Grape Sense Column Expands Reach

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In recent years, I have to admit I haven’t worked as hard at expanding the reach of the column as I did in the early years. There is no real excuse other than I’ve been doing this eight years. At one point, I had hit 23 newspapers in three states and circulation in more than  300,000 homes.

It’s hard keeping  track of who is and  isn’t running it – I just send it out. I know a few papers have dropped by the side but most of those 23 still run the column. A few of those papers regularly post Grape Sense to their websites.

I got a real boost this week when  I learned CNHI, a newspaper ownership group with a dozen or more Indiana  papers, is posting the column to their papers’ websites. Some of those papers download the column for print but some just let it run on  their web presence. I was urging papers to run the column as an “online extra” years ago.

But this week’s news was Kokomo, Terre Haute, Goshen, Jeffersonville, Logansport, Greensburg, Batesville, Hendricks County, Zionsville, Anderson, and Lebanon all have the wine column posted. (Those papers in  bold face were already running the column.)

Additionally, Grape Sense will be one of the features in a new Elkhart area entertainment weekly. The Hart will hit newsstands in the coming weeks.

The column, in many ways, has far exceeded some of my hopes from when I started in 2007. The reach across the Hoosier state has given me a platform I never dreamed possible.

Thanks to all of my editors and newspapers for sharing Grape Sense.

 

 

 

 

 

Mixing Wine, Politics Messy

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Mixing the world of politics and wine might be a bit like oil and water for some readers. But there comes a point, and it could come soon, that politically-based decisions could have a huge impact on wine and particularly the cost of wine.

President-elect Donald Trump’s repeated talk of deportation of some or all of the nation’s 11 million undocumented workers has thrown a scare into wine country.

grape-sense-logoAll across the nation many vineyard owners use mostly migrant or Hispanic workers to harvest the annual grape crop. While visiting upper state Michigan in 2010 winery owners talked about the lack of a strong labor market for harvest and the scare of immigration changes that could cost the industry dearly.

The numbers are big. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates 67 percent of people picking fruit each year are immigrants.  The Ag department reports that harvesting costs represent 72 percent of labor cost in making Napa Valley wines. The only crop with a higher percentage of labor cost in California is asparagus.

If the harvest workforce was substantially reduced the impact would range from more expensive end products to the reduction of product in the marketplace. Hiring legal workers would, frankly, be more expensive.

The other alternative is to make the switch to machine picking. The two negatives with machine picking is the cost of the equipment and a hit to wine quality. The top bottlings from any region are almost always hand-picked and sorted.

A big labor problem could soon get worse. Of course, this isn’t a wine problem only. The cost of fruits and vegetables could all increase with a big increase in labor cost. Some crops could just disappear from the market shelf.

On another front, the end of the year brings Top 10 lists, surveys, and sales numbers. Wine trends are evaluated every month of the year but it’s worth sharing for those who aren’t inundated in wine news.

It is no surprise that red wine blends continue to be one of the hottest categories in wine retail. Blends are turning up everywhere. The market for blends is moving toward bigger and bolder. Wine buyers want rich red wine with grapes like Malbec, Petite Sirah, and Petit Verdot.

Another interesting year-end chart really jumped off the page. Wine sales can be broken down many different ways. Recently I saw a list of the nation’s best-selling wines based on actual sales.

The top ten sellers for the year were: Brancott Estate Sauvignon Blanc, Veuve Clicquote Yellow Label Champagne, Trivento Malbec Reserve, Hara de Pirque Hussonet Gran Reserva Cabernet, Meomi Pinot Noir, Rombauer Chardonnay, Miraval Rose, Clos du Val Cabernet, Caymus Napa Valley Cabernet, and Borgo Scopeto Chianti Classico.

There is a real price range in those top ten sellers. The Brancott sells for under $10 while the Caymus Cabernet domes in at $69.99. Five of the top ten wines retail under $20.

