Magnificent Meals at Domaine Drouhin, Serene and Penner Ash Wineries in Oregon

(May 2017) In addition to elegant food-friendly pinot noirs, the Willamette Valley is also well known for fresh farm produce grown in sustainable ways. So in addition to experiencing beautiful vineyard landscape and exquisite wine tastings, the 42 MWs on the tour organized by the Oregon Wine Board were treated to a variety of magnificent meals. Following is a recap of some of these delicious meals.

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Local Oregon Appetizers at Domaine Serene

Cellar Lunch at Domaine Drouhin

On the second day of our Oregon wine tour we were welcomed to Domain Drouhin. Established more than 25 years ago by the Joseph Drouhin family from Burgundy, the winery’s motto is “French Soul, Oregon Soil.” I had visited here twice in the past, and this time was just as welcoming as the prior visits.

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Entrance to Domaine Drouhin in Willamette Valley, Oregon

Even though it was raining lightly when we arrived, the terrace overlooking the vineyards had a stunning view and we enjoyed a variety of fresh appetizers before being ushered into the cellar. There amongst the stainless steel tanks we were able to partake of a buffet of fresh salads, fruits, and brick oven pizzas. Afterwards we enjoyed the “stories of the winemakers,” over a tasting of more amazing pinot noirs.

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Winemaker Story-Telling Lunch at Domaine Drouhin

Gala Dinner at Domaine Serene in New Estate Club House

That evening we dressed up to attend a very elegant dinner at the new tasting room/club house just opened at Domaine Serene. Again, I had visited this winery several times in the past, but in their original building. The new clubhouse is stunning with a large welcoming fountain in front of the Spanish style architecture with melon stucco walls and red roof tiles.

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Entrance to Domaine Serene, Willamette Valley, Oregon

As we entered, we were handed a glass of rose and invited to see the view of the vineyards out the wall of windows. Next we headed into the magnificent cellars made of white limestone. There we enjoyed a walk-around tasting of more Oregon wines, as well as a tempting table of Oregon cheese, meats, oysters, vegetables and other charcuterie items.

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Walk-Around Tasting and Appetizers in the Cellars of Domaine Serene

Dinner was held upstairs in a baronial ballroom with massive white stone fireplaces. We sat down at tables of eight, including two Oregon winemakers joining us at each table. Again the meal was comprised of fresh Oregon cuisine, including roasted beets, apples, sunchokes, breads, nuts, foie gras, and tuna as starters. The main course was a choice of Korean BBQ or Roasted Pork Leg. Dessert was Rhubarb compote with vanilla ice cream. Of course, every table was filled with mixed bottles of Oregon wine.

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MW Wine Dinner with Winemakers at Domaine Serene

The piece de resistance was a jeroboam of Domaine Serene 2005 Evenstad Vineyard Pinot Noir. It made me think of the 750ml bottle of this I had brought to a Masters of Wine dinner in London when I was still studying for the exam. We were each asked to bring a bottle of wine from our country that we were proud of. I brought the Domaine Serene Evenstad and it disappeared quickly – which made me feel good – considering there were also many lovely bottles of Burgundy on the table.

 

The evening concluded with the winemakers each providing a brief welcome and explanation of their winery. The chef and serving staff also were greeted by much applause and thanks. A truly magnificent and elegant evening in the Willamette Valley.

 

Baked Salmon Farewell Dinner at Penner-Ash Winery

The final evening of our trip we all gathered at the stunning Penner-Ash Winery with its modern architecture of wood, stone, and steel set atop a hill. Vineyards and pine trees surround the winery, and there is a large stone terrace with fire pits. We met here and in the great room inside, for a walk-around tasting and a debrief of our 3 day MW tour of Oregon wine regions.

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Penner Ash Wine Cellars. Photo Credit: Willamette Valley Wineries

Penner-Ash Wine Cellars was started in 1998 by Lynn Penner-Ash, winemaker, and her husband Ron. After studying at UC-Davis and working at Stag’s Leap and Rex Hill, Lynn built the gravity flow winery and focused on making award winning pinot noir. Recently the winery was acquired by Jackson Family Farms as part of their expansion into Oregon wine. Lynn is still actively engaged in winemaking, and is fortunate enough to work with the legendary Eugenia Keegan, who is the General Manager of Operations for Jackson Family Wines in Oregon, and winemaker at Gran Moraine Winery.

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Stunning Architecture of Penner-Ash Wine Cellars. Photo Credit: Waterleaf

I was fortunate enough to sit with Eugenia for part of the magnificent dinner in the barrel room of Penner-Ash. We enjoyed a family style meal of baked Oregon salmon, fresh vegetables, salads, breads, and delectable desserts. Of course, again we were treated to many amazing Oregon wines, and were joined by some of the winemakers from the Columbia Gorge and Southern Oregon Winery Associations – a true testament to how well the Oregon Wine Industry works together to support one another.

