Category Archives: Oregon Wines

Do a Little Rain Dance

Gracious is my best descriptor of Rain Dance Vineyards owners, Ken & Celia Austin. Having been the recipient of their genial hospitality, I highly recommend their high-scoring wines and the warmth of their eco-friendly Allison Inn & Spa in Newburg, Oregon.

The resort’s lavish guestrooms are the perfect place to unwind, relax and indulge. Each room features a gas fireplace, private terrace or balcony, and best of all, a spa-like bathroom complete with a big white fluffy terry robe emblazoned with an A.

The entire place is luxurious, warm and inviting. A stroll around the grounds reveals picturesque landscaping with rose archways, bushy herbs and yard art that will make you smile. In the morning, coffee on the expansive veranda with a good book creates a cozy island of serenity.

The Austins’ ancestors started farming the Willamette Valley in 1859. Fifth-generation Ken Austin continues to farm 120 acres, of which 75 are under vine and closely monitored by a pack of prized llamas. They have one of the country’s premier llama ranches, having traveled extensively looking for the finest breeding stock resulting in national champions.

They accumulated properties over the years and then cleared the poison oak, blackberries and some of the trees left over from a Christmas tree farm so the vineyards could be planted. And they had help with the poison oak and blackberries from an unlikely source – the llamas.

Yep, those llamas helped clear the noxious weeds in exchange for their room and board. When we visited, they had just been shorn so their wool could be sold. They looked like large poodles with those goofy poodle cuts. But that’s because only certain areas have the best wool for warm and resilient blankets.

The Austins are true stewards of the land. When developing new vineyards, they will walk it with their vineyard manager and talk about each tree and how it important or not it is to the land. Groves are left for deer to graze, part of their goal to keep the Chehalem Mountains sustainable. The deer actually seek out the llamas because they’ve found the llamas will protect them from most predators.

Art collectors and supporters, Ken and Celia host an art show twice a year. The art show and their Rain Dance Vineyards tasting room also showcase Ken’s fine woodworking. Here you can see some beautiful wood work from repurposed wood. A self-taught wood turner, Ken also studied furniture making at Oregon College of Arts and Craft.

They are also collectors of restored cars that would make any motor head drool. On a tour of the Rain Dance Vineyards, we were treated to their well-balanced Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Chardonnay from an ice bucket on the tail gate of a 1955 Chevy Cameo that had been lovingly restored.

The actual Rain Dance Vineyards were planted in 2009. Rain Dance has four estate vineyards in the Chehalem Mountains AVA. These sites are Low Impact Viticulture and Enology (LIVE) and Salmon Safe Certified.  Other sustainable techniques used include dry farming, multiple thinning passes, cover crops and judicious pruning.

All this attention to detail makes some pretty remarkable wines. They are made at a custom crush facility by Bryan Weil, also the winemaker for Alexana Winery in the Dundee Hills. Bryan earned a degree in enology and viticulture from Oregon State and then worked in vineyards and cellars of Domaine Serene, Hogue Cellars and Kim Crawford.

The Rain Dance Vineyard was originally a Christmas tree farm when Ken and Celia acquired it in 2009.  As they celebrated the grand opening of the Allison, they decided on a vineyard encircled by Douglas fir and oak trees. The Estate Pinot Noir and Reserve Pinot Noir are produced from this vineyard.

The 2015 Estate Pinot Noir was very aromatic with lots of dark cherry earth and spice. It paired nicely with a salad of roast pork strawberries and Lorelei goat cheese. The limited production 2014 Reserve Pinot Noir is 100 percent Pommard – my very favorite Pinot clone – and saw a bit of new oak, but the short amount of aging didn’t hide the very fragrant nose. Well-balanced and beautiful.

In  2014, the Nicholas Vineyard was acquired. This 40-acre vineyard is a mile or two east of the Rain Dance Vineyard. It was originally planted in 2001 and then planted again seven years later with Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling and Gewürztraminer.

The Riesling was juicy with good acidity and citrus flavors. Not sweet but not real dry, chill it up and here’s a wine that would pair well will shrimp, scallops or crab. The Nicolas Vineyard Gewurz is from a cooler elevation and is barrel-fermented and aged in neutral oak. This, too, is very fragrant with crisp fruit flavors. Ditto on the shrimp, scallops or crab.

The Nicolas Vineyard 2015 Estate Chardonnay was whole-cluster pressed and fermented at a relatively cool temperature. This brings out a depth of flavor that is full of citrus, apple pie and ripe pear. The oak is understated with only 25 percent new French. The lively acidity makes this a great wine to pair with seafood. Ditto on the shrimp, scallops or crab.

The eye-catching tasting room has that tranquil feeling, a place where you’ll be greeted with that gracious hospitality. Cheers!

Wine as a Hostess/Host Gift

Summer is a highly social time with barbeques, picnics, dinner parties, wine tastings beer events and vacationing family and friends.  Being the considerate person that you are, you should arrive on your host’s door step with something more than your sparkling personality, stunning though it may be. It’s better to err on the side of graciousness and put a little joy in someone’s life.

