Being a California girl, while I have spent some time diving up the coast and meandering through Ashland, I have not spent a lot of time in Oregon. I have spent even less time examining the finer points of Oregon wines, specifically Oregon Pinot. Those of you who have known my taste buds know that I am a pinotphile and I usually reach for a pinot before any other red wine these days. As a local to the Northern California, I have access to some amazing wines. Recently, however, I have had the opportunity to do some in depth exploration of Oregon wines and have fallen in love. Again.
It all started with a little blogger conference in Walla Walla. Having the choice to fly in to Seattle or Portland, I chose Portland since I had several friends in the area, and I was dying to meander through Oregon wine country. Enter my friends at Solena Estate, and a mini WBC blogger tour of Willamette Valley was born. My Oregon wine friends put together a blogger tour of the area that would seek to educate, palate tease,
and giggle our way through the area.
First, let’s just kick off the day by saying that our transportation was not your typical wine country bus. I knew something was up when Lynnette said “you’ll know your vehicle when you see it”. Enter Double Decker PDX, a new tour company that (poor chaps) agreed to take thier maiden voyage with us to wine country. Sitting on top of the old London Transport double decker bus, fully outfitted in leather seats, a wine cooler, and Froot Loop Donuts from VooDoo Donuts, we were off to visit the wine country in blogger style.
Our first stop was the new Grand Cru property of Solena Estate Winery. This property is where the winery was founded, and as we took a tour around, we were treated to a bit of history from Laurent & Danielle Montalieu, the owners of this beautiful property. Solena was founded in 2000 when Laurent & Danielle purchases the “Wedding Vineyard”, 80 acres of rolling hillside vineyards. Instead of a gift registry, the couple asked people to buy them pinot noir vines – a novel gift idea, and one I might steal if I ever get married with 80 acres of land on my hands. The result was 80 pinot noir vines with 6 different clones, and the Estate Vineyard was born.
Down in the barrel room, Laurent had a surprise for us in 6 barrel samples of the 2009 Pinot Noirs, from various vineyards. Handing each of us our own personal thief (a dangerous proposition if I’ve ever seen one), we were allowed to wander free sampling six wines, with several of them having wood variations. The barrel tasting experiences isn’t new to most bloggers, however, the ability to taste all six pinot noirs side by side, with a few extra tastings of wood variations, really gave us food for thought and interesting conversation topics. My personal favorites were the Guadalupe and Hyland Vineyards, but we also tasted the Thistle, Kaltia, and Monks Gate Vineyards. In the end, I performed some blending experiments and came up with some truely unique and Oregonian examples of Pinot Noir that I would be proud to bottle myself.
Once we had sufficiently mastered the art of using a wine thief, something I personally needed no education in, we went upstairs to the beautiful event space for lunch. Here, we were treated to four courses, each paired with a Solena wine, with an extra pinot thrown in for good measure. Yes, I was lucky – I sat across from Danielle, and once the girls get talking…well you know . Wine flows and all that.
First: Early Summer Corn Soup / 2008 ElvenGalde Chard
Second: Plank-Roasted Wild Salmon / 2007 Domaine Danielle Laurent Pinot Noir (Wedding Vineyard)
This wine shows it’s true colors of cedar, earth, and mushrooms with a backbone of bright red fruit. No fruit bomb, it’s chewy spice and cloves really went well with the fennel in the salmon.
Third: Grilled Cascade Flat Iron Steak (or Lentil Loaf, which I’m sorry to say was the wrong choice) / 2008 Hyland Pinot Noir
Has all of the Burgundian charachter that I expect in an Oregon pinot noir. Perfumed and delicate, it stood up to the meat (that I stole off of Melanie’s plate)
Fourth Rosemary & Fleur de Sel Shortbread, Oregon Berries, Bellweather Farms Carmony / 2008 Late Harvest Riesling
Dessert! Need I say more?
The pairings were simply masterful and many of us savoured each pariing wine. Fortunately, Danielle made sure we were well stocked and that our glasses were never empty, so we were able to top off any wines that were low. Err, well, at one point that was all of them. My favorite pairing was the Salmon, which was simply divine, both with the Chard and the Pinot. Kudos to Chef Matt Howard for really showing us what all the options for Pinot Noir can be – it’s not just for pork and fish!
What I learned was, the Pinot Noirs of the Willamette are varied and nuanced, and when you have a warm year, they closely resemble those wines from the Russian River and Santa Lucia Highlands. There is more in the Willamette than Pinot NOir, and there are many sub appellations that are very unique within the larger AVA. Please go givist Oregon and discover for yourself! Solena welcomed us with a red carpet expereince, and loved that we were all so excited to be there. While I have tasted some of the wines before, the unique opportunity to taste so many different pinot noirs in one place really inspires me. Solena has two tasting rooms: One in the tiny town of Carlton, in the Yamhill-Carlton district, and the new Grand Cru property. Please make sure you take the time to stop by if you are in the Willamette!
Stay tuned for Bloggerpalooza Part 2: Soter Winery