Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Life's Lessons… in a Bottle of Wine

I roamed the countryside yet again, blazing my own wine trail as I taste across Oregon. On an early fall afternoon, I visited Penner-Ash Wine Cellars, driving past their vineyards, already showing the telltale signs of surrendering to the winter. It’s probably one of my favorite times in the vineyard—the fruit has all been harvested, the nights are getting cooler (especially at higher elevations) and the plants inherently know it’s time to shut down; turning all shades of yellow, orange, red and brown before they drop their leaves and become bare till the following spring. The process by which the vines do this is astounding. Different parts of the vineyard begin to change colors at different times, and almost like a psychedelic watercolor, the hues swirl together yet at the same time are so distinctively separate, it almost defies nature. I felt like this kalaidascope of color was nature’s personal gift to me that day.

Penner-Ash is in an 80-acre estate ideally perched high above the Chehalem Valley revealing striking views of the estate as well as Mt. Hood and Mt. Jefferson. In addition to the expansive outdoor panoramas, Penner-Ash brings the view indoors with sizable windows that put the wine cellar on display. The day I was there, I saw Lynn Penner-Ash out on the Crush Pad, which was being swarmed by stubborn yellow-jackets, and at least two dozen vats of grapes fermenting.

The stunning tasting room with slate mosaic floor and tasteful art for purchase was quiet and Patty was giving me one-on-one service until, as if all it once, it was suddenly full and I had to share her with the other guests. She gracefully handled the crowd, whom we had guessed to be the “after-church crowd”, with a smile. Part of the horde actually turned out to be a rambunctious group visiting from out of state, converging on Wine Country, Oregon to celebrate their 60th birthdays, happy birthday friends!

The wines were luxurious in both taste and price. Penner-Ash makes one Estate Pinot Noir and purchases the remainder of the fruit from valued vineyard sites all over Oregon to produce an interesting line-up of wines. I particularly enjoyed their 2008 Viognier which had a lovely body consisting of a clean yet slightly creamy, oily texture with a core of ripe pear, top notes of melon and citrus and the typical apricot finish. The 2007 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir had succulent red raspberries, cherries and strawberries with subtle accents of chocolate, spice and smoke. There were four single-vineyard designates, each with a different flavor profile representative of the particular vineyard’s location. The 2007 Estate Pinot Noir was still very young and fruit-forward with big, bold black cherries and plum yet also well-rounded with some rose petals, Cherry Vanilla Coke and light base of peppery tannins.

I’ve always enjoyed my experiences at Penner-Ash; with exceptional wine and a patio overlooking one of the best views in town, it’s the perfect spot for a romantic picnic, a family lunch or just an afternoon getaway.

My next stop along Ribbon Ridge Road was the brand new Trisaetum tasting room, winery and vineyard. The tasting room, come art gallery, displays owner and winemaker James Frey’s photography and vivid abstract expressionist works; many of which incorporate vines and vineyard soil into the powerful, articulate and vibrant pieces.

While perusing the passionate visual representation of James’ art, I was equally enjoying the creative statement he makes with his wines. Partnering with fellow winemaker Greg McClellan, the two crafted their first vintage in 2007 with a selection of three Rieslings and two Pinot Noirs, which Tasting room associate Courtney Ashford proceeded to pour for me. Of those, the 2007 Trisaetum Riesling was ripe with grapefruit, white flowers and peaches with nicely balanced sweetness and acidity; the 2007 Tristae Pinot Noir was a remarkable and approachable blend with dark cherry and blackberry fruit, smoke, spice, just the right amount of velvety texture in the mouth and acids to make it food-friendly, as a Pinot noir should be. The 2007 Trisaetum Pinot Noir had a deep, ruby color, predominantly cherry flavor with structure making it built to last. And like a bite of dark chocolate at the end of the day, I finished my tasting with a long sip of the 2008 Lassa Riesling. The sweet, golden colored wine was like a bouquet of tropical flowers and fruit. It was light, despite its density and with flavors of peach and apricot finishing long and clean. Trisaetum is definitely worth a visit on your own tour of Oregon wine.

Located just off Ribbon Ridge Road, but still part of the smallest American Viticultural Area (AVA) consisting of five-miles of some of the most sought-after fruit, lies Aramenta Cellars. Co-owner and co-winemaker Darlene Looney was convivially pouring wines that day in their relaxed yet rustic and farm-like tasting room.

