10th Willamette wine visit

Talking Oregon wine with Winderlea owner Bill Sweat

The quality of Oregon wine blows me away on each visit. That’s not shocking news to anyone who’s been here before. But as the number as the number of Willamette Valley wineries grows toward 600 even the newbies are knocking out dynamic and delicious Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Gris.

This visit was arranged rather quickly with a friend and we kicked off with old friends Bill Sweat and Donna Morris at Winderlea Vineyards. We talked a good half hour about Chardonnay, style of Chardonnay and what’s new at the winery. Bill shared that Winderlea will join the growing list of wineries make a Sparkline wine or Brut next year.

Growers in the valley are two or three years into the boom of adding Rose’ of Pinot Noir to their winelists and it certainly appears bubbles will be next.

Winderlea produces vineyard designate wines as good, or better, as any you’ll find in the valley. The chardonnay is perfectly balanced with a hint of oak and perhaps the best you discover on any domestic wine trip.

Our next stop was the iconic Domaine Drouhin. The French outpost in Oregon delivers really great wine, a fantastic vineyard view and even an occasional taste of Burgundy. The iconic wooden roofed winery offers up elegant and stylish Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The entry level is $45 at the winery in Dundee Hills but the new Roserock property and label over wines with a slightly different flavor profile and slightly different taste.

Third stop was a recommendation from the Winderlea folks. We traveled to just the western part of the valley to Fairsing Vineyard high atop a hill just north of Yamhill and Carlton. The views were spectacular. The wines were spot on with a light Rose, lighter style chardonnay and rich Pinot. The 750 ft of elevation definitely provide characteristics of a cooler climate Chardonnay.

We capped off the night meeting a couple of younger friends for dinner. I had met the young couple working my part-time wine shop job in Broad Ripple. I’ve visited Carlton many times but never eaten at its longtime lilee French Restaurant, Cuvee.

The slightly electic spot was really dealicious. Baked mussels and a wonderful sauce with gruyere cheese was spot on. The fresh salmon with roasted vegetables balanced the meal.

Another day of wine tasting today (Friday) and a venture into McMinnville this evening. Tomorrow, it’s off to the Columbia River Gorge and Mt. Hood.

Note: I’m using a new smaller mobile laptop and some things have changed for me in my blogging platform. I was a real struggle including one photo. I have more to add when I conquer that issue or get back home. I”m posting to social media as well.

Going to add restaurant reviews


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Looking from my table to the bar area of LouVino

Through the years I’ve posted restaurant thoughts (I hate to think of it as reviews) on this blog. Now that I’m retired and have time to take in some interesting lunch spots, I’m going to try to start posting more.

I still do some wine writing, but if you haven’t followed along, I retired the regular wine column last fall.

So part of the plan going forward is to add quickie reviews. Those reviews will include a couple of pics, some thoughts on the food, service and probably atmosphere.

I visited LouVino on Mass Ave today for lunch. I actually tried to visit a couple of weeks ago and was told rather brusquely that it was 1:50 p.m. and the kitchen closed for lunch at 2 p.m. I understand that but didn’t feel very welcomed to return.


Fries in a jar and okay skirt steak.

But I did give it a try today and enjoyed the experience. It is a little pricey for lunch. I had the lunch special of sandwich, side and drink for $15. My skirt steak sandwich on brioche was pretty tasty. Onions, stilton mayo, and arugula livened the sandwich up a bit. The steak had a bit of  almost a burnt flavor after waitress suggested it would arrive medium rare. The flavor was pretty good though but skirt steak can be tough and this was a little too chewy.

The fries were crispy and plentiful and the two warm chocolate chip cookies, included, were very good.

And by the way, my server was great and responded promptly to a couple of simple requests.


Three nice old world wines for $17

Of course, being a wine spot I skipped the cola. They offer a page of red and another of white wine flights with 2 oz. pours. The choices were really great. I paid $17 for a Spanish, French, and Italian wine. They were all good but most are available at local wine shops for $20 or less per bottle.

So with tax, I dropped $34 for lunch – not something I’m going to do very often.

The place is beautiful but quite empty at 1 p.m. The decor is modern and stylistic. There is clearly seating for a big lunch or dinner crowd.