 

An Indy northside-inspired dinner

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So this blog is all about wine – well, at least most of the time. But the longer its been around the more often I get asked about some of the things I enjoy with wine – where I buy my wine, etc.

Let’s take tonight’s dinner for example. I made a big frying pan full of pasta/meat sauce that will provide a couple of meals beyond this evening. The wonderful sweet Italian sausage comes from Fresh Market at 54th and College. They also have a hot version for those a bit more spice inclined than me. it’s a wonderful upscale market. you can buy the mild or sweet sausage in bulk or large links. I like to slice up the links and combine with ground turkey.

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Tonight’s northside ingredients

It goes over really tasty and firm pappardelle from Nicole Taylor’s pasta shop. This stuff is great. The little shop tucked in an older strip mall is just down 54th from Fresh Market. After crossing the Monon Trail and seeing Mama Carolla’s landmark restaurant on your right, turn into the plaza on your left.

Tonight my glass of wine is – brace yourself – Merlot from Blackbox I picked up at Fresh Market. I tried this a few months back and its even better this time. I have it in my Boxxle, which I wrote a column about. It’s great to have a small glass of wine without opening a bottle.

But do buy a lot of wine in the area. One of my favorite stops for great weeknight wine is Cork & Cracker on 62nd close to Keystone Ave and a short drive out of Broad Ripple. Ask if Ron is in and tell him Howard sent you.

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Julie Bolejack

Even a Tuesday night dinner at home deserves a small dessert. I dug out a piece of chocolatier Julie BoleJack’s incredible dark chocolate Purple Sue from Chocolate for the Spirit. Let’s just  call it  a small bite of incredible dark chocolate, with raspberry-rose ganache, and a hint of violet liqueur. These are not inexpensive but you won’t regret it. You might even be like me and wipe Julie’s supply out on future visits. She has a small shop on Carmel Drive, Carmel, that she is closing at end of this month. But she will still be making chocolates.

Dinner from the northside – it works for me.

Gifting Wine for the Holidays

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Christmas gifts, holiday parties, and New Years are always occasions for a great gift of a good bottle of wine.

Gifting wine during the holidays is as much of a tradition as lighting the Menorah, decorating the tree, or singing the seasonal songs.

grape-sense-logoBut giving a friend, boss, or client a bottle of wine doesn’t come without some trepidation. Since beginning the column, now more than eight years ago, I’ve often tried to take a journalistic approach to Grape Sense. I’ve written recommendation columns and will do so again.

But to talk holiday giving I asked friend and wine retailer Ron Miller, owner of Cork and Cracker near Broad Ripple in Indianapolis. Ron’s shop is one you should wish was near you. He has hundreds of choices under $20 and two walls of wine at higher price points.

He’s used to getting the holiday gift question. “Oh yes, we get it a lot this time of year,” Miller said. “We get questions for a lot of corporate gifts where someone is giving to clients so they don’t know what they’re going to want so we stick to Cabernet or Pinot Noir or if its white more standard items like Chardonnay.”

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Ron Miller

Whether It’s a gift for a friend, a client or your boss price point matters if you’re trying to impress. “What we get a lot is they want to get a name brand the recipient is going to recognize,” Miller said. “But we don’t buy based on names but we do have some well–known labels. If they’re in the price point, we’ll give them a name the recipient will recognize.

“But we don’t carry Silver Oak and Caymus, those are some labels a lot of people will ask for because ‘they’ll know how much I’ve spent.’”

If it’s a bottle for a friend or to take to that party, it gets a little simpler. “First we ask what kind of price point do they want to be in and do they know what their friend likes,” Miller said. “We always get the price point. if they know what their friend likes we try to match up something that we think they will like. If they’re not sure we kind of stick with the standard Cabs, Chardonnay, and Pinots.”

It’s safe to say the advice probably wouldn’t be much different at any other reputable wine store. But it’s better, I think, hearing from someone who sells wine for a living.

