A grand opportunity presented itself though and my mission ultimately trumped elitism. After countless drive-bys, I finally visited Duck Pond and found myself surprisingly and utterly charmed. Duck Pond Cellars, sits just north of Dundee and serves as a virtual gateway to the wineries of the Dundee Hills. The sizeable facility, processing 125,000 cases a year is one of Oregon’s largest wine producers, yet the atmosphere is very small-town cozy. Walk beneath their covered trellis and feel as if you’ve stepped onto a lushly landscaped southern plantation, complete with tranquil pond and large patio to enjoy it all from. The winery produced its first vintage in 1989, and today successfully owns and operates 840 acres in Oregon and Washington.
Cindy poured me some tasty, well-structured wines that were incredible values, but I was most impressed by their sister label’s 2006 Desert Wind Cabernet Sauvignon, which told a beautiful yet strong story filled with plums, blackberries, black cherries, pine, vanilla and baking spices. Duck Pond features a complimentary flight of five wines (which actually give a fair representation of the local bounty) in addition to a selection of their premium wines for a small fee. They’re one of the only wineries in Oregon I know of still offering free wine tasting, which is especially odd considering their heavy-trafficked location.
Venture just a bit further down the road and discover one of the Willamette Valley’s newer stars of the show, The Four Graces. Owned by the Black family out of California, The Four Graces hit the scene big, first purchasing a 110-acre vineyard in the Red Hills of Dundee and then providing a homey place to enjoy their wines. Set in a stylishly remodeled historic cottage, sip from any number of comfy locations—at the bar, lounge in one of the home’s sitting rooms, on the deck or by the outdoor fireplace on the back patio.
The elegant wines are crafted by Laurent Montalieu (of Solena Cellars and Evergreen Vineyards) and named in honor of the family’s four daughters. The day I visited, there was a cellar club party and the atmosphere was buzzing with anticipation of the first 2009 vintage release, a Pinot Blanc that sadly just didn’t impress me as much as previous vintages (I’m certainly no expert, but I just wasn’t sure it was quite ready for release. Ideally, I would like to reserve judgment, re-tasting this wine in six months). The Pinots were solid and earthy with deep colors and good complexity. The Dundee Hills Reserve Pinot Noir was a mouthful of decadence. I felt self-indulgent as I absorbed all the flavors and aromas of this luxurious wine which was as multifaceted as a brilliant diamond—enjoying how it sparkled with strawberries, pomegranate, raspberries, mocha, orange blossoms and nutmeg. The debauchery continued with the smooth, full-bodied and very sexy 2007 Yamhill Carlton Doe Ridge Estate Pinot Noir. Aged in 100% new French oak, this powerful wine delivered big in the final act, seducing my nose and palate with layers of cherry, blackberry, licorice, milk chocolate and an interesting faint and dusty smell of earthy dried chanterelle mushrooms lingering quietly in the background.
I spoke at length with Jason Senior, The Four Graces Direct Sales Manager, who was very knowledgeable about wine and the Oregon industry as a whole. On my way home, my head started to spin with thoughts about how wine achieved its snooty reputation. Why are wine drinkers stereotypically thought of as snobs? Where does the judgment end? The French notoriously poo poo American wine, American’s have been known to snub varietals (as in “I am NOT drinking any fucking Merlot!” —poor Merlot), New Zealand thinks their wines are superior to Australia’s, and on and on and on. I think some people actually aspire to achieve wine snob status, setting themselves apart from the rest of us who merely drink wine for enjoyment. Hell, there’s even an application for the iPhone called wineSnob v2.0, which breaks down food pairings, terminology and saves tasting notes and label photos which will make anyone look like someone in the tasting room. I realize Snobbery and Ego are all snuggled up together cozy in a blanket but wonder, if Snobbery ran away, would Ego stick around? Elitism may be on ongoing symptom of a supercilious society but I’ve made a choice instead to take a turn at the signpost up ahead and cross over into the Wine-snob Free Zone. Until we sip again…