Bringing a hostess/host gift is easy. Even if it seems like bringing coals to Newcastle, do it. But personally, I draw the line if there is an animal on the label or wines produced in Modesto, California. Other friends may not be so finicky.

So, bring your hostess/host a really nice bottle of wine. Select something in the $20-30 range that looks intriguing and is highly recommended by anyone with some sort of credentials. Buying something because it has a cool label is out. Them are the rules.

On a recent high school/college buddy reunion in the wild, wild west town of Livingston, Montana, we brought a case of Pacific Northwest wines, home-smoked salmon and a bucket of frozen blackberries. Yep, we blew their socks off with the wines and salmon. And that jug of wine with the yellow animal on it was strategically positioned in the far corner of the kitchen counter.

Here’s a few of those wines:

I’m out to impress my friends, right? So popping the cork on this cellar dweller makes perfect sense. Ch. Ste. Michelle Ethos Columbia Valley 2007 Reserve Merlot was awarded a national wine magazine’s Editors’ Choice Award. That’s pretty special, and so was this almost 10-year-old. Ripe, round, toasty and medium-bodied, this is a classy wine, especially for the price. A ton of black cherry, cassis, spice and toast is seductive. The tannins have smoothed out after all these years. What a beautiful wine.

Ledger David Winery is owned by David Traul and Lena Varner, who have a passion for food and wine. They created their dream place in Oregon’s Rogue Valley with the Varner-Traul Vineyard in Talent, Oregon. At their Le Petit Tasting Room, you can enjoy Chenin Blanc, Viognier, Sangiovese, Tempranillo and other award winning red blends. Their 2016 Rogue Valley Viognier is very aromatic, reminding me of melon and peaches with a hint of citrus. Loved the balance and the lingering finish despite the 14.5 percent alcohol. Their 2015 was awarded Silver from the San Francisco Chronicle Competition

A little further north of the Rogue Valley is the cool Umpqua Valley. There lies the Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards. Owner winemaker Stephen Reustle is a cool climate specialist and has a thing for low yields and clonal selection. It’s no wonder they were awarded the 2017 Northwest Winery of the Year. I thoroughly enjoyed their well-balanced Gruner Veltliner Winemaker’s Reserve. This little-known grape variety is estate grown from vineyards on steep, south-facing hillsides. Very much like its native Austria.

Terra Blanca 2016 Arch Terrace Rosé is a blend of mostly 66 percent Sangiovese with 34 percent Cabernet Franc. Beautiful fruit and great balance make it a fabulous match with summer fare whether picnic, patio or bbq. It’s well-balanced, with lush, tropical fruit and crisp lively acidity on the finish. Stainless steel fermentation followed by extended sur lie aging heightens the beautiful fruit while creating weight and structure all balanced by the crisp acidity. This wine has some complexity to it.

Harbinger Rattlesnake Hills Two Coyote Vineyards Viognier is a blend of 76 percent Viognier and 24 percent Roussanne. These two varietals have been blended since Hector was a pup in the Rhône. I love how Sara Ganon, owner/winemaker, describes her wine. “Viognier loves to pour on the fruit, but struggles with structure, while Roussanne can sometimes be a bit like engineers — so focused on load support, they forget to stop and smell the honeysuckle.” This wine boasts heady aromas of honeysuckle, tropical fruit, ripe pear, lemon and spices. It’s pretty much heaven in a bottle.

Established in 2010, Kevin White Winery set out to produce limited, hand-crafted wines that pair well with food. Founders’ love for Rhone Valley wines naturally led to a focus on Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedré. The Kevin White 2013 Columbia Valley Mourvedre was a wine that hit it out of the park.

It’s a blend of one barrel of Boushey Vineyard Mourvèdre and one barrel of Olsen Estates Vineyards Mourvèdre produced only 42 cases. This medium-body wine has all the traditional spice, pepper, leather and raspberry flavors of a Rhone-style wine, and I was in heaven. It’s meant for grilled foods of all kinds.

Domaine Pouillon is a family-owned winery located in the scenic Columbia River Gorge.  Grapes are hand-picked in small lots, aged in neutral French oak, or neutral oak and stainless steel for whites.

Vigneron Alexis Pouillon was born to an obscure family of French nobility that escaped the guillotine. After the dividing up the family estate, his share was a 4-by-7 meter plot of land with a 3-wheeled Deux Chevaux and feral cat. He abandoned the cat to go and work at Chateau de Beaucastel. That accomplished, he came to America to seek his fortune, thank goodness!

His travels brought him to the Columbia Gorge, the “world of wines in 40 miles.” The 2016 Black Dot McKinley Springs Vineyard is a very interesting blend of 33 percent Zinfandel, 28 percent Syrah, 24 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 15 percent Dolcetto. All cranberry, raspberry and plum sprinkled with white pepper make this wine an award-winning, grilled-foods-smoked-salmon kind of wine.