I’d end by echoing Ron’s advice. If you have any doubt go the safe route with a Cabernet, Chardonnay or Pinot Noir. I’ll do what Ron won’t though and suggest you get up to at least the $20 price point for good quality wine.

 

 

Drink what you like for Thanksgiving

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During many years as a newspaper editor, young reporters constantly had to be reminded that not all readers had read every story they’d ever written. It’s not a stretch to feel the same way about the obligatory holiday dinner wine column about pairing wine and turkey.

Actually, you are not pairing wine and turkey. Rule number-two is match your wine to all the dishes best you can and not just the protein.

grape-sense-logoWhat, no rule number one? Guilty again of assuming readers have read all previous columns about wine and food pairing. Drink what you like. If you want big California cabernet with your holiday turkey or ham, then have Cabernet and enjoy. Drink what you like!

But readers do come here for suggestions. Start your holiday with some bubbly. Get to your closest wine shop and look for some Italian Prosecco and Spanish Cava. Both are pretty inexpensive and add to festive holiday atmosphere. You want something a bit fancier and from the USA, try a bottle of Mumm Cuvee Napa Brut for under $20.

On to the turkey, stuffing, potatoes, green bean casserole, and pumpkin pie and wine for dinner. Safe white choices start with the traditional big, oaky, California chardonnay. If you like the idea of a Chard but not the heavy traditional choice look for an unoaked Chardonnay and everyone will be happy.

turkey-and-wineAn Oregon Pinot Gris would also be a good white wine choice. The Gris will give you nice citrus fruit and acidity. Another good pick would be a rich Rhone white blend of Rousanne and Marsanne white grapes – rich, good mouthfeel and will definitely hold up to food.

Many people prefer a light-weight red wine. Around Thanksgiving time many recommend Beaujolais. Do not but the tacky Nouveau wines you’ll hear about. Go to your wine shop and fine a Beaujolais Cru wine from Morgon or Fleurie. Good Beaujolais will remind you of Pinot Noir with a bit more earthiness. They can be fascinating wines and often cost less than $20.

Pinot Noir is always a great holiday meal choice. If you like your red holiday wine on the lighter side, go with an Oregon Pinot. If you want more body and full mouth feel in your holiday beverage pick of a Pinot from California.

Now let’s get a little crazy. You like big reds and you cannot lie? Try a California Zinfandel but look at the alcohol content carefully. Look for a Zin at 14.5 or less and you should have a lighter version that will give you big fruit with less kick. Too much kick and those family arguments might turn into pie fights.

A Washington state red blend would be another full-flavor choice. Look for a blend from Walla Walla or a red with grapes from Horse Heaven Hills and you’ll have a great red blend with your dinner.

These are solid choices for your holiday meal. Pick your wines early and grab a couple of extra bottles for those unexpected guests during the holidays.

 

Lessons From an Oregon Wine Weekend

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There is nothing like three days in wine country, anywhere, to renew the juices and excitement for wine, learning about wine, and the winemakers.

Three good friends and I visited Oregon’s Willamette Valley Oct. 27-29 for three wonderful days of wine, wineries, and friendship. We had some pretty darn good food too.

grape-sense-logoIn the last Grape Sense, I asked for you to follow along and ask questions and a few did.

A reader from Crawfordsville asked about reservations versus walk-in tastings. The answer really isn’t all that clear cut. The majority of the wineries take walk-up visitors. Many of the smaller, or boutique wineries, require an advance reservation to taste their wines. Some of the very best wineries are a little under the radar.

That leads to the next point. Our group made a point at just about every tasting room to ask the folks working there who they would recommend we visit during our brief stay. Obviously, you can’t get to every recommendation. But leave room in your schedule to visit wineries recommended by people who work in the business.ing

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Our group visiting with Donna Morris, Winderlea Winery.