I’d probably go back but at the price the food was more okay and wow. The wine flight a little pricey. Still, it’s nice to have a place where you can sample a wine flight, even if its a couple bucks overpriced.

Vineyards reflect climate change reality


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Steve Lutz in his Lenne tasting room last October

If you don’t believe in climate change, ask a farmer. Few farmers see the more immediate impact of warming temperatures than winemakers and vineyard managers across the country.

In normally cool-climate Oregon, the vineyards are warming. But just like the different terriors across the 150-mile long valley, the impact varies from vineyard to vineyard. But winemakers seem to agree something is happening.



“I don’t think it necessarily meaning warming for everyone at every time of the year,” said Alloro Vineyards winemaker Tom Fitzpatrick. “I think what we’re seeing is wide swings in the temperatures and weather during the ripening period, which is really an important period of time.

“So the last couple of years (2016-2017) were fairly warm and fairly early harvest in September. Then in 2018 things were a little bit more typical at harvest. We but had a really dry and really warm summer. We were lucky to get these really cool temperatures, 60s and 70s, through early September for harvesting.

The state’s legislature ordered a climate assessment that concluded with a 160-page document. The report says that even if emissions are reduced, average temperatures will rise 3 to 7 degrees by 2050. That number may or may not seem significant but the state’s leading crop, delicate and thin-skinned Pinot Noir grapes, does not do well in intense heat.



“I typically talk about global change instead of global warming,” said Youngberg Hill Winery and Inn owner and winemaker Wayne Bailey. “I think what we’re seeing is a lot more extremes. There is extreme rain in the Midwest, extremes in terms of cold and warm and extremes in terms of hurricanes. It’s all over.

“More specifically to growing, over the last 4-5 years we’ve had consistent warmer temperatures. But I’ve been in agriculture all my life and know weather patterns to in 20-year cycles. I’m here to say in 5-6 years we’re still going to have warmer and cool years. I’m going to suggest there is going to be more extremes instead of less extreme weather events because of global warming.”

Steve Lutz, owner/winemaker at Lenne Estate, agreed its all about the timing of the state’s hotter spells. “We’ve been a really fortunate,” he said. “This year we had a huge cooldown at the end of August and beginning of September.  We had 10 days of no sugar movement in the vineyard at all. My take is we have to be very careful how much fruit we drop (which allows remaining fruit to ripen better).”

Lutz’s point is cutting grapes aggressively, followed by a warmer fall harvest season, could substantially reduce a winery’s ability to reach normal production levels. More heat means more sugar in the grapes which results in wines with a higher alcohol content while the industry is largely moving to lower alcohol wines.

One logical step might be the increased planting of varietals other than Pinot Noir. Tempranillo, gamay, syrah, and even some cabernet has been planted in recent years.



“Don (Hagge) is way ahead of the curve as usual and we’re already making estate tempranillo in the Chehalem Mountains AVA,” said Vidon winemaker David Bellows. Hagge owns the boutigue Vidon winery. “Other people are only going to plan more similar grapes. Tempranillo is a good illustration of how to cope because I can’t think of a more hot plains varietal. It’s ripened here three years in a row and ripened just fine this year.”

All of the winemaker agreed there will be years of bigger wines – Pinot or different varieties. Bellows said the 2018 crop went through higher temperatures than the 2017. “So the 2018 had more sugar than we would want so we worked on more extraction, move body to balance off the alcohol. Those are the kind of things you have to do. We’re going to make a bigger darker wine than last year. We hope more extraction will balance the alcohol.”

So will there be years where Oregon Pinot is closer to the mouth feel of Pinots from California? “There will be years,” Bailey agreed that is possible. “In 2012 and 2014 the wines were bigger, more robust, more red fruit. But consistently I think not for the foreseeable future. We’re not growing on the valley floor where it’s hottest.”

Fitzpatrick  takes a similar view. “To me a great Pinot is a balance between a warm year and much cooler year, concentration density and roundness, very cool delivers aromatic complexity and more expression. To me a great vintage is one where weather conditions are such you get both of those.”

All four winemakers agreed they’ve spent a career watching the weather. With temperatures rising, watching the thermometer is fine but more adjustments in  winemaking will be necessary as well.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This feature store first appeared in Madison Magazine – a niche publication of the Anderson Herald Bulletin. Contact these wineries through the links embedded to buy their wines.

