Portland Walking Tours

Six great micro-wineries

November 16th, 2010

It’s that time of year again – a time of harvest, of abundance, of great flavor and variety. Yes, it’s time for Oregon wineries to open their doors on the weekends and give you a taste of their amazing wares. Tours for many wineries begin this weekend, November 20 and 21, and repeat on the long Thanksgiving weekend, Friday thru Sunday, November 26-28.

Oregon’s wines have become world famous in recent years, particularly its pinot noirs. Excellent vintages produced by local wine makers in recent years have caught the attention of wine aficionados world-wide, including (whether they admit it or not) in highly renowned viticultural areas of France, Italy, Germany and Spain as well as across the U.S.

Wine has been an important product of the Willamette Valley and Columbia Gorge for over 100 years, but Oregon’s wine fame is a recent phenomenon, thanks to the discovery in the 1960’s of Oregon’s suitability for the highly desirable pinot noir grape. Rich soils, sun-facing gently-sloped hills, and a perfect climate – warm and dry into late summer – with a nearby major port have given wine makers golden opportunities to perfect their wondrous elixirs. Oregon now boasts over 200 wineries in sixteen American Viticultural Areas (AVA’s), from the gigantic Southern Oregon AVA (over 2 million acres) to the tiny Rogue Valley (1,100 acres). Most of them produce varietals in small batches, primarily for local consumption – hence the term “micro-winery.”

With all that great wine to choose from, how does one go about choosing which wineries to visit? Over the years I’ve tried many and have rarely been disappointed. If you’re looking for a short list of great wineries to try, consider some of my favorites below. I’ve tried to provide a mix of some great pinots as well as some other varietals in a reasonably contained area.

Newburg Stops

  • Adelsheim Vineyards. Adelsheim’s incredible array of single-vineyard and reserve pinots regularly score 90 and above in Wine Spectator. Among my favorites are the Elizabeth’s Reserve, the Bryan Creek and Calkins Lane. Expect great things from their 2008’s in particular. Also, their Chardonnays tend toward a lesser dose of the oaky vanilla flavors so reminiscent of California Chardonnays.
  • Brick House Vineyards. A small winery, Brick House doesn’t try to overwhelm you with choices. Their “Cuvee du Tonnelier,” a blend of the Pommard clone grapes grown on their east facing slope, drinks well just a year or two in the bottle – and even better five years later. Their pricier but worth it “Les Dijonnais” takes reserve pinots to a whole new level. On the budget side, their reasonably priced gamay noir changed my whole outlook on Beaujolais vintages and regularly accompanies my Thanksgiving Day dinner.
  • Grochau Cellars. There is, bar none, no better approachably-priced pinot noir made in Oregon than the GC Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. At $24 per bottle it drinks like many wineries’ Reserve wines. Here’s the only problem:  their $36 Cuvee is an even better value for the money. With very limited production, you’ll have to get there early to find out.

Off the Beaten Path:  Carlton, OR

  • Ken Wright Cellars. This master blender of Willamette Valley pinot grapes produces consistently great pinots, soft and balanced but always improving with age. I’m partial to the Carter Vineyard products but the Canary Hill runs a close second. The downside of tasting at Ken Wright is that you’re almost always tasting futures (unfinished wine) from barrels, so it’s sometimes hard to tell how great they’ll be, but they’ve never once failed me.
  • Solena Estate. Solena considers pinots to be its forte,and the 2006 Domaine Danielle Laurent is excellent, but I’ve always been partial to their Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. With so many pinots out there, it’s nice to have some options.
  • Angel Vine. Angel Vine, like Solena, bucks the trend to offer something different:  in their case, great Zinfandels and Primitivos in the affordable range. For example, their 2008 Avery Vineyard Zinfandel is priced at $20, and I’m very partial to the Columbia Valley Primitivo, also at $20.

Choosing six wineries out of the hundreds of excellent vintners and winemakers in Oregon means that many great wines go unmentioned. Assuming that you don’t have infinite time or money for wine tasting and collecting, perhaps you’ll squeeze a few of these into your next wine outing, while continuing to support your own favorites.