Departure from Portland International Airport

The next day we all awoke early to take cars and vans to the airport in Portland. Several of us had a last coffee together before jetting off to all parts of the globe. For me, it was just a quick flight to Santa Rosa, back home in Sonoma County. For others it was off to Hong Kong, London, Paris, Munich, and all of the many other locations around the work in which MWs work. Thank you Oregon for a magical visit!

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Enjoying Oregon Wine.  Photo Credit: Oregon Wine Board

 

Southern Oregon Wineries Focusing on Diversity

(May 2017) The wineries of Southern Oregon have always held a special place in my heart because I have been visiting them for two decades. Ever since most of my relatives left California in the early 1990’s to move to Medford, I have made many trips to the area. Each time we have visited the charming towns of Jacksonville, Ashland, and, of course, the wineries of the Rogue and Applegate Valleys.

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Vineyards of Southern Oregon.  Photo Credit: Southern Oregon Winery Association

In the beginning there were not that many wineries, but today there are more than 120 in Southern Oregon. The landscape is delightful with rolling hills, streams, and great swaths of green verdant vineyards. The wineries themselves are small, and housed in charming old houses, barns, or other unique structures. There are innovative wine tourism options, such as wine and rafting or wine and hiking. Each valley makes a fun day trip for wine tourists, but also makes for a great week long vacation if you want to visit all of the major appellations (AVAs).

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A Tasting of Southern Oregon Wine in Portland

Because it was too far to drive to Southern, Oregon – a good five-hour drive south of Portland, a contingent of the Southern Oregon wineries kindly came to meet us in Portland at a conference facility called Flexspace.

A panel of four winemakers and Doug Frost, MW/MS as moderator explained what makes Southern Oregon so unique and allowed us to taste 16 delicious wines.

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Summer in Southern Oregon Vineyards. Photo Credit: Southern Oregon Winery Association

Key Facts about the Southern Oregon Wine Region

We learned there are 6 AVAs in Southern Oregon, with the oldest established in 1984 and the most recent in 2013. They are as follows:

  1. Umpqua Valley AVA (1984) – coolest region
  2. Rogue Valley AVA (1991) – warmer region
  3. Applegate AVA (2001) – warmer region
  4. Red Hill Douglas County AVA (2005)
  5. Southern Oregon AVA (2005) –encompassing all the other AVAs
  6. Elkton Oregon AVA (2013) – small AVA within Umpqua Valley

19059771_10154461839856898_7532125227228902500_nWith a warmer climate than the Willamette Valley, many Southern Oregon wineries have the opportunity to ripen varieties such as tempranillo, malbec, and Rhone whites like viognier, roussane and marsanne. At the same time, they still plant cooler climate varieties such as gewürztraminer and pinot noir, because as many vintners there will tell you – “Tourists known that Oregon is known for pinot noir, so they ask for it. Because of this, we grow it.”

But the pinot noir from Southern Oregon is different than that of the Willamette Valley – which is to be expected. It is generally more concentrated with larger tannins and riper flavors. For me personally, they are more reminiscent of wines from the Cote de Beaune villages of St. Aubin, St. Romain and sometimes, Pommard. Whereas, Willamette has the elegance and crisp acidity of some of the Cote de Nuits wines.

Altogether Southern Oregon wineries farm over 6000 acres of vineyards, producing 70% red and 30% white grapes. The largest production is pinot noir at 40%, syrah at 6%, and tempranillo at 5%.

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Agate Ridge Vineyard in Southern Oregon. Photo Credit: Agate Ridge

The Dilemma of Too Much Diversity

Because they produce more than 70 different types of grape varieties, Southern Oregon vintners profess that they are masters of diversity. “We don’t have a signature varietal….We believe in diversity….We don’t want to be fenced in.”

However, one of the members of our group challenged the panel on this position. “But if don’t have something that you’re known for, how will you attract attention?” asked one MW. “Just because you advertise a signature grape or two, doesn’t mean you can’t make other types of wine as well. For example, Napa Valley makes zinfandel and chardonnay, as well as cabernet sauvignon, but they attract the most attention and highest prices for cabernet sauvignon. What is it that Southern Oregon does very well?”

 

 

Favorite Wines of the Tasting

In order to answer this question, the simplest process for a new wine region is to keep track of which types of wines win the most awards and receive the highest ratings. At the end of our tasting of 16 wines, the panel asked the MWs to provide feedback. Interestingly the wines that received the most positive feedback were Rhone varietals: syrah and viognier. Following are some of my top scoring wines:

  • 2015 Kriselle Viognier
  • 2015 Quady North Viognier
  • 2013 Quady North Mae’s Vineyard Syrah
  • 2013 Cowhorn Reserve Syrah
  • 2013 Abacela Reserve Tempranillo – this was one of my favorites, but many others thought it had too much oak

The dilemma of a signature grape is an interesting one. On the one hand, it helps a region to be known for something and attract more tourists. But if the signature grape is not selling well on the market, then it is difficult to make a living producing wine. With syrah and viognier not doing so well in the US market, it is much more tempting to produce Oregon pinot noir, which sells quite well!

