Oregon Wine

Willamette Valley Vineyards: An afternoon with Oregon’s Pinot Noir

As part of Friday’s festivities at the 5th Annual Wine Bloggers Conference in Portland, Oregon, we had to board unmarked buses that would take us into Oregon’s Willamette Valley wine country. Our destination: Willamette Valley Vineyards and an incredible visit filled with Oregon’s specialty, the Pinot grape.

Willamette Valley Vineyards was named 2011 Winery of the Year by Wine & Spirits Magazine. As Editor Joshua Greene said, “Willamette Valley Vineyards’ performance makes it a great ambassador for the wines of Oregon.” It all started with founder Jim Bernau in 1983. They now have fifteen different Pinot Noir lots, make 30,000 cases of wine and are the leading producer of Oregon Certified Sustainable Wine.

We were met at the tasting room on top of the hilly property with sweeping views of the vineyards and the famous Riedel Oregon Pinot glass (we got to know it well on this trip…more on that later). Our group headed off with assistant winemaker Daniel Shepherd for a tour of the vineyards.

One of my favorite things to do at a winery is walk the vineyards with the winemaker. It’s so interesting and gives you fabulous insights. Daniel was no exception. He filled our glasses with their 2009 Pinot Noir, velvety strawberry cherry, as we looked out onto their rows of equipment and learned about the winery and Daniel’s history. Only in his mid-twenties, he’s worked at the winery since he was young. His father, Forrest Klaffke, was former head winemaker.  Some of the things he shared…

  • “Barrel is the most interesting thing a winemaker can do.” That is a very important element to him and Don Crank, head winemaker. They have a very aggressive wine barrel program to ensure their wine is smooth and velvety.
  • The Willamette Valley’s terroir is very unique thanks to the Missoula Floods of the ice age. It created ancient, volcanic glacial and sedimentary flood soils perfect for growing Pinot Noir. (Similar to the soil seen in Burgundy, France.)
  • On the 2012 growing season, as we stood in what had been a 100 degree day, he said they got a bit too ambitious with leaf pulling prior to the heat wave. Many grapes were now getting sunburn. The vineyard workers were making ‘sombreros’ out of the grape leaves to protect the grapes. But it’s looking like a very good vintage, similar to 2008’s complex wines with lots of tannins.

Environment, terrior and barrel work are very important to Willamette Valley Vineyards. Their sustainable practices are producing lovely wines! On the tour we also tasted the 2011 Tualatin Estate Pinot Noir from the tank and the 2009 Tualatin Estate Pinot Noir from the bottle…the contrast shows the beauty of their aging process.

My favorite wine of all tasted on our visit, which is also Daniel’s favorite, is the…

2009 Willamette Valley Vineyards Elton Pinot Noir

  • Variety: 100% Pinot Noir from their Elton Vineyards in the Eola-Amity Hills Sub-Appelation
  • Aroma: Dark fruit and spice
  • Taste: Burnt sugar, caramel and berries
  • Price: $45
  • My thoughts: Wow, this wine was good!! And at $45 you must order some! It’s a perfect example of Oregon Pinot Noir!

After the tour, we had a delicious dinner prepared by their new chef in The Founders Room looking out onto the wrap around deck and full vineyards. We also enjoyed several more wines, including:

  • 2010 Pinot Gris: Pear and key lime notes make this a very refreshing wine.
  • 2010 Whole Cluster Pinot Noir: Called ‘whole cluster’ as the grape clusters are chucked directly into the tank. This wine is full of strawberry, vanilla and spice. Same fermentation as the French Beaujolais Nouveau.
  • 2010 Tualatin Estate Semi-Sparkling Muscat-Frizzante: Sweet peach and citrus notes, make this a great after dinner wine. Very fun and different!

It was a lovely afternoon and evening…definitely worth a visit on your Willamette Valley wine touring. And don’t forget to pick up their t-shirt, “It’s Willamette Dammit!”, helpful as most people mispronounce the name. 🙂

Cheers & many thanks to the team at Willamette Valley Vineyards!

Pfeiffer Winery: Oregon Wines & Experiences to Remember

“Fine wine has a destiny,” Robin Pfeiffer told us during our lively morning visit to his Pfeiffer Winery on the Wine Bloggers Conference 2012 pre-excursion to Eugene, Oregon.  The fact that Pfeiffer Winery sells 90% of their 70-acre sustainable vineyard’s grapes to King Estate Vineyards, tells you they must be good. After a visit with Robin and Danuta Pfeiffer, you know their grapes and wine are good.

Pfeiffer’s vineyards were originally a sheep and chicken farm in Robin’s family. After eager French buyers called a few times in the early 1980s about purchasing the land, Robin says he realized they didn’t want the land for cheese. The Pfeiffer’s decided to plant the grapes and now have one of the oldest vineyards in the state.