Another reason to love Oregon wines


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EDITOR’S NOTE: Well crap. This country, and particularly Indiana’s, wine laws strike again. After writing this post I went to order my three pack to learn they’re not shipping to Indiana. I’ll update if that changes or if other options become available.


Sometimes I feel like the Willamette Valley Wine Association should put me on the payroll. I love Oregon wine, Oregon wine country, and most of all the people of Oregon.

Wine folks have probably heard about the recent Solidarity Wines being produced from Rogue Valley vineyards. The back story is 2,000 tons of Rogue Valley grapes were to be sold to Copper Cane of Napa Valley. Copper Cane dropped out of the contract late in the season citing ‘smoke taint’ from the west’s forest fires.

The video above tells the story beautifully.

OregonSolidarity3-PackThe great part is a group of Oregon winemakers in the Willamette Valley bought up some of the grapes and made a Chardonnay, Rose’ and Pinot Noir which will be released over th$e summer. Proceeds from those wines will benefit Rogue Valley vineyards. A website is up telling the Solidarity Wines story and giving consumers a chance to buy a three pack of Chardonnay, Rose’ and Pinot Noir. I’ve ordered one.

The effort is being led by Willamette Valley Vineyards Winery and King Estate Winery.

I’ve tasted smoke-tainted wines. I tasted Pinot Noir in 2011 during a wine press trip to Mendocino County just north of Sonoma. There was a hint of burnt wood but the wine wasn’t off-putting. Oregon grape growers and winemakers are claiming there is no taint at all in the Rogue Valley grapes.

Great story and one that’s going to be interesting to follow. The wines are being released starting Mar. 1 with the Rose’ with the 3-pack shipping August 1. I’ll be sure to post when mine have arrived.

Check out the video above and consider ordering some Oregon wine for a good neighborly cause.


Ind. legislature and silly wine restrictions


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Every time I read about proposed laws relating to alcohol in Indiana I come away shaking my head in amazement at the stupidity and greed.

There are at least two bills in the legislature getting some consideration that might help. I’m posting the links here so you can share in my frustration and amazement.

House Bill 1422 – From the Indiana Business Journal story: “one barrier for wineries and distilleries that include restaurants is that they are not allowed to take alcohol produced on their properties directly to their restaurants. Instead, they have to sell it to a distributor, the distributor has to take it to a warehouse and then return it and sell it back to the winery or distillery. Then the product can be sold in the restaurant.”

You might want to read that again to fully understand the greed written into Indiana law. Read the entire IBJ story here.

Then there is this one – a bill allowing wine sales on golf courses. If you’re a golfer you’ve seen the beverage carts on the links. The carts always feature cold beer and many include wine, illegally. Damn them!

A proposal to allow wine sales on the links passed the Indiana house just a week or so ago 92-4. You can read the short Associated Press story here.

You can’t make this stuff up if you tried. Geez!

Small wineries just can’t charge big price


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Smaller Oregon wine producers feel some pressures to keep their wines moderately priced. While some of the better known Willamette Valley wineries are pushing the ceiling of $100 a bottle and beyond, the smaller producers don’t want to gouge their base customers.

Domaine Serene with its bevy of awards and media accolades has several bottles over $100. A top bottling at wineries such as Beaux Freres, Bergstrom, and many others have a bottle or several selling at $100 or more.

The smaller producers struggle with distribution because they simply don’t make enough wine to sell in multiple states. They like staying in the $35-$60 or $70 range so wines are affordable for club members and through their tasting rooms.



“The competition really hasn’t been price competition,” said Wayne Bailey, owner at Youngberg Hill Winery. “It’s been beneficial (to be moderate in price) in that it’s made a whole lot more Willamette Valley Pinot available for people to try.

“We’re such a small piece of the pie. Pinot is only 5% of what is sold in the US. The valley produces one-hundredth of one percent of all Pinot grown in the country.”

Bailey has an entry-level Pinot for $35.

Price discussions have to include increases and on some occasions decreases for some producers. “We talk about price in both directions,” said David Bellows, winemaker at Vidon Vineyards. “Don is resistant to raising prices. We’ve had people come in and say ‘your wine should be more expensive.’ We have a hard time selling what we make.”



