Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Your Dundee Hills Daycation

With what already felt like a full day of wine tasting behind me and a full day yet in front of me, I pulled out of Bella Vida, crossed the road into Erath Winery’s drive and made my way past acres of nearly ripe grapes surprisingly not used for Erath, but Argyle wines instead.

When I pulled into the packed parking let, feeling blessed to have found a space, I wondered what all the buzz was about. I passed by families enjoying lunches on the busy patio overlooking the vineyards and entered Erath’s tasting room; which was even busier than the parking lot. Slightly intimidated by the large crowd at the small bar, I took a moment to digest the scene before elbowing my way in. Having never visited Erath before, but knowing they were bought out by the giant Chateaux St. Michelle, I admit I had certain and fairly high expectations. The winery, as it turned out, was obviously and thankfully every bit as charmingly rustic as it ever was. The cedar-lined room with dark wood floors felt much like a mountain cabin, blending seamlessly with the landscape. Instead of stuffed game heads mounted on the walls though, I observed wine bottles (probably killed by the power of a good night) and slightly less exciting but ever so useful…marketing information, woohoo!

As I stood there. completely engrossed with my surroundings, trays of delicious food kept passing me by, teasing and tempting me before disappearing into a room marked “Private Party”. By this time, I had realized the private party was Erath’s Wine Society’s pick-up party, which must equate to feeling like family, because they acted as if they owned the place (as cellar club members often do). I’ll tell you what though, I was wishing for the key to that golden door and I wanted to be a part of that cellar club as I was drooling over the trays of appetizing food vanishing before my eyes—you would have too.

Felice was behind the bar pouring me wines and a little bit of history, when she wasn’t tending to the demanding cellar club members. Of the whites, I especially enjoyed the 2008 Rose Pinot Gris from Knights Gambit Vineyard. Strawberry rhubarb and vanilla hit my nose and if I closed my eyes I could have been smelling a hot pie cooling on an open windowsill. The complex mouth was zesty with hints of watermelon, citrus, berry and spice … oh so nice—but remember, it’s only available at the winery! Another palate pleaser (though not very budget-friendly) was the 2006 Leland Vineyards Pinot Noir. Like dark chocolate covered cherries in a glass, the wine was fruity, rich, sensual and exciting. A little put off by the big crowd though, I choose to drink and run—but with good wines, great views and a lovely place to take it all in, I will undoubtedly return (next year).

Back in my car and headed for Lange and Torii Mor, I passed Crumbled Rock Winery (which had been closed on my way up the hill) and quickly pulled in to park. With no wine tasting fees, but only one wine—one vintage to enjoy, it’s most certainly worth a stop on your wine country daycation. A local couple was enjoying some quiet time on the romantic deck with a bottle of their Pinot Noir after attending the Erath wine club pick-up party and I couldn’t help but feel a little bit like I was intruding on their moment. The guests were really taken aback when I inadvertently uttered out loud, “this wine is just too good not to drink” and an explanation of my journey ensued.

The family-owned, eight-acre Pinot Noir vineyard had been selling grapes since the late eighties, but finally decided to go commercial in 2007, built a winery and hopes the rest will be history. I wish them much success on their winemaking adventure. On my way out of the winery, I noticed a cute little brightly painted stand offering free flowers and poems to passersby … as if their wine wasn’t beautiful enough.

On to Torii Mor, which I had somehow passed by a dozen times without ever stopping before. Driving onto the property was something like driving into a Japanese garden in the shade. I walked up to the pagoda-feeling Haiku House and though definitely original (as far as tasting rooms go), and certainly peaceful and serene, I have to admit that once inside, I felt a bit like I was in an acupuncturist’s waiting room. The clever three-sided bar delivered good wine to happy guests though. And a lover of a good Pinot Blanc, Torii Mor’s was quite a pleasure with fragrances of white flowers and pineapple and a wide mouthful of baked apples, lemon curd and spice. The finish layed on my tongue like a spoonful of crème brulee, but with a little more kick.  I enjoyed my Pinots outside in the zen-like garden and on the way back in laughed at the sign on the door from Sasquatch Books denoting it as one of “The Best Places to Kiss in the Northwest”— I could see that.

My last stop on a long and wine-filled day in the Dundee Hills, was the prestigious Lange Estate Winery and Vineyards. The grounds were thoroughly maintained, though the grasses were growing so high, they obscured the what-would-have-been magnificent views from the patio. The welcoming tasting room boasted two large wood bars to disperse the masses and the simple yet attractive space was large enough for a crowd but still provided a homey and cozy feel in an old-world meets modern kind of way (ie: cool concrete floors trimmed in warm, weathered wood accents). Jesse and his father Don Lange make the wines, and apparently avid fly fishermen; many of the labels are decorated with intricately detailed flies.

The 2007 Chardonnay from Freedom Hill Vineyard immediately demanded my attention with vibrant tastes, rich textures and balanced acid—a single-vineyard wine that brilliantly reflected both the vintage and the terrior.

Pulling out of my seventh winery of the day, with my internal compass needle finally pointing in the direction of home, my lesson was staring me down like a dirty, western gunfighter. If you’re not on a mission like me, and are really just out to enjoy the wineries, limit your number of tasting room visits to just three. More than that and it just all starts to blend together and a cuvee of a day is not the goal. Take your time, savor the wine and drink in your surroundings…what you’ll produce is a lasting memory. Until we sip again…



6512 and growing said...

Tamara, your writing is gorgeous and as clear and uncluttered as a September sky in Colorado. This was an excellent post.

Tamara Belgard said...

Thx Rach, that means a lot coming from you! Wish the publishing was as clear and uncluttered as the writing — having some issues with that, as you could tell. I'm thinking about migrating over to a wordpress blogpage and have one started, but…

Anonymous said...

Hi Tamara --

I was trying to determine why your picture looked so familiar, and then soon remembered before reading your notes on your experience at Erath - it was my pleasure to pour and discuss the wines of Erath. What a great, and fun, goal -- visiting and tasting all the wines of Oregon!

I'm always looking for someone with a similar schedule who likes to go wine tasting, so if you ever want a wine tasting buddy, please don't hesitate to contact me at