Robin and Danuta greeted us outside their tasting and wine making barn below bright south facing vineyard slopes. To say this couple is in love is an understatement…with each other and their wine. Robin, a retired school teacher, and Danuta, a former co-host of the 700 Club, married 18 years ago after a quick courtship including Robin’s introduction of his family’s wines. During our visit, they shared their love and gregarious personalities with us.

Enter the barn and you are in for a surprise…it’s an intimate ‘candle-lit cave.’ Danuta welcomes everyone with the proper way to hold a wine glass and the wine tasting basics. Robin is famous for his Pinot Noir clinics. We sampled both through tasting eleven wines as Robin shared his thoughts…


  • In looking at a wine’s color, use a living light source like a candle. The flickering light lets you truly see the color’s character.
  • In the aroma, the most important thing you want to get… “I can’t wait to taste it!”
  • In the taste, “Fine wine is the other person at the table. It has a destiny and wants to get married…to a perfect food pairing.”
  • “When the wine tastes good, drink it! Don’t lay it down.”

Robin and Denuta make wines they like to drink. The 1,200 cases are only available in the tasting room and for wine club members. Somebody in The White House liked their wines too. The 2007 Pinot Noir Blue Dot Reserve was chosen to be served at Blair House as part of Obama’s 2009 pre-Inauguration festivities. This wine is now lovingly called the Presidential Pinot. It was definitely one of my favorites.

 2007 Pinot Noir Blue Dot Reserve

  • Variety: 100% Pinot Noir
  • Aroma: Cedar cherry nose
  • Taste: Cherry, peppery with a sweet blueberry finish
  • Price: $70
  • My thoughts: A great wine with a great story!

I also enjoyed their 2011 Pinot Gris, the second bottle I stowed away in my suitcase to bring home. Robin surprised the group by opening a bottle of two more winners…their 2005 Pinot Noir, what Robin and Danuta say is the finest wine they’ve made in 35 years, and their 2010 Pinot Noir, the small 250 case lot to be released in 2014 “tastes better at this age than any other vintage” they’ve made.

Robin closed out our visit in their beautiful water gardens with a talk about viticulture. With grape vine, leaf and cluster in hand, Robin described it as this…

  • The leaf is the factory.
  • The product the factory is producing is sugar.
  • The workers are the sun.
  • The warehouse is the grapes.
  • It takes 12-14 factories to fill the warehouse in one cluster of grapes.
  • And the owner can’t control any of it, except the number of warehouses.
  • At some point each year, you have to pull the trigger and pick which warehouses to let fill up. let some of the warehouses fill up. It’s a guessing game but some grape clusters must go.

It was a morning full of Oregon Pinot wine, love and learning. Definitely one of the highlights of my time in Oregon!

Cheers to Pfeiffer Winery!

The King of Oregon Wine: King Estate Winery

My first sip of King Estate wine was back in 2004 living in Seattle. Since then, they’ve been on my ‘must visit wineries’ list. When this year’s Wine Bloggers Conference, to be held in Oregon, announced a pre-conference trip to Eugene with a King Estate Winery visit, I finally had my excuse to visit the King of Oregon wine.

As our bus came around the bend on a gorgeous unseasonably warm August day, you could see the winery sitting on top of the hill among the vineyards. The beauty, very reminiscent of Bordeaux vineyards and château, was complete as we arrived to scents of lavender and the late afternoon sun amplifying the green of the vines.

Founded in 1992 by Ed King Jr, King Estate Winery sits at the bottom of Oregon’s largest AVA, the Willamette Valley. The winery is 1,033 certified organic acres…470 is planted, 300 of that is Pinot Gris. The first vintage from their estate fruit was 1994. They are the largest winery in Oregon producing 250,000 cases per year under three labels.

  • Domaine: made exclusively with organically grown grapes from their estate vineyard
  • Signature: based on a core of organically grown estate fruit with additional fruit sourced from sustainably grown vineyards throughout the Willamette Valley
  • Acrobat: born to introduce even more people to the power and grace of Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir. Grown responsibly in the gorgeous hills and valleys of Western Oregon.

To support this the large quantities, they also buy grapes from 40 other vineyards in the state. The other brand in their portfolio is NxNW which represents wines made from inland grape growing appellations of the Columbia River Basin of Oregon and Washington.

Our first stop at the winery, after we pulled ourselves away from the photogenic grounds, was the side patio of the Restaurant and Tasting Room for a glass of their 2011 Acrobat Pinot Gris and a yummy selection of local cheeses. The Pinot Gris came from the new ‘on tap’ keg system which “makes every pour taste like the first crack of the bottle.”

The tour, which is open to the public, took us through the 100,000-square-foot winery including the enormous underground barrel rooms. We even climbed the tower stairs for sweeping views of the vineyards. It’s hard to believe the little room at the base used to be the tasting room!