Don Hagge’s Vidon has sold wine at wholesale prices to internet sites which provide instant income and cash flow. Vidon’s signature 3-Clones wine, his lowest priced bottle, sells for $45 at the winery.

Bailey points out that there is lots of market research showing people east of the Rocky Mountains want  Willamette Valley Pinot but they can’t find it. The exception, he notes, is big producers. He adds that the small producers can open up a much bigger world to Pinot fans but they may have to search for smaller-production labels or come visit.

The backbone of these winery’s income is direct sales out of their tasting rooms and wine club memberships. “Some of our pricing reflects that,” said General Manager and Winemaker Tom Fitzpatrick, Alloro Vineyards.



“We want to be accessible. We don’t want to be where no one could buy them. Even our estate Pinot Noir ($40 SRP), which is the lowest price point of the three we make on the property, is not a lower tier wine. We focus our winemaking on producing the very best wine we can make.

But Fitzpatrick states the obvious that the sales have to support the winery. The estate Pinot was bumped from $35 in 2017 for the first time since the winery opened its doors.

Tasting these wines: A side note, I tasted all of these wineries wines twice in 2018. I received samples early in the year I shared with wine drinking friends solicited their opinions. I visited these producers in October. The wines easily hold up to or surpass the bigger Oregon names you may know. Reach out to the wineries, I’ve linked each site, to see if they can ship directly to you.

Oliver in accelerated growth period


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There are many compelling wine stories happening in Indiana including improving wine quality and the explosion of new wineries. There’s never been a better time for Indiana’s signature Traminette and Chambourcin.

The Indiana Wine and Grape Council is now counting 116 Indiana wineries. But there is no more fascinating story than what continues to happen at Indiana’s largest and arguably best-known winemaker, Oliver Winery near Bloomington.

Oliver mug

Oliver talking wine

The iconic Hoosier business has long been known for its Camelot Mead and Soft Red and White wines. In recent years, Oliver’s Creekbend vineyard has produced one of the state’s best Chambourcin, some vinifera, and a Catawba that makes delightful Rose.

But the employee-owned company has big – really big – goals. Bill Oliver has not been shy in recent years to admit the team ownership would like to grow the winery to 1 million cases. Attainment of that lofty figure would make Oliver the USA’s biggest winery not located on the West Coast.

“We were producing 7,000 cases when I took over (from his father, one of the founders of the Indiana wine industry,”) Bill Oliver said. “We’ll be around 460,000 cases this year.”

He acknowledged the 1 million goal and that the company is on track to reach it in a few more years. “We’re in 27 states now. We like to talk about what we sell not just what we produce. It’s a lot easier to make wine than sell it. We have some long-term goals and we would like to be considerably larger. It wasn’t too long ago we talked about being a half million cases. That’s going to happen next year. A million cases would be nice. It seems a little grandiose but it would be nice.”

Oliver is making substantial investments to see that the 100 full-time employees can get there. He dded a 30,000 square foot facility two years ago with a new one for sweet wine production now under construction. He has outdoor tanks which can hold 1.6 million gallons of juice. The production area for sweet wines will add another 1.6 million gallons of capacity.


On a rainy Oct. day, Oliver stops to check out the fall pumpkins.

Oliver is talking about retail partners like the HEB ops to grocery chain in Texas. The Indiana winemaker produces thousands of cases of Porch Swing for the Texas market powerhouse. Porch Swing is a version of soft red and white with a bit of effervescence.

He has expanded Porch Swing to several other states in the last year accounting for part of the company’s growth.

But two wines really kicked things into high gear. Cherry Moscato is in its second year with 50,000 cases produced while the popular Apple Pie wine, 60,000 cases, has taken even the Indiana icon by surprise. “I didn’t see that coming,” Oliver admitted. “These two wines account for 22 percent of our total production and they didn’t exist two years ago. That’s accelerated growth!”

The other driving force behind the growth is an emphasis on sales and introducing Oliver wines in the southeast. With a stronghold now in Texas, the Oliver brand has swept across the lower states connecting to Florida where Oliver sees major growth potential.

While spreading the Oliver name across the country, the state market isn’t forgotten. Oliver has zeroed in on a couple of wines that have done well in his 50-acre vineyard. The Catawba Rose’ represents the biggest part of his vineyard. He makes, arguably, one of the best Chambourcin wines in the state.