And, of course, I had to bring a wine from Kitsap. Alphonse de Klerk’s Rolling Bay 2014 Syrah has garnered some gold and silver in regional competitions.  This Bainbridge Island winery sources its grapes from south-facing rocky slopes on Snipes Mountain, an excellent site for Syrah.  This wine was elegant with wonderful aromas and flavors. It made a great impression.

The trip was a reminder of the importance of good food, great people, and wonderful wine. Cheers!

Mary Earl has been educating Kitsap wine lovers for a couple of decades, is a longtime member of the West Sound Brew Club and can pair a beer or wine in a flash.

Planting 30 acres in a Summer

In 1971, a Washington timber product executive, very much in love with Champagne and Burgundy wines, found his slice of heaven in the Hills of Dundee. And very much like the Adelsheim and Ponzi pioneer families, it didn’t matter how old you were, if your parents had the passion, you were planting vines and talking wine morning, noon and night.

Imagine a fifth grader writing a short essay on how I spent my summer vacation if your parents owned a 200 acre walnut orchard they were replanting to grape vines. Now imagine that fifth grader a few decades later, president of the 130 acres planted to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir producing award winning wines. Celebrations around the world are clinking glasses with wines from vineyards your family planted. That’s a pretty heady feeling and something to write about.

Oregon wine pioneer, Cal Knudsen and family actually grew up in the Seattle area. Knudsen was convinced that Oregon’s Willamette Valley with its climate, topography and sedimentary soils similar to Champagne and Burgundy, could make great wine.

Cal, Julia Lee and their children spent their summers planting and working their vineyards. In the early 70s, theirs was the largest vineyard in Willamette Valley with 30 acres planted to vines. And by 1975, with 60 acres planted to vine, theirs was the largest vineyard in Oregon.

In 1975, Knudsen and Dick Erath formed the Knudsen Erath bonded winery #52 and built one of the first commercial wineries on the property. As one of the largest wineries in the state, they produced Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, and sparkling wines.

When that partnership dissolved in 1987, Erath Winery emerged and continued to contract grapes and occupy the winery on the Knudsen Estate. Knudsen, still residing in Washington, entered into a long term grape supply contract and vineyard management arrangement with Argyle Winery.

Throughout the decades, Knudsen Vineyards supplied both Argyle and Erath with grapes. While the second generation Knudsens were off pursuing non-wine related careers, Argyle continued to manage the Knudsen Vineyards.

Knudsen Vineyards remains the prime supplier of fruit to Argyle Winery, which has grown to be among the largest in Oregon, winning more awards for its sparkling and still wines than any other winery in Oregon.

Dick Erath continued making great wines from Knudsen fruit under a long term contract that expires in 2018. Recently sold to Ch. Ste Michelle, Erath Winery will continue to make wine from the Knudsen Vineyards until their vineyards come to fruition and the new winery is built.

Today, the second and third generations of Knudsens have under the care of vineyard manager, Allen Holstein who started his viticultural career in 1980 moving from Vineyard manager to overseeing all of Argyle Winery’s vineyards as Senior Vineyard Manager. With 130 planted acres with a mix of old and new high density blocks planted with Dijon clones of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Pioneers Cal and Julia Lee created a legacy in the Dundee Hills so many decades ago. The second generation continues to seek innovative viticulture, stewardship of the land and produce limited production of quality wines from their family vineyards.

Still Learning about Wines

The 6th Annual Washington Wine Awards was held last week. About 40 wineries were pouring with some wonderful bites presented by local restaurants. It was a heavenly event.

So what did I learn? Well, grab a glass of wine and pull up a chair as I tell you about some of my favorites that evening.

A new find was the Ashren 2016 Columbia Valley and 2014 Celilo Vineyard Chard. Winemaker Chris Gorman sources his grapes from some of the best vineyards – Conner Lee, Boushey and Celilo. While rather high at 14.4% alcohol, you couldn’t taste it, it was so well balanced. Both spent 9 months in neutral oak also contributing to the fullness and balance.

Airfield Estates on Merlot Drive in Prosser poured their 2015 Yakima Chard. This wine was so easy to sip with 70% fermented in stainless and only 30% aged in neutral oak. Crisp, medium bodied with pear and apple aromas and flavors. It’s a summertime wine.

Next I beat feet to Cadence but with several bodies blocking my way, I waited my turn at Canvasback next door, one of the newest wineries on Red Mountain. What makes this such a storied wine is its California roots.

Owned by Duckhorn of Merlot, Cab and Sauvignon Blanc fame, they’re making wine from the Obelisco and Quintana vineyard grapes while waiting for their vines to reach maturity (seven years old). Winemaker Brian Roudin apprenticed at Cadaretta in Walla Walla. You need a bottle of this.

Cadence was pouring the 2013 Red Mountain Bel Canto, a blend of 75 Cab Franc and 25 Merlot which is the inverse of some great Pomerols with their 75 Merlot and 25 Cab Franc. The breadth and depth of aromas and palate was amazing.

