(Published July 28, 2011) – A wine trip to Oregon’s Willamette Valley July 18-22 served as a reminder why so many folks love wine country travel and good wine.

The trip was mostly personal vacation but also an opportunity to casually interview a few folks and gather some material for a few newspaper columns, Madison Magazine in Anderson, and the national online wine magazine – Palate Press.

Visiting 16 wineries in four days, and tasting approximately 50-plus wines, re-invigorated my love for sharing these stories. It’s not just the juice in the glass and the Willamette Valley’s incredible Pinot Noir but it’s the people, the food, the environment that makes a wine hobby so much fun.
As the resident wine geek for a number of folks, most requests revolve around Pinot Noir. Perhaps that’s because of Sideways, the run-away hit movie from 2004 which turned Pinot into a national sensation.

So let’s get that out of the way first. In the value Pinot category, I always recommend Mirrasou, Concannon, and Flipflop. All three labels have a nice, but very light, Pinot under $10. You can’t go wrong. If you want a little stronger Pinot flavor and will go up to $15, look for Mark West, Dashwood, or Castle Rock.

With that noted, I’ll put my wine geek hat on and head back to Oregon. Most value Pinot is very thin though some are well made. Oregon’s entry level Pinot Noirs start around $25-$35 price range.

But you really have to taste one of the wonderful Pinots at or near the upper price level to appreciate the grape. Additionally, I’d argue, tasting the upper-end Pinot will help you better select value brands.

Two suggestions that aren’t way off the price charts are Lange Willamette Valley and Domaine Serene Yamhill Cuvee. Both are widely available in the Midwest. The Lange wine retails around the $20 price point while Domaine Serene will range from $27-$32. Think of it as a special occasion wine if that is outside your normal comfort level.

The wine-writing thing opens doors. I chatted with three prominent winemakers, had appointments at several wineries and all were fantastic experiences. But it was the people behind the tasting room counters who made the trip. During our first three stops everyone recommended we visit Vidon Winery, a spot I knew nothing about. It turned out to be one of the best visits and awesome Pinot.

But that experience was the rule not the exception. We met two 25-year-olds at different wineries doing some of the grunt work who aspire to be winemakers. I was able to greet some old friends from two previous trips.

In photo at left, one of the magnificent views of the Willamette Valley. This shot was taken at Anderson Family Vineyards.

The people who make the wine aren’t just winemakers. Two columns ago I wrote about wine country travel and urged readers to talk to those people who are pouring the wine. The Oregon trip really drove that point home again.

Finally, for those ready to open their wallets here are a few recommendations or “Best of” from my trip: Lange Estate Vineyard Pinot ($60), 2009 Penner-Ash Dussin Vineyard Pinot ($60), Domaine Drouhin 2007 Laurene ($65), and Domaine Serene’s Etoile Vineyard Chardonnay ($40). All are available in better Indiana and Illinois wine shops and some liquor stores.

In photo at upper right is Don Hagge owner and winemaker at Vidon Vineyars, one of the best Pinots I tasted. His wines can be hard to find in most states, though.

Finally, one of the most enjoyable stops was at Republic of Jam in Carlton. Two ladies take Oregon’s magnificent fruit and turn it into unbelievable taste combinations. Many of their savory delights can be used in cooking. Look them up online and order some jam!

Editor’s Note: See four albums of photos from my Oregon trip by clicking on My Wine Travel in the right rail.

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