Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Moment on the Lips…

As I headed off again for Wine Country, Oregon, I was feeling incredibly indecisive about where I was actually headed. Having woken up late (again), I was already feeling behind schedule, so my initial thought of touring Carlton seemed more and more like a bad idea. I passed Archery Summit Road and remembered Archery Summit was the only winery in the Dundee Hills I hadn’t visited when I toured that area a few weeks ago. Thinking I may as well complete the region, I took the next turn and headed back to Archery Summit vineyards and winery. Second-guessing myself though along the way, I pulled off the road again, questioning whether or not I should be sticking to a more formal agenda; keeping my tasting confined to specific regions. Reminding myself again of my need to go there anyway, I pulled back on the road (feeling a bit like a knucklehead) and continued along to the winery still pondering where I could go next to keep to some logical tour.

I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you before I arrived at Archery Summit, I was thinking how much I was hoping to not like their wines. Although I had heard great things about them throughout the Valley, I had never actually tasted what all the buzz was about. What I knew of Archery Summit is that they’re very expensive—even more so than already overpriced Oregon Pinot noir which gave me the impression they were trying to maintain an elitist image. I put all those preconceived notions out of my mind as I paused to “take in the view” (as my dad would say), snapped a photo for prosperity and trying in earnest to keep my assumptions to a minimum, opened myself up to experience Archery Summit.

The grounds were awe-inspiring, with elegantly appointed details and obviously no spared expense. As it turned out, and much to my chagrin, the wines were truly exceptional too. Actually, I think they just might be the Princess Diana of Oregon Pinot noir; elegant, graceful and classy yet still somehow strong, warm and approachable. A bottle of their cheapest sells for $48, (almost affordable, that bottle did go home with me) and the prices just went up from there. Luxuriously savoring tastes of $100 and even $150 bottle Pinots that were equal parts of heavenly perfumed aromatics and complex, sensual and compelling flavors. The staff was generous with their knowledge; offering guests technical information, recommendations on where to go next and where to find the best imported cheeses and picnic items (Horseradish Cheese & Wine Shop in downtown Carlton), they were right!

After tasting through the magnificently extravagant wines, Guest Relations Associate Barry Rogge offered me a tour of the famous caves, cellar and wine library. I’m not sure if I was getting some kind of special treatment because I was in the industry, because he overheard me talking about my blog or if I just looked really cute that day—any which way you slice it, I came out the winner. The caves are just as you would imagine, a dark and curved labryinth of tunnels lined end to end with French oak barrels full of lusty, aging wine. At the central core is a chamber used for private events; sufficient to fulfill anyone’s fantasy of celebrating something in an intimate, candle lit wine-lined cave.

Built in 1993 into the hillside of the 115-acre estate vineyard, the five-floor, state-of-the-art, gentle-processing, gravity flow winery is a cunning combination of Old-World aesthetics and New-World savvy. With dazzling patio views overlooking the vineyard hillside and valley below, exceptional Pinot Noirs and an unpretentious staff, Archery Summit is definitely a winery not to be missed. But sorry Cindy Anderson (of the Oregon Wine Country Guidebook), somehow I missed those bathrooms…guess I’ll have to go back, darn!

Feeling almost tipsy, either from the two sips of $100-plus wine I just couldn’t bring myself to spit out, or more likely, the private, head-spinning tour I had just experienced, I took off in the direction of “I still didn’t know where yet”. My car seemingly set on autopilot steered itself right into the gates of Sokol Blosser Winery and their down-to-earth yet up-beat yurt-like tasting room. Sokol Blosser’s wine and crowd was young and vibrant with many locals and lots of big buyers. My old friend (and fellow Ponzi graduate) Jenny Mosbacher was slinging wines that day, making it a bonus visit for me.

Probably most famous for their wine Evolution (a blend of 9 whites and a brilliant way to market the relatively unknown varietal Muller-Thurgeau) with 1% residual sugar, the wine is unique, refreshing and ridiculously simple to pair with food (the winery suggests spicy Asian cuisine or a simple peanut and banana sandwich); clearly a Best-Seller. The 07 Pinot Noir was young but opening up nicely—very fruit-forward with some coffee and earthiness just starting to show through. The 06 Jenny pulled from behind the bar was significantly more foresty, with lush chocolate and something layered underneath, like cured meat (I know it sounds crazy, but that’s what I was tasting). The winery is instantly commanding of respect as the first LEED certified winery in the country, as well as for their dedication to organic farming and sustainabililty. Sit on the large wooden deck nestled in the maple trees overlooking grapevines and solar panels, enjoy the wine and absorb the view or, in the Fall, hang out and watch the maple leaves change color before your eyes.