Back in the beautiful restaurant, opened in 2006, we were treated to a three-course dinner including Oregon Dungeness Crab Cakes, Mushroom and Goat Cheese Cannelloni, and French Meringue with locally harvested blackberries, lavender syrup and basil ice cream. Over dinner we had their 2009 Domaine Pinot Gris, 2009 NxNW Syrah and Vin Glacé 2011.

Saturday night at the Wine Blogger Awards in Portland, we enjoyed another dinner from King Estate with all the conference attendees. They brought their kitchen and restaurant crew north to create a dinner showcasing their local and sustainable farms and ranches focus in their restaurant. A great micro-site was created to support dinner giving us all the details of the recipes and ingredient sourcing. Pairings with each course included 2011 NxNw Horse Heaven Hills Riesling, 2011 King Estate Signature Pinot Gris, 2010 King Estate Signature Pinot Noir, 2009 NxNw Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and 2010 King Estate Riesling Vin Glacé.

My favorite wine of their ten tasted over the weekend…

2009 Domaine Pinot Gris

  • Variety: 100% Pinot Gris, blend of five different clones
  • Aroma: Tropical fruit and citrus
  • Taste: Pineapple, mango and honey
  • Price: $25
  • My thoughts: I’m a big fan of all King Estate Pinot Gris but you can tell this one is special…lots of depth and complexity. This wine was whole cluster pressed and stainless steel fermented.

Which leads me to what I think is one of the greatest things about King Estate…they make fabulous wines that are a great introduction to Oregon wine and it’s specialty, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir. Because of their size and impressive distribution, it is easy to find their wines in the U.S. and they are also international. With three King Estate labels, there is something for every price level.

Once people taste these great examples of Oregon wine, they realize this is a wine region with something special to offer the wine world. I speak from experience.

Cheers to King Estate Winery, the King of Oregon wine!

Oregon & Beyond, Around the World of Wine at the 5th Annual Wine Bloggers Conference

Last weekend I attended the 5th Annual Wine Bloggers Conference in Portland, Oregon and Oregon wine country, the Willamette Valley. It was information and tasting overload so there’s a ton to share!

First you may ask, what is a Wine Bloggers Conference? I was wondering that same thing when I attended the 4th annual last year held in Virginia. It’s a gathering of wine writers and bloggers, and other wine industry and social media professionals to meet, learn, and share.

Over the next several posts, I’ll share with you wine and travel tips you can use. (If you’re interested in the industry news/tips, I’ll share those on Idea Sandbox).

  • Visiting the Wineries: The Willamette Valley (pronounced like ‘damn it’) is Oregon’s largest AVA at 150 miles long and 60 miles wide. There area also six sub-appellations. I visited three wineries in the Willamette Valley…King Estate Winery, Pfeiffer Vineyards and Willamette Valley Vineyards. Gorgeous with some fabulous wines!
  • Visiting Portland & Eugene: Portland is an enchanting city with an eclectic vibe. If you’ve seen Portlandia, it’s not far off. I also did a pre-excursion to Eugene,  about two hours south, in Lane County at the bottom of the Willamette Valley. The county has skiing, whitewater rafting, salmon fishing, beaches and of coarse wine!
  • Wine Discoveries: The conference was an opportunity to discover Oregon wines and beyond. Via wine glass, we traveled across the U.S. and to Italy, Greece, France, Portugal, Argentina, Spain, Canada, New Zealand and more. I’ll share some of my favorites which will take a while but there’s lots of fun stuff for you to try.
  • Keynote Speakers: Randall Graham, founder of Bonny Doon Vineyard and his great site/blog Been Doon So Long, and Rex Pickett, writer of the novel Sideways, shared interesting tidbits and insights wine lovers will enjoy.
  • Wine Blogger Awards: The winner of the 2012 Wine Blogger Awards were also announced. They’ll offer you some great reads and views.
  • That’s a little taste of what’s to come. First up, a stop at King Estate Winery.

    Cheers to the 5th Annual Wine Bloggers Conference and organizers Zephyr Adventures and the Oregon Wine Board.


    World of Oregon Wine: Wine Bloggers Conference 2012

    Wine bloggers of the world have descended on Oregon this week to explore the state’s wine offerings. For those of you that haven’t tried an Oregon Pinot Gris or Pinot Noir, get out there and get one!

    Over the next few days and weeks, I’ll share more about the world of Oregon wine. I spent the last few days in the Eugene area, southern part of Oregon’s Willamette Valley wine region, visiting the world-renowned King Estate Winery and a spectacular boutique winery Pfeiffer Vineyards. We also tried some lovely wines at Heidi Tunnell’s gorgeous barn alongside her catering company‘s yummy offerings.

    Now in Portland, last night’s Welcome Reception kicked off the three days of festivities. I sampled some incredible wines from Alexana Winery and Anne Amie Vineyards among others.

    Stay tuned for more updates. On Twitter follow me @GrapeOccasions and #WBC12 for all the fun.

    Cheers to Oregon wine!