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Dudes Alex, Patrick B., Jesse Lange, me, and Patrick T.

YAMHILL, Or. – I’ve always loved datelines. We’re near Yamhill, Oregon, up a windy road, at the top of a big hill, in the woods, a small herd of deer camping in our yard, and traces of Bigfoot out back.

All four of us on our wine buddy weekend are wined out, tired, and have convinced each other that smell really isn’t a Sasquatch.

Yes, our red farmhouse on a hill is remote but quite nice. Three bedrooms up, one down, a great kitchen, wrap around porch, and all for less than $300 bucks a night. The recent Air B&B movement and other such rental homes provide a homey feel without a Hilton price.

For most of the day we got our wine geek on. Our first stop was up in the Dundee Hills at Lange Estate Winery. Lange was my first stop in 2007 on my first visit. It’s a personal tradition I’ve continued and my three fellow travelers were happy to keep it going.

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Jesse Lange

We all stopped to enjoy the view. In five stops at Lange, Friday was just the second when the skies were clear enough to see Mount Hood. With the withering and golden vines, the scene set the stage for a fabulous sunny day in the Willamette Valley.

We tasted our way through Lange’s lineup of a fabulous Pinot Gris and four Pinot Noir. The two tasting room attendants were very knowledgeable. We talked vineyards and aging and much more. It was a wine geek’s delight.

Even better, Jesse Lange joined us for a great discussion about vintage, marketing, family tradition and technical versus artisanal – – gut instinct – type of winemaking. Jesee has always been generous with his time during visits. And let’s acknowledge that not everyone gets access to the winemaker. But when visiting tasting rooms, don’t be afraid to ask questions. The more you learn about wine, the detail, the grape growing, aging, and more – the more you’ll enjoy your wine.

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Bergstrom’s vineyard, barn

Bergstrom wines have a long history in the valley and I had never visited, neither had any of our group. So, we made our way up to the tasting There are many wineries in the valley that qualify as “boutique,” meaning small production and high-end wines. Bergstrom is simply one of the best. We tasted mostly their single vineyard Pinot Noir. They are fabulous wines. Bergstrom owns great vineyard sites and buy from some of the valley’s top spots like Temperance Hill and Shea.

Rebecca, our tasting room guide and 20-year veteran of wine sales, talked us through the difference from vineyard to vineyard. Bergstrom is also well known for Sigrid Chardonnay. The Sigrid bottling is in honor of founder John Bergstrom’s mother. John’s son Josh now runs the winery and makes the wine. Sigrid Chard is the best I’ve ever tasted in the valley and there are more and more great bottles. It is a multi-vineyard cuvee that is Chablis Grand Cru like with a bit less acidity.

A word about tasting room fees. Lange and Bergstrom charge a $20 tasting fee. In Oregon, the long tradition of waving tasting fees if you make much of a purchase lives on. In comparison, at many Napa tasting rooms where you’ll pay much more than $20 – forget about getting the tasting fee being waived. While Napa hospitality is the best in the world and extraordinarily professional, it often lacks the genuine warmth of the folks in the tasting rooms here.

We topped off the day with McMinnville visit. The town of 33,000 is the heart and historical center of Oregon Pinot Noir. Downtown is a bit hipster-ish but filled with great restaurants, tasting rooms, and quirky shops. The three other guys tasted through several wines at the Willamette Valley Vineyards tasting room while I appreciated the live jazz.

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Rich, hot crab lasagna

We dined at the iconic Nick’s Italian Café – a James Beard award winner. A wonderful charcuterie board and meatballs got us started. The other guys had a sausage plate, fire-roasted game hen, and our youngest dude had an intriguing pasta with sausage and kale pesto.  I had one of their signature dishes – unbelievable – Dungeness Crab Lasagna.

We enjoyed a single bottle of Italian Rosso di Montepulciano which was a nice change of pace after all that Pinot Noir.

Today is our busiest day. We’re going to start off at the quirky and interesting Republic of Jam, visit wineries Winderlea and Saffron Fields and then make a few wineries visit decisions while out on the road. We’re back to McMinnville for dinner tonight at Thistle – a chef-driven newcomer getting lots of attention.

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Really cool view of Mount Hood from Lange tasting room.

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