Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Chasing Pinot

Labor Day weekend proved to be a wonderful opportunity to visit many wineries that don’t keep regular tasting room hours in the Willamette Valley. I took advantage of the holiday weekend (and the generous offer from Hunter to take Shayden for the day) and began my tour at Ponzi Vineyards. Even though I worked there for nearly two and a half years as their Marketing Communications Manager (and still have dreams about perfectly spacing out and hanging all those historic family photos, press mentions and White House menus featuring Ponzi at various president’s tables on the tasting room walls), I still felt I needed to visit again; firstly, for a fresh, objective impression, but also to keep everything official here.

I stood at the familiar travertine bar admiring the remarkably fresh sunflowers in the large bouquet at the opposite end. Krista graciously poured wines for the guests as we all chatted about where we might be going next, Portland restaurants and then oddly enough, the downtown foodcarts. The wines showed beautifully as always; winemaker Luisa Ponzi’s wines (whites and reds) are consistently stunning and well-balanced. Ponzi makes a delightful and slightly floral Pinot Blanc and one of the few Oregon Chardonnays I truly enjoy… the 2006 Chardonnay Reserve, by the way, didn’t disappoint. Aged on its lees in French oak for 18 months, the wine developed complex notes of toasted almonds, burnt sugar and hints of ginger. Flavors of green apple, citrus, honey and cream filled my mouth and I couldn’t help but take a swallow or two, enjoying the long finish for some time as I walked around looking at the local honeys and jams and wine-related products for sale.

David, the Tasting Room Manager then poured me through the three Pinots, but not till I made him fetch me some crackers to clean my palate (Did I mention that long Chardonnay finish? Oh my, it just kept on going like the energizer bunny!) The Pinots personalities were each so different from the other; the Tavola was more fruit-forward while the Willamette Valley and Reserve were more earthy and smoky—but all mouth-wateringly irresistible. Being one of Portland’s closest (and oldest) wineries, Ponzi’s just a quick jaunt from downtown, but it feels like you’re far from it. Buy a bottle of your favorite wine, bring along a lunch and enjoy the Bocce ball courts with picnic-side tables or just relax and watch the grapes ripen on the well-tended vineyards—all the makings for a perfect family afternoon. I grabbed a map of the Chehalem Mountain wineries offering special hours for the weekend and set off for my next destination, but not before making plans with Krista to go tasting soon.

With my old-school GPS (a map and my brain) programmed for the scenic route to Vidon Vineyard in Newberg, I drove up the Chehalem Mountain Range past vineyards, hazelnut orchards, Christmas tree farms, horses, alpacas and sheep wondering if I was actually going the right way. As I approached the summit of Bald Peak winding my way up on Highway 219, it was if entering a rain forest; dense with pine trees, ferns and other native vegetation … you could smell the rich, loamy soil wafting up and feel the heavy dampness in the air weighing down. Immediately after turning off Highway 219, I was greeted by a doe and her two little fawns hastily eating as much as they could before being scared off by me and my big, fat camera.

Drive up off the beaten path, past the enviable residence and chicken coop to the crush pad/tasting room out back where you’ll find Vidon Vineyards’ owner and winemaker Don Hagge waiting right there at the door to greet you with a warm handshake. The holiday weekend brought live music and an array of cheeses, nuts and chocolates to pair with the wines, which certainly created a very festive experience. Darla was behind the bar serving up wines while generously sharing her knowledge of the brand. She told me the story of how Vidon is named for the owners Vicki and Don and is a combination of their names. And then quite eloquently, she explained how the three single clone Pinot Noirs are named for the three grandkids, each individual clone representing specific characteristics of the child it’s named for — the 2007 Brigita is from clone 777, which shows as soft, silky delicate, just as she is; 2007 Hans, the burly of the three, is Pommard clone which gives the structure and firm tannins; and the 2007 Mirabelle, from clone 115, is elegant and pretty, giving complexity to the nose.

Experiencing the wines as single clone bottlings and then tasting the blend of the three was truly a unique and lovely progression. Darla offered me a dark chocolate and blueberry truffle made by Honest Chocolates from her secret stash behind the bar to pair with that 2007 Three Clones which brought out lively peppery notes on the wine. Wondering if I was getting special treatment, Darla then poured me a barrel sample of the 2008 Pinot Noir with explosive big black fruit taste and a touch of anise coming through, wow! With my eyes on the next vintage, I forced myself to turn my focus back to the vintage currently for sale and remembered the 2006 Reserve Pinot Noir — lush and fruity, with a full, silky mouth and lots of smoke and earth —so I grabbed a bottle for the cellar.

With the sun finally out and shining strong, I drove to Lawton Winery, which I won’t say too much about other than I’m sorry to hear that Keith won’t be producing another vintage but I look forward to tasting his fruit in other wines. Good luck Keith!

Though I didn’t end my day at Lawton, I will end this post here as it’s getting long (six wineries total!!) and I need to gather my thoughts. I will resume the Chehalem Mountain adventure next time with Arborbrook, Adelshiem and Utopia and of course, my lesson for the day. Until we sip again…



Darla said...

Tamara, it was so lovely meeting you! I'm glad you enjoyed your visit with us. One correction, however....the chocolates was made by Honest Chocolates. They have shops in Newberg, McMinnville, and Carlton. Very yummy confections, indeed. I'm looking forward to following your blog! I spent yesterday in the Eola Hills doing some tastings and will be interested to see what you think of those lovely wines, as well. Happy travels! Darla

Rachel in Durango said...

Tamara, love the "old school GPS!"