Sparkman Cellars Wilderness 2014 Syrah was being poured. It went very nicely with the Tulalip Casino’s Pork Belly sushi. I was also drawn to their wonderful 2015 Kindred, a Bordeaux blend. He makes great wines – really.

I thoroughly enjoyed Purple Star Winery’s 2013 Cab, a blend of 90% Cab with the remainder Merlot and Petite Verdot. And Dusted Valley’s 2013 Cab, a blend of predominantly Cab, with Petite Verdot and Cab Franc from Dionysus Vineyard is another wine that garnered 3 stars from my pen, along with Long Shadows Chester Kidder’s 2014 Red Blend.

Newsprint Winery’s 2014 Red Blend is another not-to-be-missed BBQ wines. And finally, in a garage in Woodinville is Kevin White Winery, near and dear to me. His 2015 Yakima Red and 2014 DuBrul Red well worth seeking out, if you can find them. Truly.

OK, last one, Treveri Cellars Blanc de Noir was absolutely perfect as always but with the Tulalip Casino’s Butter Poached Prawns with Dungeness Crab, Ginger Lime Vinaigrette and Wasabi Tobiko, we’re talking heavenly. Both those guys really nailed it.

The Kitsap Wine Festival at Harborside Fountain Park is next Saturday. This revelry of wine, set on Bremerton’s scenic and sunny waterfront, is one of the best on the Kitsap Peninsula.

The 9th annual festival begins at from 2 and ends at 5:30 p.m. Tickets are $65 from Brown Paper Tickets which includes a Kitsap Wine Festival commemorative wine glass and 15 scripts.

Kitsap Peninsula’s Winery Alliance of Bainbridge Island will be there also. The Winery Alliance includes Amelia Wynn, Bainbridge Vineyards, Eagle Harbor, Eleven Winery, Fletcher Bay, Perennial Vintners, and Rolling Bay Winery.

What the individual wineries are pouring that day remains to be seen but here are my picks with fingers crossed that they’ll pour what I want to taste:

Harbinger Winery is an artisan Olympic Peninsula winery focused on making fabulously drinkable wines with varietals that aren’t mainstream. Sara Gagnon, owner and winemaker, has made great wines and I hope to taste her Dynamo Red Table Wine, a gold medal winning wine made from mostly Syrah, with a dollop of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Grenache.

I first met Davenport Cellars owners Jeff and Sheila Jirka at a Kitsap Wine Festival a few years ago. Located in the warehouse district of Woodinville, they source their grapes like most from eastern Washington. Their Continuity is a Bordeaux blend of 71% Cab, with the remainder being Merlot, Cab Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. Fruit sources include Walla Walla’s Pepper Bridge and Les Collines, Sheridan Vineyard in Rattlesnake Hills, and Kiona on Red Mountain.

Also new to me from Woodinville, is Long Cellars, a boutique winery whose primary mission is to produce fine Bordeaux styled wines from vineyards located in the Yakima Valley AVA, the oldest AVA in Washington.

Eleganté Cellars is another winery that’s been around since 2007. They also make wine from Les Collines which is in the foothills of the Blue Mountains, in the Walla Walla AVA. Their Gewürztraminer grapes come from 35 year old vines from Celilo Vineyards.

Stina’s Cellars in Lakewood caught my attention after having won a bottle of Ice Wine at auction last winter. They have won a number of awards for their 2013 Wahluke Slope Tempranillo and a gold medal at the Capital Wine & Food Festival for their 2012 Yakima Valley Malbec.

Finally, many Oregon wineries will be in the direct path of the total solar eclipse on August 21st. Viewing totality among the grape vines in the Willamette Valley could be just the kind of celebration you haven’t experienced on a Monday morning.

Willamette Valley Vineyards’ sold out event offers parking, eclipse viewing eye-glasses, wine tasting, educational presentations, a commemorative Solar Eclipse Pinot Noir and live music for $100. For ticket holders arriving ahead of the traffic, gates open at 0400!

Getting a Wine Education

The wine bug bit me early on, if you consider a jug of Inglenook’s Navalle Burgundy wine. But, hey, you have to start somewhere.

This wine, in a convenient jug with a handle, was good for a week to 10 days. I had a glass of wine or two with dinner. A librarian job in the Loop and a studio apartment on the Northside dictated how much could be spent on wine. Inglenook was a decent quaff for the budget.

Not too long after that was my inaugural trip to Napa Valley. The historic Greystone Abbey home to the Christian Brothers, was the first of many tasting rooms visited and I fell in love with their Grey Riesling. My palette has changed over time with  many bottles consumed. Wine with family and friends – that’s the best of times.

Fast forward some years and I found myself the owner of a wine shop with many opportunities to learn, absorb and taste. The best way to learn about wine is to taste with other wine lovers, beginners and experts alike. And read. And taste some more. The more you taste and read, the more you learn and come to appreciate this tasty beveridge.

