WILLAMETTE VALLEY, OR. – Saturday was a day of Pinot, great luck, and fabulous food.
Four wine dudes traveling for the first time together in Oregon’s Willamette Valley rocked it with great wine, friendship, and a bit of good luck. We’re here for three days of wine tasting and other adventures.
When you go to wine country it’s all about great tasting experiences, learning about the vineyards, and getting acquainted with the wonderful people of wine country. But a great trip should include more. You should explore the area’s restaurants, sites, and the unique businesses.
We started our Saturday with one of my favorites – The Republic of Jam. Lynnette Shaw’s brainchild is now six years old and thriving as tourism continues to boom in the valley. Yes, they sell jam. They also sell cocktail enhancements, flavored ketchups and mustard.
Marionberry, Pacific berry, strawberry basil, and so many other combinations really test your taste buds. Republic of Jam is in Carlton nestled in the middle of the main street of the small village. The jams are a wonderful experience for the taste buds. Lynette and Amy have a unique business that has become a must-stop when visiting. I bought six! The have a small jar for $7.50 and larger one for $10. It’s a real taste of Oregon produce with a twist.
We made our first winery stop at Winderlea in the Dundee Hills. Co-owner Donna Morris was hosting a wine club pick-up reception and she invited us to join in the fun. Great food bites and a tasting of their new 2014 vintage wines was a treat.
Winderlea is truly boutique at about 6,000 cases. Veteran winemaker Robert Brittan uses the well-sourced fruit to make beautiful Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines. The Chardonnay is soft, round and has real depth. Tasting through the new releases was a great experience of really well-made wines. Brittan was winemaker for Napa’s Stags Leap before moving north. Winderlea wines run from $38 to $85. And since we’ve been talking about costs and tasting fees, it’s nice to note the Winderlea makes an annual and substantial contribution to a local charity providing health care to vineyard workers.
This weekend is my fifth trip to the valley and another of the guys has been here four times. Two of the guys are making their initial visit. With about 500 wineries now, it’s hard to get everywhere. But through my five visits I had missed two important wineries. We visited Bergstrom Friday and Saturday we had a great visit to Adelsheim.
Adelsheim is one of the valley’s pioneers. The tasting room offered several different tastings at the $25 level. Adelsheim, like most here, waive the fee if you buy wine.
We had a very “Oregon experience” during our stop. Our friendly tasting room associate Sandy was telling us all about the wines we were tasting and someone came up behind us to introduce himself. Yes, it was David Adelsheim. He talked about changes in the valley and the future of his winery for a good 15 minutes. It was an awesome experience. He then called Sam Schmitt, head of marketing, over to give us a full vineyard and winery tour. Adelsheim’s Pinot runs roughly $60 to just over $100 a bottle. They have a couple of different whites including a $25 Pinot Blanc that I thought was terrific.
Next was a quick visit, by our standards, to Trisaetum Winery. A couple of the guys are big Reisling fans and Trisaetum is widely praised for their efforts with the German varietal. I tasted the Pinots and a couple Reislings. The guys assured me Trisaetum lived up to its billing. I drank a lot of Reisling when I started getting interested in wine but not much of a fan as my palate has evolved. I could tell they were well made wines and priced at an affordable $20-$30 range.
Saffron Fields was our final stop of the day. I’m a club member so a big fan. Their wines are made by Tony Rynders, who rose to fame making wines for Domaine Serene. It’s a beautiful setting and great Pinot. There price points range $40-$60. Saffron has a nice Chardonnay, one of the best Rose of Pinot I’ve had in the valley, and their reds.
Now, a note to newbies. I’d never recommend more than three wineries a day for someone making their first or second wine country visit. Frankly, I’m most comfortable with just three. You get palate fatigue and even if you take small sips or spit, you are absorbing alcohol. But our group knows when to say when and is anxious to visit several of the iconic wineries and the quirky ones.
We wrapped up Saturday with another great dinner. We dined at Thistle in McMinnville. We had planned on having the chef’s tasting menu but the manager just convinced us to have ‘everything.” So that’s exactly what we did. Thistle is a chef-driven, farm-to-fork, hipsters and upscale eatery at affordable prices.
The food was wonderful. We enjoyed a chicken liver and a pork pate’ as well as some squash soup and a couple of salads. We shared on dish of about everything. Entrees were pork, rock fish, and rabbit. The chef weaved interesting flavors and ingredients. It was a very enjoyable meal.The dinner came to about $50 apiece. We brought our own wine and the restaurant waived the $20 corkage fee.