It’s a smile, it’s a kiss
It’s sip of wine, it’s summertime
~Kenny Chesney, Summertime
I’ve been on a bit of a posting hiatus. Summer decided to get in full swing and between the visitors, traveling, work and evening fun times, blogging fell somewhere by the wayside. It’s still early in my blogging experience, and I haven’t mastered the art of short posts here and there [in case you haven’t noticed yet, I tend tp get a bit long winded in telling stories with asides and wanting to make sure you know every detail], but it’s something I’m going to be working on as summer transitions into fall and things really get busy.
But before summer ends, I realized I need to share what happened on my official summer vacation to Oregon Wine Country.
Way back in the middle of June, I set off on a vacation to the Willamette Valley and Oregon Wine Country with my boyfriend and his parents. Here’s how it went down.
My portion of the vacation started out at the crack of stupid [as my boyfriend likes to say]. It was wheels up out of Reagan National at 6:30 a.m. to meet up with my boyfriend and his family on a layover in Minneapolis before heading on to Portland together. Everything was going smoothly until our flight out of Minneapolis started to board and my traveling companions had not arrived. I kept checking their flight’s status and it just kept saying “landing.” I started thinking about what I would do if they missed this connection [his parents had taken care of hotel and rental car reservations so I had no idea what I would do if I went on to Portland and had to wait for them there]. Thankfully, I never had to test my ingenuity and we were able to fly together – on time and in First Class [all during the flight I had a little Fergie playing on repeat in my mind].
Finally, after a slight delay in the rental car line and an hour long drive, we made it to our home away from home for the next three nights: The Black Walnut Inn & Vineyard [and promptly took a nap after our long day of travels].
This place was awesome…think bed and breakfast Italian villa style. Beautiful dark woods and plush, comfortable furnishings all throughout. I would have stayed forever if they would have let me.
The room my boyfriend and I shared was AMAZING. The most comfortable king bed I’ve ever slept in was piled high with cushy pillows and a plush duvet. And those chairs. Once you sat in them you never wanted to get up.
And let’s not forget the view. Almost all of the exterior walls were floor to ceiling windows with two sets of French doors that opened right onto the property.
The three days we spent in Dundee all went pretty much the same: we’d wake up, admire the view and then make our way to the dining room to grab a cup of coffee [or in my case tea] and to choose our breakfast from a menu that changed daily [this place made me a lover of bagels and lox…and has left me craving it ever since]. After a very indulgent breakfast, we’d get ready for the day and head out to the tasting we’d set up for the morning, followed by a tasty lunch at local eateries and back to the hotel for an afternoon nap [there’s something about drinking wine before noon and then a nice lunch that just makes you want to sleep] before a decadent dinner at the fine dining establishments of the Willamette Valley [we had amazing, Top Chef worthy, food baby-creating meals at JORY, The Joel Palmer House and The Painted Lady].
One day, we made it back to the inn just as it was starting to rain one of those nice, steady, relaxing rains. We left our French doors open and listened to the rain as we napped and it was glorious. When we woke up, we watched over the horizon as the rain moved from area to area.
The whole experience of our daily routine made me feel a little like I was in an episode of Downton Abbey…living in an amazing house, having people serve us amazing meals, and changing several times a day for daytime activities, lounging and then getting dressed up for long, multi-course suppers. What can I say, I was kind of in my element [although I don’t think I’d be happy doing that every day…I need a little variety in my life].
Of course, it didn’t take my boyfriend as long as me to get ready, so he put in a lot of time lounging outside our room reading or just taking in the view.
At this point I’m sure you’re thinking, “That’s great, Angela. We’re very happy you had a nice little schedule, but where did you go? Tell us about the wine!” Well, for all you wine enthusiasts out there, here you go.
Now, you could visit wine country and just hop from tasting room to tasting room, easily visiting five or six vineyards in a day. But for us, it was more about the experience and really learning about the wines and the wineries themselves. So, here is a little of what I learned about the area wineries in general:
- The Willamette Valley is best known for its Pinot Noir [my favorite!]