The other quirky wine is Crimson Cabernet, a very soft and delicious wine that doesn’t taste much like Cabernet but is easy to enjoy.

Despite what always seems like a full tasting room, and Oliver welcomes more than 400,000 visitors annually, retail sales amount for just seven percent of Oliver’s total sales.

Oliver admits a personal interest would be an improved and larger retail facility perhaps in the more distant future.

This story was first published in Madison Magazine, Anderson, In. It was then shared with the more than 20 newspapers which carried the Grape Sense column over a 10 year period.

View one of Youngberg Hill Inn’s assets


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It never fails that after I’ve been home a couple of months from  an exciting trip I find unused assets! This morning while looking through some material from my early Oct. trip to Oregon’s Willamette Valley I found this little video.

I was in Oregon for two days with Carl Giavanti, marketing consultant to a number of small Oregon wineries. I spent two nights at the wonderful Youngberg Hill Inn. And it is wonderful. Big spacious rooms with fireplaces welcome guests and breakfast is tremendous.

But perhaps the most impressive part about visiting Youngberg is the fantastic view from the front wrap-around porch. You feel like you can touch any corner of the valley.



A great wine experience has depth


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Lenne owner and winemaker Steve Lutz

McMINNVILLE, OR – Any great wine experience has variety and depth. That means you visit big producers, small producers, and look for something different. I try to do that on every trip and it has just worked out that way on this trip to Oregon’s Willamette Valley to visit some small producers.


The great Oregon Pinot Noir grape harvest is mostly complete.

I started the day at Lenne Estate, a small production winery with a a tasting room that resembles perhaps a French farm house. I ended my second-day tasting experience at Youngberg Hill where I stayed last night and will again tonight. Wayne Bailey is a leader in the Willamette Valley industry and makes Pinot Noir to age and to pair with food.


In between, wine marketing expert Carl Giavanti and I wandered through the fields and hills of the valley near McMinnville to the JL Kiff Winery situated beside a sloped vineyard and pole barn winery and tasting room. .

One of the things I like about the Willamette Valley,  and there are many, is you can go into winery after winery before you find a bad – or less than desirable Pinot. Our start at Lenne was a great way to kick off the day. Steve Lutz, owner and winemaker, took the time to talk about his sloped and really tough vineyard location. Difficult soils are tough on the vineyard manager but great for wine. The harder the vines have to dig to find water the better the fruit regardless of the varietal.

Steve has added a Chardonnay to his lineup, as many Oregon wineries are doing, and his was beautiful. Very Chablis-like or Burgundian, the Chardonnays of the valley may some day rival the reputation of the Pinot Noir.

Lenne makes classic Oregon Pinot in a lighter style with a real sense of place in the glass, a Burgundy-like sensation of terroir and soils, along with a bit of spice on the finish of some of the wines.

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Joel Kiff

The journey to JL Kiff was up onto a hillside in a more remote area. Joel Kiff and Tim Wilson are the proprietors. Wilson also has his own label, Denison Cellars.


The unique, steeply-sloped vineyard gives the duo wines which are quite different from block to block within the vineyard. Joel makes 1,000 cases under the JL Kiff label with Wilson doing a similar amount of cases under his Denison label. The wines are medium to modestly priced. It’s these little gems that make exploring wine country so fun and exciting if you’ll just seek them out.


Tim Wilson

We barrel tasted and tasted some wines not harvested until Nov. 1 last year because of the unique vineyard site. The wines were lighter in taste and a little more elegant. Joel’s wife helps run the small tasting corner in the pole barn structure. The Kiff’s two adult sons are also part of the operation.


While perhaps its a romanticized view of winemaking, the fact is in Oregon these scenarios still exist where the family business is wine and all of the family is still involved.


Bailey on the final day of harvest.

Wayne Bailey is a real Willamette Valley veteran. He also owns the beautiful Youngberg Hill Inn atop a hill with a beautiful vineyard view. His wines are made for food and with plenty of structure, acid and elegance to age well for perfect enjoyment 4-5 years after the vintage year they were produced.


Wayne poured for me and a personal friend of his a full tasting of his Pinot Noir wines and a couple of different verticals – primarily Pinot from different parts of his vineyard from ’13, ’14, and 2015. We also tasted his elegant Chardonnay.


Bailey after pouring nearly 10 wines.

