With my parents in town for their coveted semi-annual visit, it seemed the perfect opportunity to drag my whole family along on my escapade tasting wine at every Oregon tasting room in a year… mom, dad, husband and son. Why not? After a brief stop in Sherwood at Rose’s Deli (because no family outing of mine would be complete if it didn’t include food—we are Jewish after all), and with the use of my dad’s handheld GPS, we leisurely made our way along the relatively unsigned roads through the nearby hills of Parrett Mountain; it was as if we were out for a Sunday drive… on Saturday.
Sunshine, blue skies and volcanic views set the stage as we meandered the mountainside where we located the rustic tasting room of Barrron-Wahl Vineyards. Barron-Wahl Vineyards, owned by Gordon Barron and William Wahl, is a very small producer on Oregon’s grand scale, with a mere 350-700 cases dependent upon vintage. As we mosied up to the bar of the seasonally open tasting room, Gordon brought their resident mouser, Kitty Guy, in for my mom to pet. Although Mom doesn’t drink wine (except the occasional sip of late-harvest dessert wine I might be able to talk her into if I’m feeling exceptionally patient), she is a good sport and she does like to pet every animal she can get her hands on. Though I too love all the furry friends, I thank you Dad for passing on your preference for wine.
Barron-Wahl planted their Pinot noir vineyard in 2001 and Joe Dobbs of Dobbes Family Estate and Wine By Joe has been making their wines since the first vintage in 2006. Marketing Manager Mickie Riverman poured us through the past two vintages and then sent Gordon off to find a rare bottle of 2006 for us to sample. While the wines where all quite good, I actually really took note of their 2008 Pinot Noir which showed unbelievable depth for a wine of its youth… sweet black cherry pie and vanilla balanced out with lovely savory notes of truffle and mushrooms. The tannins were firm yet already approachable and the vibrant acids, which would play well with food now, also indicated it would hold up with a little time too. Shayden (age 3) passed on the basket of toys in favor of a wine glass full of vintage 2010 H2O, sniffing and swirling like the rest of us, certain his wine smelled like strawberries—that’s my boy!
Mickie told me a bit about Gordon’s diverse background as being a professional car racer (hence the Porsche photos on the wall) and how he even invented some sort of blood separator, but when I asked about the Marilyn Monroe photo over the bar and the old Ms. Pac Man and Donkey Kong games in the corner, she took me aside to quietly explain how the tasting room used to be Gordon’s “Man Cave.” Ah ha… now I get it, but with Pinot like that, I’ll stress the words “used to be” because no man’s keeping me out!!
We returned to our vehicle where I marveled in the splendor of having both a driver and a navigator (if only for just a day) and programmed ourselves for J.K. Carriere Wines, also located on Parrett Mountain in the Chehalem Mountain AVA (American Viticultural Area). As I expressed exuberance at not getting lost for a change, my brilliant mother saw it as a cue to tell my dad he really needed a new GPS and should give me his old hand-me-down (as if—but you gotta love my mom for trying!).
J.K. Carriere’s located in a brand new facility, after producing and selling their first 10 vintages out of a hundred-year-old hazelnut drying barn in Yamhill County. In 2007, Jim Prosser purchased 40 acres on Parrett Mountain’s ridge, where the family has since planted two-acres and, as you read this is, gearing up to clear and plant more to vine. They’ve recently opened their modern and state-of-the-art winery production facility, barrel cave storage, sprawling grounds and sleek yet comfortable tasting room to enjoy it all.
The name on the label is a melding of family names: J.K. Prosser and Paul Carriere and the wasp graphic serves as a very personal reminder to the owner about both his deadly allergy (not a good for a winemaker… have you ever seen a winery during harvest?) and also about keeping your friends close and your enemies closer.
J.K. Carriere makes a white Pinot noir produced using the same techniques as turn-of-the-century French Rosé Champagne and though it didn’t have any bubbles, it had a lot of zest and perhaps even a slight spritz which lifted the watermelon flavors to new heights. At $20 a bottle, their 2009 Glass White Pinot Noir is an absolute steal and one of those wines I wish I could have brought home by the caseload for an entire summer’s worth of sensational sipping. Their flagship wine, the 2007 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, is a blend of some of Oregon’s best vineyard sites and showed a lot of personality. I’ve heard the average nose can only detect and distinguish four aromas at one time. I must have a really big nose, because I smelled at least five smells—cherry, strawberry, violets, cedar and allspice, just to name a few. In my glass, the wine showed equal presence with cherries, raspberries, currants, gamey meat and licorice… very complex and clearly a cornerstone wine, but the meatiness turned me off, as I tend to seek out more fruit, floral, earth and spice components (it’s just a personal thing).
Since J.K. Carriere’s all about the “family element”, Jim’s niece Jen Reynolds happened to be the wine slinger on the day of my visit. When I asked her to tell me something funny that’s happened there or something I can’t find out on the internet, a grin immediately spread across her face as she recalled the time when her uncle Jim (owner and winemaker) scared away all the nieces. He had just returned to Oregon after being in the Peace Corp in the Far East and was completely unrecognizable to even his family with a full beard and Fu Man Chu mustache. Thankfully Jim’s shaved since then and isn’t scaring anyone away anymore because you really wouldn’t want to miss his wines.
After tasting at just these two wineries, my parents were completely spent so we retired to the comfort of our leather couch to lounge and recover a bit before dinner. Dinner that night was enjoyed in the private wine cellar at Portland’s Veritable Quandary where I was put to the challenge of figuring out how the cellar was ordered. Being teased with the promise of a prize, I took the task seriously and wagered my winning guess. Unfortunately, there really was no prize except the weird but immense sense of satisfaction I got from actually figuring it all out.
I noticed Veritable Quandary’s featured wine that night was from Apolloni Vineyards and I couldn’t help but recall my blogpost about Apolloni Vineyards where I refer to their winemaker Anne Hubatch’s Rosé as my veritable quandary of the day. A bit too eerily prophetic perhaps—it gave me chills! After a day’s tasting, two bottles of Oregon Pinot noir with dinner and a lovely late-harvest ice wine with dessert, my dad proclaimed he’d never drank so much wine in a day before. Oh Dad, welcome to my wonderful and very tasty world! Until we sip again…