Your First Wine Tasting Trip

Do you remember it? I think mine was a Sunday afternoon drive to Sonoma with visits to Domaine Carneros and Cline Cellars in August of 2000... Well, actually, that's not true -- it was while studying in France in 1998: I had arrived early for a program through Duke at La Sorbonne and decided to head to Bordeaux. While there I booked a tour through the Office du Tourisme and ended up on a bus with 30 plus people from around the world. We visited Chateau Myers and Chateau Croizet Bages plus a third which I couldn't locate in my picture album. There was also a tremendous lunch in a cheese cave. The only sad thing is, I didn't care for cheese back then -- my how much has changed!

I recently learned that two wine-loving friends (who moved to the Northwest from the Bay Area about two years ago like we did) had never visited a winery. I couldn't believe it, especially given how much wine we've shared with them. I took this as a personal challenge and offered to serve as tour guide. Planning our excursion was a pleasure since enjoying wine is of course one of my great loves.

We began the day with Sheila Nicholas of Nicholas Vineyard and Anam Cara Cellars. She and her husband, Nick, purchased the Chehalem Mountains property in 2001 and transitioned it from a run-down walnut orchard to the beautiful vineyard it is today. Sheila gave us a delightful glass of 2008 Riesling before we headed out for a vineyard walk to check on vine development and learn what truly goes into tending a vineyard (HARD work).

After the walk, we returned inside for a tasting of two 2007 Pinot Noirs -- Estate and Estate Reserve, plus a Gewurtztraminer ice wine. I loved the rich, ripe red apple flavors of the Riesling (which by the way is a dry style) and the earthy, dusty and mineral notes I got from both Pinot Noirs. The Estate Reserve needs some time to open up -- we shared this over a lamb dinner and it was fantastic. The Gewurtz is just plain yummy. So we of course had to purchase all of them.

The next two stops in Dundee were for lunch. The gentlemen had to have Huckabee's BBQ and the ladies decided on Farm to Fork takeaway including a couple of their baguette sandwiches, Manchego cheese and duck pate. There's not much better for a sunny day picnic than Chef Paul Bachand's cuisine.

The perfect spot in the Willamette for a picnic is Stoller Vineyards*, located a couple of miles south of Farm to Fork in Dayton. Here we enjoyed the 2009 JV Rose with our lunch and the warm hospitality of Tasting Room Manager, Emily Olds, and Hospitality Associate, Serena McCauley. It is quite a setting with some sharing picnics and the panoramic views, others playing disc golf or settling into the Adirondack chairs, and everyone just relaxing and experiencing the wines. (Most wineries simply have you "belly up" to the bar -- I prefer those who offer you something special, a memory or a unique take.) Stoller is not a place you want to rush through; a good two hours is about right.

The 2007 JV Pinot Noir is a great wine to serve with a slight chill in the summer if you insist on drinking red on a hot summer day. Our friends were in a white wine mood, so they bought both the JV and SV Chardonnays to compare. I can't get enough Rose, which always sells out; so I left with more.

We ended our day with an appointment with the Manager, Courtney Shields, and her dog, Mac, at Soter Vineyards . I always tell people that Stoller is a "wow" experience because you have this unexpected beautiful property atop a winding hill. Soter is a similar feeling but here you are even more removed since you reach it up a long, winding gravel drive. When you walk into the open air tasting room, you immediately relax with the serene cross breeze. It is a place where you pause, take a deep breath, and just enjoy being. (Note that you need an appointment to do so.)

Here we enjoyed the 2005 Brut Rose, 2008 Northstar Pinot Noir, and a truly interesting mini-vertical of the Mineral Springs Pinot Noir (always nice to follow a wine writer -- Bruce Sanderson of Wine Spectator had been by earlier in the day so some library wines happened to be open). Tony Soter also makes a delicious Cabernet Franc from his Little Creek Vineyard in Napa.

We are most appreciative of the people who helped me make this great day happen!

*PS -Stoller is a client of mine. And yes, it would still be the best place for an afternoon picnic in the Willamette Valley even if it weren't. Check it out for yourself and definitely let me know if you feel otherwise!