Bailey’s winery and Inn sets just 25 miles from the Pacific coast. His vineyard enjoys slightly cooler temperatures, particularly near the top of the property which makes for slightly less alcohol and silky Chardonnay and Pinot.

I’ve tried just to do posts showing my daily activity while interviewing these winemakers about warmer growing seasons and price pressures on their wines. Those stories will be published here in the future.

Meanwhile, tomorrow my schedule is less structured. I’m going to see some old friends and go where the day takes me. I certainly plan to post again tomorrow evening about my day.

I’m returning home Thursday. No matter how often I come to Oregon wine country, I never tire of the quality and diversity of operations, the people, and the wine.



Pinot, Pinot, and more Pinot Noir


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A beautiful view of a stand of tall trees through the Alloro vineyard

McMINNVILLE, OR. – I normally advise people not to do more than three winery stops in a single day. So on my first full day in Oregon’s Willamette Valley I was able to stick to that rule but stretched things a bit on the last stop.

Alloro Vineyards, Vidon, and Stoller Estate filled my first day of tasting capped off by a great evening at Nick’s Cafe in McMinnville. Wayne Bailey, owner and winemaker of Youngsberg Hill Winery and Inn, hosted me, marketer Carl Giavanti, and a personal friend who owns a small winery north of Chicago. It was a great day.

I was most anxious to visit Alloro Vineyards up in the hill of Willamette Valley just outside of Portland. Two blind tastings with friends rated Alloro the best of four or five small production wines tasted earlier this year.


Alloro’s Fitzpatrick

General Manager and winemaker Tom Fitzpatrick is meticulous in overseeing winemaking operations. We chatted in the winery and tasting room. He uses carbonic maceration in the winemaking process which really shows off the fruit.


The wines are reasonably priced at $40 for the entry level estate wines. I found the Pinot to be well-balanced, bright fruit, and perfect to sip or with food. Alloro also does Chardonnay, a dry Riesling and a dessert wine.

I  talked with Fitzpatrick about Oregon’s warming growing season and about price pressures with the Valley’s booming success. His thoughts and comments will be feature in a future post.

After a quick lunch stop at the Alison Spa and Inn, we headed to Vidon Vineyards, always a favorite stop. Don was off to California trying to sell wine so we spent time with Don’s winemaker David Bellows. Bellows holds a in PhD in Molecular Biology from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. That’s some serious winemaking science.


Vidon winemaker Bellows

David, resplendent in his Slipper Noodle t-shirt (Indianapolis iconic blues bar), tasted us through a vertical of Vidon’s classic 3 Clones wines – a 2013, ’14, and ’15. We also barrel tasted the 2017 Apollo Chardonnay which was outstanding – perhaps one of the best Oregon Chardonnay’s I’ve had in previous visits. The wine is part of a series of wines highlight Don’s time with the NASA space program.

Bellows was very insightful on the challenge of the warming climate and what it could mean to Oregon wineries. His thoughts will be included in the future post mentioned above.

The ‘we’ throughout the post represents myself and Carl Giavanti. Carl helped arrange interviews with several of these winemakers whom I interviewed via email earlier this year. I wrote a series of pieces about the challenges of the small guys fending off the big-money investments happening in the Willamette Valley. Carl was my guide throughout the day providing valuable background about each winery and the Oregon industry.

Our last stop was “for comparison’ purposes” contrasting the small wineries to Stoller Estate. Stoller recently was honored with USA Today’s “Best Tasting Room in America” honor. From Stoller’s website: “Our tasting room and winery combine environmental sustainability and high-efficiency design, and harvests 100 percent of its energy through a 1180-panel solar panel installation. Notable design features include a green roof, skylights, salvaged timber, and an EV charging station for electric vehicles.”

Stoller produces 68,000 cases of wine under multiple labels compared to the typical 2000-3,000 case operations of the smaller wineries I’m visiting on this trip. Communications Director Michelle Kaufmann was our host for the tasting and share all of Stoller goals of sustainability and growth.

I’ll write something independent about Stoller. Their efforts are setting the bar for how one grows, treats employees, and build a brand with integrity and  purpose.

Today, we’re off to Lenne Estate, JL Kiff, and back to Youngberg Hill for a tasting with owner/winemaker Wayne Bailey.