Darlene poured a Chardonnay and three Pinot noirs from the Estate vineyard to start. I tasted the 2006 and 2007 vintage Pinot Noir Willamette Valleys, preferring the latter with Bing cherry, red raspberry, white pepper and soft floral essences. The 2007 Pinot Noir Reserve had a nice dark, black fruit sweetness on the lips, like eating blackberries straight from the bramble, and some faint pepper and spice on the finish. Darlene told me she has five sons, of which one makes beer and three make wine, with their first vintage under the label Brothers.

Enjoy the wine on the small outdoor patio, draped in hops, scenically overlooking the converted wooden barn winery, pond and vineyards. For a real experience, see what it’s like relaxing on the grounds after closing time and stay the night in Aramenta’s vineyard guest suite.

My final stop of the day brought me to Bergstrom Wines in the Dundee Hills. Family owned and operated for the past decade (and certified biodynamic) winemaker, vineyard manager and general Manager Josh Bergstrom crafts his wines in the classic Burgundian style.

The 2007 Chardonnay was truly a favorite of mine and exceptional with sweet yet tart aromas of lemon meringue pie, apples, pears, honey and toasted nuts that all came through on the palate as well. The wine had enough structure and minerality to age well into the next decade but balanced acidity that lifted and refreshed the palate, making it an ideal food-pairing wine, now. Though at $75, it’s the most expensive white wine in the Willamette Valley, and though admittedly decadently deelish, I do wonder about its position in the current market.

Deanna Toney was providing warm and friendly tasting room service while she eloquently explained the make-up of the 2007 Cumberland Reserve Pinot Noir, “It’s a blend of 15 different vineyards with all of Oregon’s six AVAs represented in one glass,” she said. The wine had a rich garnet color, lovely and complex perfume and was bursting with cherries, raspberries, coffee and chocolate indicative of this region. The estate wine, the 2007 de Lancellotti Vineyard Pinot Noir, was a bit sassier and quite different than the Cumberland with intense, pronounced flavors of wild black forest fruit (blackberries, huckleberries, marionberries) and sassy kicks of nutmeg, cinnamon and clove. The highlight was the memorable Chardonnay, but a close runner up was the 2007 Bergstrom Vineyard Pinot Noir. This youthful yet elegant wine showed signs of tremendous promise for ageability. It already possessed many of the benchmark Pinot noir characteristics like red cherry, rose petals, a touch of fallen leaves and subtle spice and with its focused flavors, lush and silky mid-palate and a long and pleasant finish, this wine was still a winner in my book.

I watched Lily, the resident black lab who seemed to think there was a revolving door to the tasting room as she had everyone so well trained to open doors for her. I followed her out to the partially covered patio where together, for but a moment, time stood still as we enjoyed the vineyard views with rolling hills and oak trees beyond, before Lily meandered back to the tasting room door, knocking to be let back in while I went on my way. I left Bergstrom with a bottle the Cumberland Reserve feeling satisfied that my single bottle purchase will be enjoyed and was a genuine example of quality Oregon Pinot noir, but secretly I was wishing I could have bought a case of the ’07 Bergstrom Vineyard. Some day.

As much as weekend tasting has become a part of my new routine, so has thinking about and deriving my lessons for each blog post on the way home. I started thinking about lessons and how each bottle itself is its own lesson with something remarkable to teach; a lesson about the weather patterns the year the fruit set, geography, soil conditions, the history of a family, the determination of the winemaker. It teaches us about hard work, joy, beauty, appreciation, passion and failure. I embrace the lessons each bottle teaches me and I hope you do too. Until we sip again…



6512 and growing said...

I had a glass of wine tonight at a downtown Durango restaurant and scoured the list for something from Oregon that I recognized from your blog. Alas, Northern Cali was most prominent, but I enjoyed my wine in a new way, thanks to your guidance.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful photographs!

Anonymous said...

I've heard that there's a place that you can make your own bottle of wine in Oregon. Does anyone know anything about this?

Tamara Belgard said...

I'm not sure exactly what you're looking for. There are custom crush facilities where winemakers can make their own wine w/out having their own winery and there are other places that will make a special label with your name on it (for an event, etc...). I have also seen some special wineblending seminars where you come away with your special blend at the end (Ponzi has done them before).