I’ve been sitting on this post since we returned from Oregon. Why the delay, you might ask? Sadly, we had a bit of a tragedy with the pictures, resulting in me losing the majority of them. There was an error in the camera settings that gritted and grained out the shots, especially anything from a distance, sparing only those where my hand was at its steadiest. I was devastated—and I needed to set it aside for while and regroup.
Willamette Valley Vineyards has been one of C+C’s closest friends and supporters. Not to mention, the enthusiasm for their wines, family-like teammates and coworkers, and environmental awareness is contagious. They are not about putting on a show. They hold high standards for themselves and their wine, and bring it to the public at a great price. Although, they do look pretty damn good at the top of that hill.
[The bottling line, tanks, and cellar on-site at WVV.]
There may not be a man or woman more dedicated to their winery than WVV founder, Jim Bernau. Willamette Valley Vineyards is Oregon’s only publicly traded winery. In the early 80’s Jim culled investors one by one, grafting his vision into the valley’s volcanic slopes one believer at a time. A photograph of the original shareholders hangs in the tasting room—a happy moment—the culmination of supportive people who believed in a dream.
I appreciate his dedication. Jim currently lives on the estate; he has since the beginning. His home is positioned to look down over the vines and main buildings—equidistant between the towering tasting room and arena-sized production and cellaring facility. The veritable north star of the Willamette Valley Vineyards compound…a handsome double-wide mobile home, and the only option that complied with the property’s zoning, which happened to be maxed out on structures. That is, structures with a foundation. Well played, Jim. Anything goes in the name of dedication.
By the time we made our way into the bottling facility, I had already taken about a hundred worthless photos. One of which was a mountain of empty cardboard cases ready to take on the Whole Cluster Pinot Noir. Empty wine cases stacked neatly 35 feet in the air that don’t say Yellow Tail are incredibly interesting to east coast wine lovers, and I apologize for not being able to share that with you! Luckily, my action from the bottling line came through. Rolls of Riesling labels, ready to be stuck to bottles, hundreds, maybe thousands per hour racing by. I felt a bit foolish taking pictures of equipment as I interrupted the general flow of people and materials. Carey assures me it was journalistic.
Perhaps it was just the time of year I’ve visited barrel cellars in the past, but they were nothing like I expected. They felt either like showrooms, aesthetically pristine—none more so than the cellars at Groth in Napa Valley—or like a time capsule, a single snapshot of a people-less scene that never changes. I always pictured a bit more chaos: chalkboards covered in notes, observations, and vintage defining information, wine thieves and beakers stacked in racks, tables covered in sticky Riedel stems where late night round tables occur, lab coats and Led Zeppelin t-shirts, endless tasting, note-taking, and crosschecking, perhaps even a small forklift or two.
But, upon entering the WVV cellars, I noticed a bit more activity than I was used to seeing. We got to meet someone—Daniel Shepherd, the Cellar Master. I even think I saw a dry erase board. I was feeling good. Daniel was the first person my age that I ever got to talk about oak with—besides Carey of course, but those conversations are not without a certain degree of tolerance and patience on her part. We engaged in all sorts of proper cellar talk, everything from the marathon tasting sessions I much anticipated would have occurred, to talk of old growth French forests from which extraordinarily expensive barrels are produced, (and eventually, two very inexpensive flower planters). Most importantly, we snitched some Pinot Noir from a choice barrel.
The day ended with a tasting of the full WVV and Griffin Creek (Southern Oregon) families of wine. This included a side-by-side 2006/2007 Tualatin Estate Pinot Noir. The remaining stock of the 2006 was truly numbered, the vintage rewritten in sharpie marker on the front label in a clear attempt at saying, “I am part of a serious minority, make sure you appreciate me if you pull my cork!” It was one of the most perfect Pinots I have had in my time. It uniquely comprised gamey flavors, perfect earth/oak/fruit/textural balance, and striking herbal characteristics.
Earth Day has come and gone, and although Carey and I did not celebrate it in the dark, we did drink a very appropriate wine, compliments of WVV. The small logo stamped on the back label indicates that it’s one of the proud few OCSW (Oregon Certified Sustainable Wine). This is no small feat, nor is it a transition that occurs overnight—this designation is the result of a movement, years in the making, of deeply held beliefs and attitudes that world class wine comes from very sacred ground, and as stewards of the land, much can and must be done to preserve it.
From my notebook: *Disclaimer: I received this wine as part of a sample from Willamette Valley Vineyards*
A wine for the Pinot Noir purists. A palate that is firm, bright, and clean—gently spiced wild strawberry and cranberry rich red fruit—a delicate expression of the fruit. I’m delighted to be tasting the much anticipated ’08 vintage. There’s poise, balance and restraint to this young wine.
Watermelon. Notable on the nose and palate. I was not surprised to see I was beaten to the punch on noting this characteristic—it is quite bold.
The ’08 will really benefit from some substantial breathing time. After almost 4 hours, it displayed a white chocolate flavor and creaminess followed by a toasty cedar spice.
Carey and I would like thank Christine, Wende (our masterful tour guide), and Daniel for an outstanding visit. It has been such an honor to write about wines I can really get behind. Corks + Caftans is sadly no longer “live from Oregon”… until next time!