Tuesday, January 5, 2010

At Last… It's a Wine-Snob Free Zone

Recently, when a friend asked me what wine she should serve at her Rose Bowl party I replied, “Dare I suggest Duck Pond?” We giggled, though both slightly uncomfortable with our snobbery, and then she said, “No, really.” As New Year’s has come and gone, taking with it any chance of me making resolutions I’ve no intention of keeping, it occurred to me that maybe I should have considered it a moment longer before I tossed the resolution notion like a bottle of corked wine. Maybe I should try not to be snooty this year. I chose to think bigger and I set a 2010 goal for myself to be the best me I can be. Though I genuinely try to keep my mind open and my pretentions in check, I will confess (to you only) how I’ve found myself occasionally looking down my nose before I sniff wine from my Riedel crystal glass. In my effort to be true blue, I chose to start the year by blogging about my visit to a winery I passed over on every prior trip through the Willamette Valley, Duck Pond. And to further demonstrate my horrible example of exclusivity, I’ll come totally clean and own up to the fact that I may have occasionally dissed them while working in various tasting rooms, suggesting guests bypass them in favor of more prominent Dundee wineries (I’m sorry Duck Pond!!).

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…



Anonymous said...

Way to go! Stopping by Duck Pond. We had a local shop selling something of theres a few years back for $3. We called it the Three Buck Duck. Sometimes this can immediately devalue what potentially is a good winery. I have to admit though, of all the low ball offers they've had we bought more of that duck than anything else. Thanks for joining us in the wine snob free zone!

Josh @nectarwine

Ryan Reichert said...

Nice post Tamara. The whole wine snob thing is really confusing to me too. I've met some real doozies. Now I think we can all admit to have been snobby about a particular wine, producer, grape, etc. but I applaud your decision! I'm a fan of Four Graces, and had no idea Laurent made their wines! Cheers and happy tasting!

Christina said...

Thanks for the comments on Four Graces - we just got some in at our wine store, and I've been meaning to try it!

Ben Simons said...

I know how you feel. There is a local winery here in West Texas that I am fighting a long standing reluctance to give a chance. I am trying to be more open-minded. Who knows what I've been missing all of these years that I have spent looking down my nose at them.

Sip with Me! said...

Josh: Thanks for your comment: Three Buck Duck — hee hee hee :) Unfortunately, just one example of many that have devalued the brand over the years. They need a really PR good person to turn that around… I think I'm available!!

Ryan: Thanks for stopping by! I admit to being more than just snobby about wine, I'm definitely that way with food too. Guess I'm just a "quality" girl! Re: Laurant… yeah, he gets around!

Hi Ben: Nice to see you join the conversation! Maybe I've given you the tiniest push to abandon those pre-conceived notions? Do let me know how it turns out!!

Anonymous said...

Tamara, great recap of your tasting room visit, and great fun watching you wrestle with the concept of wine snobbery.

I try to be free of it, but I can't pick up the least expensive wine in a supermarket without having some strongly negative expectations of the wine's quality...before the bottle is even opened.

I'm finding that my commitment to make wine understandable and approachable to regular folks is somewhat hampered by the difficulty in finding great wines that cost little, there are more good wines than great wines to be had at a bargain.

Does that statement make me a snob, or a pretty normal consumer of wine? I don't know, but it has been in my head the last couple of days; so your words on the subject were welcome to read.

I have a high school friend who has been president of two wineries; he is as unpretentious as you will find, and welcoming of new tasters as you could hope. I suppose trying to emulate his example will have to do.

Another great entry.


6512 and growing said...

Couldn't be snobby about wine if I tried, that's why I love reading you! (Beer, another story completely).