My day was starting to take some sort of form, as I drove on to Dayton next to familiarize myself with Stoller Winery. Overlooking wheat fields and oak trees, it’s a bit as if you drove onto the set of Little House on the Prairie… then you see the winery and know you’re definitely not in the old West. Far from it’s turkey farm roots, Stoller Winery’s a marvel of contemporary architecture; with a solid steel exterior, huge glass windows to maximize sunlight exposure and museum-quality modern art strategically placed throughout, it’s a visual feast. Their Gold LEED certification is just the icing on the cake. My husband would have loved to play on their nine-hole disc-golf course (next year honey!), but mostly guests were outdoors, soaking up the last of the summer sunshine and ripe vineyard views with a glass of wine in hand.

Stoller’s wines are a tremendous value (all under $40), so you can take home a terrific bottle without feeling like you need to apply for an extra line of credit or put it away for a special occasion. But I was especially fond of the sophisticated yet relaxed feel of the place and felt like I could bring my family for a quick escape to the country and keep everyone entertained.

With visions of late afternoon bike rides teasing my tired brain, I threw off the temptation and instead drove on to Seufert Winery across from City Hall in downtown Dayton. When I opened the doors to a busy bottling line, I was fairly certain I was in the wrong place. I went back outside to confirm my addresses and tried the door again. This time, Jim Seufert met me as I came in and assured me I was indeed in the right place to taste. We stood at a makeshift counter (a piece of glass atop a barrel) and tasted his wines while his friends and family were gobbling up cinnamon candies, bottling the 2008 Woven White. He offered to taste outside, but I honestly was enjoying and feeling a bit nostalgic about being back on a bottling line.

Seufert’s label features a “Wine Snapshot” which offers invaluable information about wine pairing and cellaring in a compact and easy-to-use format. The Pinots were primarily single-vineyard bottlings, (except one blend called Pinotlicious) with higher acids and heavier tannins—requiring quite a bit of cellaring time before really coming into their own. I thought the wines were interesting with a lot of potential to develop and would have liked to have purchased something, but as there were no prices listed anywhere, and my dad always taught me “If you have to ask how much it costs, you probably can’t afford it”, I embarrassingly left without buying anything.

I choose to round out my afternoon at a few downtown Dundee tasting rooms and reluctantly pulled into Daedalus Cellars. I say reluctantly because I have a small list of Oregon wineries I’ve interviewed with who’ve not offered me a position and Daedalus is on that list (which can make visiting a bit awkward). I parked in the practically deserted parking lot to discover at four o’clock, I was the first customer of the day. Though Aron Hess is not my favorite person (and I haven’t said that about anybody here yet, and feel bad about it but he honestly just didn’t make a great first impression on me), admittedly, his wines are good and worthy of tasting. The small, but well-decorated Tasting Room is comfortable, though not particularly memorable and with nothing exceptional or notable, I feel they still need to find that certain je ne sais quoi, that which makes them special and sets them apart.

The most interesting thing about my visit to Daedalus was my conversation with the very part-time tasting room association, Christine (whose day job and primary passion is as a yoga instructor). Completely unprompted, she relayed a story about a student who asked her how she went about planning her yoga class. She musingly replied, “I close my eyes, take a deep breath and go where ever the moment takes me.” With goosebumps at full mast on my arms and my hackles raised, it was as if she knew of my personal struggle that day. I couldn’t help but think how I ultimately let my day unfold, just going with the moment, and that it wasn’t until Christine validated it with her story that I fully felt at peace with my decision. So this week’s lesson is straight from the mouth of Christine (whose yoga class I hope to someday take): Sometimes you just have to close your eyes, take a deep breath and just go where ever the moment takes you. Until we sip again…



6512 and growing said...

You are a tireless oeno-phile! Chocolate and banana? Cured meat? I am very glad to hear you did not spit the $100+ sips of wine!

Tamara Belgard said...

Explanation for the week delay getting this blog posted — I'm still adjusting to life as a blogger and took a little vacation (w/out my notes!). I realized while I'm on this journey, vacations are just going to have to wait. One week off and I had to visit 14 wineries just to try to stay on top of things! That's too much even for this oenophile!!