The two biggest wine tasting weekends here in Oregon’s Willamette Valley are Memorial Day and Thanksgiving. This year, as happens frequently, my sister’s birthday fell on Memorial Day weekend. Her choice for a birthday celebration was a guided wine tour in the Willamette Valley (WV). Having been born and raised in Portland and the Oregon Coast, we consider ourselves “locals”, and have spent many years exploring the WV and a large number of its vineyards. The guided tour was suggested mostly so no one in our group had to drive, but it turned out that we locals who thought we knew almost everything about the WV wine region, could still learn a thing or two by having a guide. We ended up visiting four wineries we did not know, and had a wonderful time.
My sister hired Great Oregon Tours, and our driver and guide was Camille Gonzales, a very personable and knowledgeable woman. We met her in Portland, after having picked up our boxed lunches at New Seasons. There were seven of us in our group which included my two sisters, my mother, and three guests of the birthday girl; Joe, Lance and Wendy.
Our first stop was the Hyland Estates tasting room in Dundee, Oregon, where we tasted five wines; a 2014 Riesling, a 2014 Chardonnay, a 2013 Coury Pinot Noir, a 2014 Pommand Pinot Noir, and a 2015 Rose. The flight cost $15, but could be applied to the purchase of a bottle. Three of us bought the 2015 Rose for $24 (only $9 after the tasting fee), a very nice choice for a hot afternoon.
Our second stop was the Purple Hands Winery, Latchkey Vineyard (http://purplehandswine.com/). I doubt we would have found this vineyard on our own, as it was far up a winding gravel road. It was one of my favorites of the day.
We tasted six different Pinot Noirs, each one with a full page description including the elevation and type of soil the grapes are grown in. The flight here was also $15, but you had to purchase $100 to get the tasting fee returned. I bought one bottle of the 2014 Le Nouveau Monde Prestige Pinot Noir for $90, then added a $20 glass to get my $15 tasting fee applied. It was really nice to compare six Pinots in a row. After the tasting I walked up into the vines accompanied by the owners German Shepherd.
In full celebration mode we headed to our third tasting at Lachini Vineyards, which turned out to be my favorite of the day. You couldn’t find a more scenic vineyard with the tasting room located on 45 acres near Newberg, Oregon. (http://www.lachinivineyards.com/)
The tasting fee at Lachini was $20, but it included 9 different wines and they put out a fantastic spread of food. We didn’t even open our boxed lunches as the Lachini owner was making pizzas and shrimp in the outdoor oven, while his kids stocked the hors d’oeuvres table with cheeses, breads and chocolates.
It was the prettiest spot on the tour, and very much a family affair. I bought a 2014 Cuvee Giselle Pinot Noir and 11 year old Giselle herself signed the bottle. They had to force me to leave the beautiful grounds of Lachini where the people were friendly and the dog waited for you to throw her ball.
After a short break from wine where half the group relaxed at a brew pub and the other half visited a Starbucks, we made our way to the last wine tasting, Privé Vineyard (www.privevineyard.com)
Just like in Argentina when we toured four vineyards in one day and were too overwhelmed by the end to get much out of the last one, the same happened here. Prive was our fourth stop, and my taste buds were pretty much wiped out. The tasting building was very French looking with wonderful cheeses and a local French bakery selling fresh baked goods. Lavender plants surrounded the building and a very friendly yellow lab named Stella greeted guests.
The tasting fee at Prive was $15, typical for the day. We tasted six wines, including two barrel tastes of the 2015 Le nord Estate Pinot Noir and the 2015 Le sud Estate Pinot Noir.
For myself I would limit vineyard visits to a maximum of three in one day. I just can’t be enthusiastic by the fourth tasting.
We were all very happy with our guide and it was nice to visit four vineyards we did not know. We ended the evening with birthday cake at my sister’s house.
Although four wine tastings was my maximum on Sunday, by Monday afternoon my sister and I were ready to visit one more vineyard. The two of us made a special trip to Patton Valley Vineyards in Gaston, Oregon. I had recently enjoyed a bottle of 2012 Lorna-Marie Pinot Noir at a Florida restaurant and wanted to see the vineyard where that stellar wine had been produced.
We thought that at 430 pm on the Monday of Memorial Day Weekend we might be their last customers, but we were wrong. As we tasted four wines, more people came in.
The tasting included a 2015 Pinot Noir Rose, a 2014 Queen Bee Pinot Noir, a 2012 10 Acre Pinot Noir and a 2013 Single Barrel Syrah. Also included in the tasting were two beers, made with Patton Valley estate Pinot Noir grapes and yeast from the vineyard, cask aged for 1 year. These were the Upright Brewing Four and the Upright Brewing Oregon Native. I’m not a beer drinker, although I did taste one at their urging. It still had too much of a beer taste for my liking. I bought one bottle of the Queen Bee Pinot, the proceeds going towards the upkeep of the vineyard bee hives. It was light and summery, buzz words: Black Cherry, Orange Blossom, Nutmeg, Cinnamon and Fig.
I mentioned how I had enjoyed their 2012 Lorna-Marie Pinot Noir and was told it was no longer available, sold out. A little while later after a search of the store rooms, four bottles of the 2012 were discovered (a wine club member order that had been canceled before shipment).
This was the only vineyard of the five we toured that included a logo glass with the $15 tasting. With my purchase of three bottles, they waived the tasting fee for both my sister and me. As we prepared to leave at 5 pm, the phone rang and I heard the very friendly woman pouring the wine say yes, she would wait for them.
It was a very enjoyable and successful Memorial Day/birthday celebration Willamette Valley tour, and we would recommend Great Oregon Tours for anyone interested in seeing the heart of Oregon wine country.