Let’s move on to schedule. These tips apply whether you’re going for a one-day road trip of tasting or a multi-day trip to wine country. We squeezed in 11 wineries in three days. Frankly, that’s too many for most people. Even with small tasting pours and/or if you spit, you’re absorbing a lot of alcohol. I believe after three wineries you also develop what I’d call ‘palate fatigue.’ I probably am a more practiced ‘taster’ than most and know after three stops my palate is getting pretty numb.

Drink lots of water. Bread, crackers and even salty snacks are a good idea to help soak up all that alcohol.

If you’ve never done a vineyard walk with a vineyard manager, winemaker, or knowledgeable winery spokesperson it is the best way to learn about wine. You’ll learn twice or three times as much among the vines than inside any winery.

Visit the wineries websites before going. You’ll learn whether you need a reservation or not. You’ll know what tasting fees will be charged. In Oregon, for example, most tasting room fees are $15-$20 with many established producers offering a number of different choices at different price points. Most Oregon wineries still wave the fee with a specified purchase.

Tasting and then buying wine is fun and exciting. But think about a budget before you ever step out of your house. It may sound silly but when you are tasting the best wine of the day at that third or fourth stop, it’s easy to spend more than you had planned.

If the winemaker or owner is around don’t hesitate to speak to them or ask them if they have a few moments to talk about their wines. Most are very accommodating and love talking to their customers.

Because of my wine writing connections, we were able to talk to several and I’ll be writing some pieces based upon that in coming weeks.

Oregon Day: Don, Drouhin, & Mo

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The beautifully manicured vineyards of Domaine Drouhin

SOMEWHERE IN THE WILLAMETTE VALLEY’S ROLLING HILLS, Or. – Ok, there is no such dateline but it’s an accurate description of our past three days in Oregon wine country.

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Don Hagge

It seems like our daily wine adventures got better by the day. We began our Sunday with a visit to Don Hagge of Vidon Winery. Don should be considered the eighth wonder of the world. The man worked for NASA, earned winemaking in Burgundy, and has a lifetime of accomplishment and interesting connections that should have some author writing a book.

Vidon, named for Don and his wife Vicki, is a small boutique winery – the type where the wine is great, production small and sometimes fly a bit under the radar. Spending a little time with Don is great story after great story. And, his wines probably represent the best QPR in the valley – quality to price ratio. Don works with French clones and makes wonderfully balanced and satisfying wines.

A testament to Don’s work would be that we bought more wine for shipment home than we did from any other winery.

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Some of our stash – some!

So let’s do a lesson here. It is easiest to let the winemaker ship you the wine if you’re buying six bottles or more. Shipping can run from $60-$100 a case. There are almost always some available deals. Often times if you’re buy six to 12 bottles you’re getting the shipping covered by that discount. I belong to a wine club and get six bottles twice a year. If I buy another six for the same shipment I only pay shipping on six bottles for 12. Most all wineries offer that deal.

Our second Sunday visit was next door at J. Christopher Winery. Dr. Loosen, of Reisling fame, invested in Christopher a few years back and the investment shows in the barrel tasting room. We found a couple Pinots we liked but this is the only stop where we paid the tasting fee and moved on.

Two of us organized most of the details for this trip. Our two buddies making their first trip were assigned to pick a winery they wanted to visit. Alex chose Trisaetum on Saturday and Patrick B. wanted to visit the iconic Domaine Drouhin winery.

Drouhin’s vineyards are stunning and the winery beautiful. We tasted a couple of Roserock wines, their new 200-acre vineyard south of McMinnville. The Chardonnay and Pinot were both good solid $30 wines. The Drouhin wines are always good. The Arthur chardonnay even better than I remember. The signature Laurene ($70) is a stunning wine Our tasting room associate pulled out a 2008 Willamette Valley entry level wine that was one of the best we tasted during our whole trip.

We wrapped up at a winery you’ve probably never heard of – Ayoub Winery, in the Dundee Hills. Mohamad “Mo” Ayoub is a native of Lebanon. He only makes 2,000 cases of wine annually and sometimes slightly less. He recently stepped down from a long career in tech and is focusing for now on his winery. His wines are superior. And, that’s not just me saying that. We tasted about 7-8 different Pinot wines half of which had scores of 93-95 from Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast.