Wine festivals, tastings and conferences can give you a broader palette. One remarkable place to learn about Washington wines is the Walter Clore Center in Yakima. The center offers in-depth, Washington wine coverage with a focus on a different AVA each month.

They also offer special tastings such as a blind tasting of the Grüner Veltliner that demonstrates how differences in climate, vineyard practices, soil type and winemaking style can affect the way varietals express themselves.

On July 22 and July 29, the tasting theme is  Washington versus Spain. This comparative tasting covers classic varietals produced in Spain up against the same varietals grown and produced in Washington.

And on Sunday, July 30 at 2 p.m., you can enjoy 4 sparkling red wines, expertly paired with 4 small bites. They may be pushing some boundaries here, but then who here has had red wine with bubbles?  For more info, theclorecenter.org

The inaugural SOMM Summit held last week in Seattle was an around-the-world-in-80-wines tasting. This deliciously serious international wine and spirits educational conference at South Seattle Community College was a wonderful gathering of sommeliers, Masters of Wine, stewards and other wine geeks. We listened, tasted, talked and learned more about the world of wine and spirits.

Dr. Kevin Pogue, Professor of Geology at Whitman College, took us through the cataclysmic, historic journey that shaped Washington State’s soils. Following this, Tim Donahue, Director of Winemaking at College Cellars talked about the winemaker’s influence with lots of emphasis on anthocyanins, catchins, pH and other scientific mumbo jumbo, which he explained using Legos. Yep, it actually worked — for me anyway.

We took a trip through the sparkling wines of South Africa, indulged in a Quilceda Creek Retrospective, sipped Napa Valley wines from the valley floor and above, tasted eight decades of Port, a vertical of Seven Hills, and the exotic Xinomavro grape of Greece.

Closer to home, eight wonderful Washington Syrahs stained our teeth purple and eight crisp whites from British Columbia turned the teeth white again. There were eight decades of Kopke Colheita Portos, three centuries of Remy Martin and the debut of Bodegas Lustau’s Sherry Ambassador Certification course. This was an amazing forum to learn in depth details.

Oregon’s ¡Salud! is patterned after the most famous wine auction in the world, Hospices de Beaune. ¡Salud! is dedicated to providing healthcare services to Oregon vineyard workers and their families for the past 25 years. This is made possible by two major fundraisers.

The Pinot Noir Auction on November 10th and 11th is your only opportunity to access Oregon’s most exclusive Pinot Noir cuvées. It begins with a tasting and Big Board Auction at Ponzi Vineyards and concludes the next day at Domaine Serene with a Black Tie Optional Gala dinner.

They also have Summertime ¡Salud! which showcases great wines and gourmet cuisine on July 27th. Presented by Dukes Family Vineyards and hosted by Stoller Family Estate, you can mingle with winemakers while tasting wine and  sampling hors d’oeuvres, and then enjoy an upscale, family-style, alfresco dinner with some of Oregon’s best wines poured from impressive magnum bottles straight to your glass.

The  Kitsap Wine Festival on the Bremerton’s scenic waterfront is always a great way to celebrate food, wine, sunshine and blue skies. Sip wine and savor local restaurants’ culinary skills at this lovely maritime location.

Many Washington wineries and a sprinkling of other areas’ wines are available for tasting and purchasing. The ninth annual Kitsap Wine Festival will be Saturday, August 12 at Harborside Fountain Park.

Tickets start at $50, https://www.kitsapwinefestival.com.

Cheers to our next opportunity to learn more and enjoy more!

Travels in Oregon Wine Country

It was the French who were the first to require Oregon Territory wine back in the 1840s. After a tough day’s work for the Hudson Bay Company, a rustic red to pair with their venison stew was just the ticket. The first recorded local winery was established in the late 1850s. The ensuing Pacific Northwest wine industry was at budbreak when the hailstorm of Prohibition put the kybosh on the burgeoning trade.

110 years later, a few groundbreaking Californians packed up their station wagons and moved up north to a land that was damp and chilly by comparison. Pioneers “Papa Pinot” Lett, Dick Ponzi, David Adelsheim, Cal Knudsen, and Dick Erath kick started the second attempt at a viable wine industry with none other than the persnicketiest grape of all – Pinot Noir.

They persevered even though many believed the attempt in the valleys and rolling hillsides made fertile by all that rain, futile.

Pinot Noir is capriciousness embodied. And yet, that’s part of its allure. Pinot Noir is a demanding mistress of the vigneron.  To increase fruit quality, long, cool growing seasons are essential.  It can’t take the heat so it performs better in wine regions like foggy Burgundy, cool Champagne, New Zealand, California’s foggy Carneros, Russian River, Santa Barbara or mountainous Santa Lucia Highlands and drizzly Oregon.

But cooler regions have problems that warmer vineyards don’t. Early budbreak is risky  because spring frost can take out a good portion of the crop overnight.  Cool, damp vineyard sites are also more susceptible to mildew. In rainy climates, showers at harvest can be disastrous. Do we pick or do we wait? It’s a nail biter.

