Reluctant to go on record and admit this publicly, I’m actually one of the rare “non-crazy” (okay, that part might be debatable) folks who can claim a true Bigfoot sighting. But that’s an unbelievable story to be told another day, and then only after a sharing a couple of bottles of wine. If you’re one of “those” who thinks the furry giant is just a case of folklore or a legend to scare children, think again, because Bigfoot’s actually alive and well and living in Carlton Oregon…well Bigfoot Wines that is. This amazing discovery was made only through sheer luck, great timing and even better direct marketing by Valley Emporium co-owner Valerie Anctil.
Making a weekday stop in an earnest attempt to visit some of the new winery kids on the block on Main Avenue in Carlton, I sadly found out these new tasting rooms were in fact closed midweek. Standing in front of locked doors, my oversized camera and notebook in hand, wondering aloud about when they're open (as there were no operating hours posted), Anctil happened to wander by on her way to the post office. She asked me if I was looking to taste some wine, to which I replied “I was actually hoping to blog about some of the newest wineries open in town.” This conversation opened the door (literally) for an invitation to her tasting room cum vintage shop cum art gallery just down the street, where I would find myself face to face with the local legend himself.
Enter the doors of Valley Emporium and it’s a bit like walking into your grandmother’s house. Kitschy ceramics and knickknacks from days of yore fill the room, taking you back to simpler days and happier times. If your willpower is strong enough to temporarily pass all those intriguingly quirky items by, you’ll find a treasure and icon even greater in the attached tasting room.
You can’t miss him. Bigfoot towers above the tasting room in a makeshift alter, basking in Northwest vineyard sunlight (that might just be more elusive than the sasquatch himself), as he poses with a behemoth-sized glass of red wine in hand certain to change the minds of all non-believers.
Appealing to a sense of whimsy, and perfectly appropriate to the vintage shop of collectibles, owners Jeff Lorton and Valerie Anctil have created the brand Bigfoot Wines—negociant wines that taste seriously great but are definitely not for taking seriously.
Lorton refers to these small production red and white blends as “bargoon” wines, and priced at just $12 a bottle, he speaks the truth. They're fun, everyday drinking wines that take the critter label to a whole nother level. The white wine, a blend of 80% Viognier and 20% Pinot Blanc, with some detectible oak providing backbone and a luscious mouth-feel, shows pleasant grapefruit peel citrus with slightly floral undertones. The acidity is a bit soft but the wine is well balanced and very palatable—clearly meant for sipping on your porch well into the night while watching the stars fade into sunrise. The red, a non-vintage blend from the Columbia Valley boasts 80% Sangiovese/20% Syrah. I picture this wine accompanying a casual menu of pizza, pasta with tomato-based red sauce or even spicy barbeque, but rest assured, it won’t be putting any hair on your chest.
While the tasting room/vintage shop/art gallery is clearly a marvelous hangout for the Wookie wines, it’s also a showcase for more distinctive and thought-provoking brands like Siltstone and Kelly Fox Wines.
Siltstone Wines, produced at NWWine Company under the supervision of Joel Meyers, are gorgeous acid-driven wines priced to move. The 2010 Riesling from Hyland Vineyards ($15) is bone-dry with a very unusual flavor profile for this varietal… it's like biting into a tart, juicy and perfectly delicious Granny Smith apple. The 2010 Pinot Gris ($15) hails from the prized Guadalupe Vineyards and features mouth-watering acidity, pleasing minerality, a delicate floral nose and freshly squeezed lemon flavors… a true example of exceptional Oregon Pinot Gris. The 2007 Pinot Noir ($26) from Guadalupe Vineyard was expressive with good acidity; stylistically Old World, this wine’s a bit musty but has plenty of cherry and raspberry red fruit up front with complex touches of earth and cedar showing through. The 2008 Pinot Noir ($28) from Guadalupe, by far my favorite of these four, is forceful, fruit forward and flawless. Candied red cherries fill your glass, with a whisper of violets, pie spice and subtle smokiness that keeps you coming back for more and makes you wish for a bottomless bottle.
Though not typically sampled in the tasting room, Jeff poured me a glass of 2009 Kelly Fox Wines Mirabai ($35)… lucky girl am I. Kelly Fox, winemaker for Scott Paul Wines has created an amazing Pinot Noir combining fruit from the esteemed Momtazi, Maresh and Warden Hill Vineyards; this is a non-pretentious wine for sincere imbibers. Oozing with aromas and flavors of fruit blossoms, freshly picked strawberries and even some dark, juicy plums, it's like late summer in a glass. Brilliant acidity, silky tannins and the subtle peppery finish make it food friendly as it practically screams to be paired with a dinner of Northwest salmon or just a romantic evening by the crackling fire.
While Bigfoot himself may indeed still be prancing around the forests of the Pacific Northwest, one of the greatest wonders of the Willamette Valley is located right in the heart of downtown Carlton just waiting to be discovered. Put Valley Emporium, with its quaint country vibe and excellent wine experience high on your list to visit before word gets out and they’re inundated by Portland hipsters and Bigfoot chasers.