The Willamette Valley Wineries Association (www.willamettewines.com) lists over 180 wineries in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The first tough decision is where to start, the second, which ones to visit?
To celebrate my sister’s birthday, my mother and I escorted her to three tastings and lunch in the valley. June 1st dawned with blue skies, and promised to be a sunny and warm day. For Oregonians who had suffered through a very cool and rainy May, this was a welcome sight. From Portland, we drove west towards Forest Grove and then headed south on county road 47. Our first stop was Montinore Estate (montinore.com), on our way to our lunch destination in Carlton.
Montinore is a favorite of mine in a lovely setting. The entrance through massive gates and vineyards is a wonderful introduction to the beauty of the Oregon wine country. We were the first to arrive at the tasting room, which opened at 11 am. It is a beautiful setting and the women who poured our flights were informative and friendly.
Our flight consisted of 6 tastes for $10. We started with a 2012 Pinot Gris described as having “green apple & pineapple characteristics”. Because I am not a fan of Gewurztraminer, they graciously substituted a reserve Pinot Gris for my second taste. We all agreed that the 2009 Parson’s Ridge Pinot Noir, “earthly overtones & a touch of spice”, was our favorite. I purchased a 2012 Pinot Gris for consumption in the coming week, and a tasting glass with the attractive Montinore logo. My mother purchased one of the Pinot Noirs.
We left Montinore and headed south on 47, following the winding two lane road through the small towns of Gaston and Yamhill. Nearly every mile you pass vineyard signs pointing up yet another tree lined gravel road leading to a tasting room with wonderful views and excellent wines. Our destination for lunch was Cuvee, a French restaurant in the small town of Carlton (www.cuveedining.com).
It was my sister’s choice, having previously patronized this restaurant for dinner. The owner/chef, from Alsace France, was also our waiter. We started with clams for an appetizer, accompanied by fresh bread. They were perfectly seasoned and mouth wateringly delicious. For lunch I had a poached salmon salad, my sister had a seafood crepe (fruits de mer), and my mother had a delightfully spiced tart, a flatbread pizza with smoked bacon, goat cheese and onion. We enjoyed a local Savignon Blanc with lunch. For dessert we savored the best chocolate mousse I have ever tasted. The chef told us it was made with Grand Marnier and orange zest, topped with cream. It was delightful, and I would highly recommend Cuvee for anyone visiting Carlton and the Willamette Valley.
After lunch we drove the short distance to Penner-Ash Wine Cellars (www.pennerash.com). This was my choice, based upon a recent experience back home in Tampa. I had attended a food and wine pairing at The Capital Grille and asked the Sommelier for his favorite Oregon Pinot Noir. He answered with Penner-Ash. I was unfamiliar with that name, so he brought a bottle for inspection. I noted the origin, Newburg, Oregon, and vowed to visit the estate on my next trip to Oregon, just days away. We kept that vow.
Penner-Ash was at the end of a long, winding, shaded drive, with a commanding view of the valley. The tasting room was surrounded by lovely gardens of native lupines and many other beautiful flowers. Our flight here consisted of 6 tastes for $15. There were some pricey bottles with both blends and estate Pinot Noirs. I chose a Penner-Ash Pinot Noir blend for $45, and a pretty wine glass with their logo. After our tasting we relaxed in the sun on the grass and appreciated the views from this most lovely of hill tops.
Our last stop was an impromptu choice. We passed a nice looking tasting room on our way to Ghost Hills Cellars, and decided to pull in and give it a try. The vineyard was Solena Estate. It was a beautiful tasting room with the requisite friendly staff. Our 6 tastes here were also $15. We were slowing down, and did not purchase any bottles, but we did take note of the vintners dinners that Solena hosts. $75 for food and wine in their lovely tasting room. We tucked that idea away for future use.
It was nearly 4 o’clock at this point and we headed back to Portland. The three different estates and lunch made for a nicely paced day in the valley. With over 180 vineyards to choose from, it is difficult to narrow it down to three. We missed one of my favorites, Erath Winery, but there are many more days in the valley to come. For more information and an interactive map, please visit http://www.willamettewines.com.