- The Willamette Valley is broken down into smaller American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) [we were staying in the Dundee Hills]. In order for a wine to be labeled as a Dundee Hills Wine, at least 85% of the grapes used to make it must come from the Dundee Hills region. If the grapes came from various AVAs in the Willamette Valley it would be a Willamette Valley Wine. Or if the grapes came from all over the state, it would be an Oregon Wine. The wine maker can also specify which vineyards the grapes in the wine came from [this is helpful when looking at wines in the grocery store…now you’ll be able to tell what the labels mean!].
- The wineries/vineyards [I’m not exactly sure what the difference between the two is] are all fairly small production, so you won’t be able to find a lot of their wines in the stores. You either have to visit the winery, join their wine club or drink it at the few restaurants they service.
- Wineries will buy each others grapes because the different soil locations give different qualities to the grapes that they want to add to their wines.
In the two days we were in the Dundee Hills area, we visited four wineries: Domaine Serene, Torii Mor Winery, Anderson Family Vineyard and Anne Amie Vineyard [because of the short amount of time we were there, we didn’t actually get to do a tasting of the Black Walnut Inn wines, but we did take the bottle in our room home with us and it was delightful…I guess this just means we’ll have to go back ;)].
Coming into the trip, this was the main tour and tasting we had planned. My boyfriend’s parents are big wine people and Domaine Serene is one of their favorites. It is definitely one of the bigger wineries in the area.
Our tasting tour started at 10:30, and I have to admit, it felt a little strange to be drinking so early in the morning, but I rolled with it.
We had a guided tour for just the four of us, and they had tastings set up for us along the way – a nice Rosé when we walked in, a tray of Chardonnay set up halfway through and then a full flight of Pinot Noirs and cheeses at the end in our own private tasting room.
The tour was really interesting. They shared the history of the vineyard, showed us the room where they make wine while explaining the process, the cellar where it ages and really took the time to explain the wines and how they choose where to plant their vineyards [they have several locations around the valley].
The wine at Domaine Serene was my favorite from the trip [I kept track of all the different wines we tried using my Delectable Wine app], and it was really fun to spend a little time in the main tasting room, taking in the views.
I even left with my own pair of Domaine Serene wine glasses and a nice wine tote for the grocery store!
This winery was near our inn, so we stopped in for a tasting. The wine was drinkable, but after spending the morning at Domaine Serene, it just didn’t compare. I did learn a lot about the vineyard itself, though. For example, it’s one of the oldest vineyards in Oregon, and the name is both Japanese (“Torii” refers to the ornate gates at the entrances to gardens) and Scandinavian (“Mor” means “earth”). Plus, I got another pair of wine glasses to take home!
Anderson Family Vineyard
The Anderson Family Vineyard tour and tasting was a fun surprise. We were looking for another winery to tour and the innkeeper recommended this one. While Domaine Serene sells its wines across the country, Anderson Family Vineyard is much smaller, and the majority of its wines go to wine club members and select restaurants.
We were given a tour and tasting by the owner, Cliff, and learned so much about the growing process, how the weather and soil type affect the flavor and quality of the grapes [their vineyard sits on very rocky hills that provide great drainage], and just how much science goes into winemaking [the sink and counter were full of beakers, test tubes and graduated cylinders].
As we were transitioning from the tour to the tasting, the sky opened up and the rain poured down.
It turns out this was pretty good timing, as we got to ride out the rain while drinking some really awesome wines.
Although the Willamette Valley is known for its Pinot Noir, it was the white wines at Anderson Family Vineyard that stole the show for me [their Chardonnay was the only bottle of wine I actually brought home with me from the trip and their Pinot Gris, with it’s somewhat bubbly finish, has become one of my favorite white wines].
We passed a sign for Anne Amie Winery [another of the family favorites and one I’ve tried before and really enjoyed] on our way back to the inn after lunch, but were too full to actually do a tasting. That didn’t stop us from driving up and having a look around their beautiful tasting room.
And, I have to admit, they have one of my favorite wine labels:
We even came across a winery that had a very familiar name:
Unfortunately, Angela Estate wasn’t quite ready for visitors. It’s a new winery and they were just getting ready to start selling to the public.
After three nights and two full days in wine country, we packed up and headed back to Portland for a little sight seeing before heading back east. But since the telling of the first half of the trip has gone on so long, I think I’ll save Portland for Part 2.