Why did Mo go into wine? Why does he make a fabulous Cab Franc/Pinot Blend? Why? Why? Mo’s standard’s answer: “Because I do things.”

Not a man of many words, but a man of an extremely dry wit and talent for wine making. Oh, his tasting room is his kitchen table in his home. Quite an experience.

Dinner was in our hilltop rental with an evening of relaxation.

Today, Monday, one of our party heads back early. The other three of us are headed for a Columbia River Gorge and Mount Hood drive. We all have redeye flights home tonight.

I think I’ll be spending next few days trying to figure out how much money I spent on wine! Yikes!

 

Oregon Day 3: Meeting a Pinot Pioneer

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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.

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Amy and Lynette – the Jam ladies.

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.

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Winderlea co-owner Donna with Dude Patrick T.

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.

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David Adelsheim shared a few moments with us.

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.

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Schmitt talking vineyard with our group.

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.

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Rabbitt, Pork, with rockfish in middle.

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.

Oregon Day 2: Oh That Pinot Noir!

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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.

Oregon Day 1: Getting There

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Grapes are gone this late but we’re hoping to see great fall color.

PORTLAND, OR. – And so the adventure begins. Four wino buddies spending an extended weekend in Oregon’s Willamette Valley tasting, tasting, dining, and then probably tasting some more.

I’m going to journal about these days in Oregon. The idea is to share ideas of cost, planning, and the actual experiences that might provide some wine country touring perspective and maybe advice. So, let’s go:

All four of us live in Central Indiana. All of us flew out of Indianapolis but separately. In this day and age, with frequent flyer miles and bonus points, it’s a great way to travel. The guys who bought tickets paid slightly less than $400 for the round trip. I used flyer miles and paid $11. For the record, I used 32,000 points for my flight.

Interestingly enough, all four of us flew different carriers through different cities to get here. My flight was something of the traditional short hop to Chicago’s O’Hare then straight to Portland. One of our group actually had a connection from Houston. Yes, THAT Houston – as in Texas. I did that once through Dallas – never again.

If you’re flying to the Northwest, several airlines offer good connections going through Chicago, Denver, and Minneapolis.

We’re all staying near the airport since arrivals are late. I booked a Hilton Garden Inn for two of us with Hhonors points. I recall the normal room rate being $229. Obviously, near an airport all hotels are a little pricier but the convenience can be worth it.

The other two guys are just down the road from here. Tomorrow morning I’ll jet back over to the airport and pick up our Alamo Rental car. We have a midsize for Friday through Monday for $180. A tank of gas at the end of the trip and not a bad rental cost.

Friday morning we head to the valley. We’ll stop off and pick up a UPS wine shipping box or two to hold our purchases. Then Monday when we leave the valley we’ll each ship our wine home. I’ll elect UPS Air … so my wine will probably arrive Wednesday or Thursday after I get back Tuesday morning. I forget the exact cost from last trip but a full case by air is going to run $70 or a bit more.

I’ll write about the winery stops each day. We have done some pre-arrangment, maybe 40 to 50 percent of our stops. Friday we start off at Lange Estate Winery. I reached out to Jesse Lange who I’ve met several times and he’s going to join us for the tasting. After that, we head to Bergstrom wines – where we hope to have a little time with Josh Bergstrom. And we’ll cap off our first day winery visits by going to one of the real pioneering wineries, Adelsheim. Dinner for our first night will be at the iconic Nick’s Italian Cafe in McMinnville.

I’ll update Friday night our winery visits, dinner, and a bit about our farmhouse rental near Carlton.

Our Saturday and Sunday plants are a little bit less structured. Friend Patrick and I have been out here numerous time while our other two travelers are making their first visit. We want them to help shape the experience.

So today’s travelogue will be followed by Friday’s real wine geekiness.