With its thin skin, Pinot Noir is like the princess and the pea, picky about where it’s planted and high maintenance, too. Each site has different exposures to sun, wind, rain and fog. As a result, Pinot Noirs are diverse because this grape is more susceptible to quirks of weather.

Some Pinot Noir clones are more prolific and others do better resisting mildew which is important considering the climate Pinot Noir prefers. It just depends on where and what you’re planting that determines what end result will be. Many Oregon viticulturists are now planting many clones in the same vineyard blocks for even greater complexity and insurance.

Did I mention that Pinot Noir is genetically unstable?  Pinot is the mutant ninja grape with more clones than any other wine grape variety. Around 100 clones, French (Pommard, Dijon) and heritage California selections, have been submitted to UC Davis for inclusion in their registration program. This type of information is helpful to figure out what to plant and where.

Oregon Pinot Noir made its first splash on the world wine map in 1979 when David Lett’s 1975 Eyrie Reserve Pinot Noir placed second in a competition in Burgundy. That was a milestone for Oregon wine.

At the inaugural 1987 International Pinot Noir Celebration, winemaker Robert Drouhin, owner of a large, prestigious French domaine with amazing vineyards in Burgundy was completely seduced. Domaine Drouhin Oregon was established shortly thereafter.

The Oregon wine industry has grown tremendously since those early days. Many winemakers and owners are transplants from California, France, Portugal, Iran and the Midwest. Today, the vast majority of wineries (702) are still small, family-owned operations, with a dozen or so large (60,000+ cases) wineries.

Oregon’s winemakers have worked hard and collaboratively to figure out where to plant their vineyards, what clones and rootstocks work best, and how to use new oak judiciously. They’ve gained quite a lot of experience and as a result, confidence.

Pinot Noir at its best is a grape capable of grace, finesse and elegance with an ability to express the nuances of a particular terroir. Here are some recently enjoyed Oregon Pinots:

In Oregon’s Chehalem Mountains, Anan Cara Cellars’ vineyards were first planted in 2001. Nick and Sheila Nicholas made the 2012 Reserve Estate Pinot Noir from ten-row sections in each block of the beautiful Nicholas Estate vineyard. The 2012 vintage was a fabulous vintage with warm summer days and cool evenings that ensured full ripeness at harvest. The wine is beautifully aromatic, silky with dark cherry fruit, spice and herbs. Mouthwatering acidity adds to the structure and preserves the ruby hue. The wine saw only 15% new oak barrels.

In 1989, with a Masters Degree in Viticulture and Oenology, Tony Rynders began a 20 year career making wine around the world before he opened his own Tendril Wine Cellars. He has contract vineyards sites in Eola Hills, Dundee and Yamhill-Carlton to make is wines. The 2013 Extrovert Pinot Noir is beautifully aromatic with Asian spices, hints of black fruits, cranberries and a great big long finish.

Domaine Serene’s winery is a 4-storied gravity-flow facility that takes care of the 227 acres of dry farmed, LIVE certified vineyards. This award winning winery is located on the top on Dundee’s Red Hills. Their 2014 Triple S Vineyard is planted to the Dijon clone 777. This wine had a noble Pinot nose, lovely balance and a fantastic lingering finish.

Founded in 1970, Ponzi Vineyards has accumulated many awards and accolades over the years. They have continually set the standards for award winning Pinot Noir.  Their state of the art four-level gravity flow winery is another standard set. Second generation winemaker Luisa was the first American woman to earn the Certificate Brevet Professionnel d’Oenologie et Viticulture in Beaune.

The pinnacle Pinot for me is the 2014 Classico, a blend of old and new vineyards, cold soaked to bring out the blackberry and spice in this beautifully balanced wine aged for 11 months in French oak with 35% new.

Another award winning winery, Stoller Family Estate is a 370 acre farm in the Dundee Hills AVA that has been in the family since 1943. First planted to vine in 1995, the 200 acres of vineyards are LIVE and Salmon Safe and planted to clones Pommard, Wadenswil, 115, 667 and 777. The sustainable winery and tasting room are LEED Gold Certified. Their 2015 Dundee Hill Mosaic is a delightful overview of elevations, vineyard ages and all clones of the estate. The aromatics are bright red fruits with hints of spice and the palate is silky with warm, sun ripened raspberries.

Oregon Wine Country is a wonderful wine-cation whether you make the drive or host a stay-cation tasting. Ultimately, it’s a great grape to research with family and friends.

St. Patrick’s Day wine pairing for potato ‘Pot o’ Gold’ soup

Yes we know that green beer will likely be the alcoholic beverage of choice for many of you out there celebrating the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day holiday Sunday.

And while we might have recommended this in the past, we’re raising the bar this year, offering instead an Irish-born winemaker’s wine for this week’s pairing.

We’ve recommended this winemaker’s wines before, but sometimes a good wine bears repeating.

