If you want to see wine country and want a personal experience, go off the beaten path.

Off the beaten path you might run into the winemaker or winery owner in the tasting room. That just doesn’t happen in Napa Valley. Now, if you’ve never traveled Napa or Sonoma it is a must see. But if you visit California’s Paso Robles or Mendocino areas you’ll get a more personal experience.

Wine tourism certainly seems to be growing in Oregon’s Wilammette Valley, but you’ll still bump into winemakers as a friend of mine recently found out. I don’t talk much about my paying job on this blog, but I work in marketing at Wabash College. I get to know plenty of students.

Junior Drew Casey grew up in Portland and has a great palate for Pinot Noir for a 21 year old. During his spring break he visited a few Wilammette wineries. So I asked him to take a couple of photos (which I normally pay him to do at work) and write briefly about his experience.

Rainy Days and Visits to Lange Winery
A gravel road cutting through the Dundee Hills of Oregon, finally gave to Lange Estate’s sloping vineyards. Typical of a northwest day in March, sporadic down pours brought dark clouds and strong winds. Lange’s newly remodeled tasting room made for a great place to get out the weather.

Joanne Cramer-Brown, sales Czarina, graciously greeted me at the door. After quick introductions we got straight to tasting some of Lange’s elegant Pinot Noirs. It was a battle of titans right from the get go; a comparison taste test between Lange’s 08 Willamette Valley and 09 Three Hills Cuvee reserve bottles.

The 08, was a young but seemingly perfect Pinot, complete with classic gritty nose and slight oaky detection. The 09 was equally impressive, however with a slightly less sophisticated finish.

Jesse Lange, general manager for Lange Estate, even made an appearance on the tasting room floor, personally shaking my hand and questioning the integrity of his carefully crafted wines. The next pour was another comparison, this time between the 07 and 08 Estate Pinots (made from the oldest grapes on the property). Before tasting though, I received a personal tour of both warehouses, where hundreds of purple stained oak barrels sat, aging upcoming vintages.

But okay, back to the tasting, but now with a cleansed palate. There were really no fair comparisons that could be made between the 07 and 08 other than a slightly fuller body in the later vintage. Both had rich noses with remnants of deep plum and blackberry as well as wonderfully prolonged aftertastes. A relaxing atmosphere combined with down-to-earth attitudes at Lange made for an enjoyable tasting. The natural relaxation that stems from perfect wine and genuine hospitality, made this stop unforgettable. – Drew Casey

… maybe a wine writer in the making?

The best part is I’m tentatively planning a trip to Oregon for late July. Drew will be my host. I’m sure a trip up the hill to Lange will be on the itinerary.

Send comment or questions to: hewitthoward@gmail.com