanksgiving meal. It loves the baking spices. I loved this wine with the salmon, but also imagined it with burre blanc, just a little scoop over the fish would push this pairing over the top. While all of the wines went nicely with the salmon, for this wine, the grilled salmon is the perfect pairing. There is a textural quality that works so well, there is a slickness to the salmon and a leathery quality to the wine that tames the slickness, and on top of it all the flavors go so well together.
TRY: Grilled salmon with beurre blanc
ALSO TRY: These three Pinot Noir wines from Montinore and learn more about defining biodynamic’s with Montinore’s founder Rudy Marchesi.
Also TRY: Montinore’s bubbly!
And stay tuned for an Italian red blend from Montinore as well as other Italian grapes grown at Montinore!
All of these wines were so beautiful, not only on their own, but a perfect pairing with the meal we chose for them tonight.
Have we inspired you to try an Oregon biodynamic wine? You can find them throughout Oregon:
Columbia Gorge AVA
• Analemma Wines
Dundee Hills AVA
Eola-Amity Hills AVA
• Keeler Estate Vineyard
Ribbon Ridge AVA
• Brick House Vineyards
Willamette Valley AVA
• King Estate
Applegate Valley AVA
Rogue Valley AVA
• Upper Five Vineyard
NEWLY certified Troon!
To guide you further in finding organic wines, check out biodynamic expert Pam Strayer’s new site, Organically Oregon.
For more ideas about pairings with Oregon’s biodynamic wines from the Wine Pairing Weekend group of wine writers, go here.