For Ann Vogel’s Pot o’ Gold soup, Ireland-born David O’Reilly’s 2012 Crawford-Beck Vineyard Pinot Gris would offer you a chance to drink a glass o’ gold instead of fizzy, green beer.

The wine is aromatic with hints of honey, lychee and banana, according to its tasting notes. Fruits like grapefruit and pineapple are balanced with acidity and a clean finish. The wine was fermented in stainless steel, keeping a crispness in the wine.

O’Reilly has been making great wine for a number of decades from his winery Owen Roe, located in Dundee, Ore. He has an uncanny ability to find a magnificent source for grapes — he rehabilitated a 75-year-old Zinfandel vineyard 15 years ago.

Many of his fabulous red wines produced under the Oregon-based Owen Roe label are made from grapes sourced from the Yakima Valley. He recently purchased an old dairy farm in the Sunnyside area of Washington. In addition to 280 acres of the Outlook Vineyard, O’Reilly has a 50-acre vineyard in the Rattlesnake Hills AVA. This is great news for the Washington wine industry.

Salmon recipes and wine pairings

Now that the rains have returned, so have our salmon. We are pretty fortunate to be able to watch the phenomenal life cycle of Pacific Northwest salmon in our backyards.

This return, and our growling tummies, got us thinking about how now would be the perfect time to offer some salmon recipes and wines to go with them. Coincidentally we’ve also had coverage in the paper and online this week about salmon, so we’re sticking with a fishy theme.

If you haven’t checked it out yet, go see the interactive map of some of the best viewing areas in Kitsap to see the returning salmon. Reporters Chris Dunagan and Amy Phan spent a lot of time updating the map and producing the videos.

Looking ahead, there will be a story in the Kitsap Sun Sunday Life Section by reporter Chris Henry about the tiny fishing village of Sekiu, where fishermen come together during salmon season to max out their limits.

This time of year, when salmon spawn, is a good time to dig up recipes that call for wood-smoked salmon (we’ll save the poached salmon recipes for the spring).

So what wine do we pair with salmon? It depends, dear reader, on the big picture. Think about the texture, weight and other prominent features of the entire dish.

Salmon is dense and fatty (all the good fats, mind you) and that component makes it a versatile fish. Depending on the texture and weight of the sauce, salmon can easily pair with a white, rosé or red wine.

So we look to the sauce to make the best match. A broiled fresh salmon served with a little lemon and butter is easy. Lemon and butter are lighter and crisper than say a Gorgonzola cream sauce. If you’re going to keep it simple and broil the salmon with lemon and butter, choose a wine that is lighter and crisper such as a Pinot Grigio or an Arneis.

If you want to add some weight and prepare a side dish with Gorgonzola cream sauce (see the recipe below), we suggest looking to a country where all but one wine region touches the sea.

Tortellini, Gorgonzola and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo are staples in Italy. From the Abruzzi wine region, located in the calf area of the Italian boot, this wine is made from the Montepulciano grape — the second most produced wine in Italy behind Sangiovese. The medium-bodied weight, bright acidity and aromas and flavors of herbs and cherries make this the perfect wine for this rich dish. Most are under $10. Look for our favorite, Masciarelli 2009 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.

Tortellini with Smoked Salmon, Walnuts with Gorgonzola Cream Sauce

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 Tbs. butter
  • 1/2 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
  • 2 Tbs. minced garlic
  • 1 tsp. dried basil
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/2 cup toasted walnuts
  • 3/4 cup smoked salmon
  • 8 oz. cheese tortellini (cooked)
  • Shredded Parmesan cheese for garnish

Cook cheese tortellini. In a large sauté pan, toast the walnuts on medium-high until golden. Reserve. Add the heavy cream and butter to the pan and bring to a gentile boil. Add Gorgonzola, garlic, basil, thyme, oregano and simmer until thickened. Continue to reduce for 2 to 4 minutes, and then add the smoked salmon. Then add the cooked tortellini. Toss until pasta is hot. Plate and garnish with Parmesan and toasted walnuts.

Planked Salmon

Another common way to cook salmon in the Northwest is using an alder plank. Native people of the Pacific Northwest first devised the method of cooking salmon on hardwood over an open fire. Today, however, we’re going for the quick and easy route of oven-baked using a piece of wood.

There are different planks that can be used. While we prefer the traditional alder plank, you can also consider other non-resinous hardwoods such as cedar, hickory, maple or oak. Naturally, the plank should be clean, at least an inch thick and large enough to accommodate the salmon.

Ordinary slabs of alder from a lumber mill are inexpensive, but they generally have to be replaced after the third or fourth time. You can also purchase an alder plank from a kitchen store. These are meant to be reused time and time again in the oven. With these planks you brush them with olive oil, then stick them in the oven for 30 minutes while it warms up. Once you remove the plank, turn the oven up to 350 degrees, throw the salmon on the plank, skin side down, and pop it back in the oven. (Remember when you take the salmon out to remove the skin, and the gray matter below it before serving).

If you choose a plank that isn’t designed for repeated reuse, make sure you soak it a minimum of four hours, or if you can overnight, before popping it in the oven or you may end up with blackened plank (and one heck of a mess in your oven).

So what “sauce” should you use when planking a salmon? Naturally you want something that will enhance those subtle smokey wood flavors.

One quick and easy answer is to slather the fish in a flavored butter. Or if you’re trying to kick a dependence on butter, consider substituting olive oil. Here’s one such recipe:

Flavored Butter

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2 tablespoons finely minced flat leaf parsley, oregano, chives
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest

Soften the butter. Using a fork mash together the herbs with lemon zest until thoroughly combined, then add to the softened butter. Add the butter to the salmon while it’s still warm so it can spread while melting.

Also consider basting the salmon with an olive oil and a Herbs de Provence mixture. Brynn usually eyeballs the mix, but combine a couple tablespoons of olive oil with a tablespoon of the herbs (traditionally a combination of savory, fennel, basil, thyme and lavender), then spread evenly across the fillet.

Wine Pairing

Not only does a wood plank add delicious flavor and aroma to the fish, with complementary side dishes of simple boiled potatoes, caramelized onions and maybe a few decorative sprigs of herbs, it blossoms into a feast for the eyes, nose and growing appetite.

A perfectly cooked planked salmon with herb-seasoning and tiny potatoes is a marriage made in heaven.

The delectable fragrance of the fleshy textured salmon mingled with the aroma of the heated alder and herbed sauce will pair beautifully with an Argyle Willamette Valley Pinot Noir.(Trust us, we’ve tried and tested this pairing, more than once.)

Argyle is well established in Oregon’s Dundee region. And they have plenty of experience producing wines with the Pinot Noir grape, including some of the best sparkling wines.

This wine match works wonderfully with the planked salmon because of the bountiful flavors and aromas of ripe black cherry and hints of herb. It also sports a smooth cherry finish.

What we’re drinking: 2008 Domaine Drouhin Estate Chardonnay

Brynn writes:

I’ve wanted to drink this wine for a few months now, ever since my editor gave it to me as a “baby” gift, meant instead to be a reward for making it through the 9 months and of course the marathon of delivery.

Since I only drink one glass a wine at a time these days, and usually over the course of an hour or more, it’s often hard to find the time to sit back and truly relax. But a couple Friday’s ago I lucked out.

I put the baby to bed and seeing as I didn’t have to get up before the sun Saturday morning, I decided to treat myself to a glass of chardonnay while I caught up on the television shows I’d missed all week. (Yes this is what becoming a parent has done to me).

Looking through the wine rack, the  2008 “Arthur” Drouhin Family Estate Chardonnay caught my eye. It’s a wine from the Dundee Hills of Oregon, where Domaine Drouhin took up residence in 1987 with its first plantings.

The family operates in Oregon and also France’s Burgundy region, where it all started. The Oregon plantings are located between 400 and 800 in elevation, on top of the Dundee Hills. This location is similar in climate and latitude to Burgundy — which is why it appealed to Robert Drouhin, in charge of Burgundy’s legendary Maison Joseph Drouhin, when he visited Oregon for the first time in 1961.

The similarity in climate means the wines that are produced rival those made in Burgundy. That was certainly the case with the 2008 Arthur estate chardonnay. The juice is aged in half stainless steel and half oak.

The blended result is a medium-bodied wine with fruit-forward flavors, warmth in the middle from the hints of oak and minerality on the finish. For those who want to try a true chardonnay that hasn’t been over manipulated, or “over oaked” this is a perfect example of this grape’s potential.

A bottle is $30; half-bottle is $15. Domaine Drouhin wines are available at the local supermarket, but you can also purchase wine from the website.

Winemakers dinner on Bainbridge Island

Brynn writes:

Looking for something to do next week, say on Wednesday night?

Well if you live on Bainbridge Island — or feel like making the trip depending on where you’re coming from — Doc’s Marina Grill is hosting a winemaker’s dinner featuring Joe Dobbes, who was named the “#1 Hot Small Brand of 2011” by Wine Business Monthly Magazine.

Dobbes is the winemaker of Joe Dobbes Wines, located in Dundee Oregon. He’s been a winemaker for close to 30 years and has received national recognition for his wines.

Here’s part of the press release from Doc’s with more information about the dinner, including how to sign up:

Doc’s will be finishing its Winemakers Dinner series for the 2012 Season with Joe Dobbes from Dundee, Oregon. This is the most anticipated winemakers dinner of the year due to the national recognition Joe Dobbes has received for his fantastic wines. This will be a great opportunity for locals and wine enthusiasts alike to meet one of the most exciting American winemakers, and taste his wine. There is limited seating for this experience, and will be sure not to disappoint.

Established in 2002, Dobbes Wines has become one of Oregon’s most well-established wine companies.

Registration is available online at docsgrill.com, just make a reservation during the time of the dinner, or by calling (206) 842-8339.