Perhaps Southern Oregon should focus on pinot noir, and celebrate how different it is than the pinot noir made in the Willamette. Then also continue to make the complex syrahs, tempranillos, and white Rhones that also taste very delicious, as well as the tempranillos, albarinos, gewurtraminers, etc.

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A Welcome from Michael Donovan of the Southern Oregon Winery Association

Visiting the Unexpected Beauty of the Columbia Gorge Wine Region

(May 2017) As the bus slowly approached the town of Hood River, I became more excited because it was my first time to visit the Columbia Gorge wine region. Whereas I have visited the Willamette Valley many times in the past, this smaller, less well-known wine region of Oregon was new to me. Looking out the window, I was pleased to see how charming the scenery was with trees filled with pink blossoms, tall pines, and the glittering blue of the massive Columbia River weaving through the town.

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Waterfall Rushing Down to Meet the Columbia River

We stopped at the Columbia Gorge Hotel, and immediately everyone rushed outside to peer over the stonewall at the mighty river below. From here the water was a dark navy blue with small white caps, and I could sense the power and grandeur of the river that has been an important conduit for commerce and travel over the centuries. Near-by a waterfall cascaded down the cliffs, and the sight and sound of the white rushing water was invigorating. Someone pointed across the river to the bluffs on the other side and we could see vineyards dotting the hillside. Immediately I thought of Germany, and the many vineyards that cover the hillsides of the Rhine River in the Rheingau region.

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Gazing Down at the River from the Columbia Gorge Hotel

Who knew the Columbia River Gorge wine region was so enchanting? Suddenly I was more curious about the wines from this region, because I had never tasted them before. Calling us back inside, we were introduced to Brian McCormick, President of the Columbia Gorge Winegrowers Association, and a panel of winemakers who proceeded to walk us through a flight of wines.

About the Columbia River Gorge Wine Region

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Courtesy of Columbia Gorge Winery website

Ideally situated one hour east of Portland, the Columbia River Gorge is an ideal wine tourism location for a day or weekend trip. Filled with stunning river scenery, quaint restaurants and hotels, and around 30 wineries, it is a very pleasant vacation spot. We also learned that the Columbia Gorge is one of the top five wind surfing locations in the world – thus the white caps we could see on the river.

Brian told us that the Columbia Gorge AVA was established in 2004, and that most of the wineries are small family-run establishments. The largest winery is Maryhill Winery, which produces around 50,000 cases per year. The AVA actually spans both the Oregon and Washington borders.

Highlights of the Columbia Gorge Wine Tasting

Since this wine region is relatively new, many of the winemakers are still experimenting with the types of grapes that grow best in this particular terroir. Therefore we were treated to a smorgasbord of different types of wines. However, with a cooler climate and varied soils, plus the river influence, I found that the wines that stood out for me were the whites, pinot noir, and cabernet franc. Some of my favorites were:

In summary, this was a delightful stop, and I will definitely encourage others to visit this wine region in the future. Especially since it is so easy to travel here from Portland.

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Map Courtesy of Winesnw.com

 

An Eye-Opening AVA Tasting of 30 Oregon Pinot Noirs at Adelsheim Vineyards

(May 2017) I was very much looking forward to meeting the legendary David Adelsheim, Chairman of Adelsheim Vineyard, with over 40 years of experience making Oregon wines. As one of the original winemakers of the Willamette Valley, he also helped to establish the Oregon Wine Board and has mentored many newcomers over the years.

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Finally Meeting David Adelsheim

David did not disappoint us, because he was a very charming host and welcomed us with the utmost hospitality to his cellar, which was set up with a sea of tables for the most comprehensive and amazing tasting of Oregon pinot noirs I have yet encountered. Over the next few days, he continued to join us at the various events, and was consistently friendly, helpful, and fun.

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Pinot Noir AVA Tasting at Adelsheim Vineyards

Climate and Appellations of Willamette Valley

After we were comfortably seated, David proceeded to provide us with a brief overview of the climate and AVAs of the Willamette valley. He explained that the climate is cooler than California, but because of 15 hours of daylight in the summer and the same latitude as Burgundy, the Willamette Valley is able to ripen pinot noir and chardonnay grapes perfectly. Protected by the rain shadow of the coast range mountains, they receive around 100 centimeters each year of rain (39 inches). They do not get the thick coastal fogs that California pinot noir regions rely upon to keep their grapes cool in the evenings and mornings.

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Vineyards Near Adelsheim Winery

The soil is primarily a combination of basalt lava flows from volcanic eruptions and marine sediment from the Missoula Floods. It is a “layer cake of soil,” according to David. The valley is 250 kilometers long, and 84% of the acreage is pinot noir.

The first grapes were planted by David Lett in 1965.  David Adelsheim and his wife established their winery in 1971. Most vineyards are organic or sustainably farmed. The main certification for sustainable vineyards/wineries in Oregon is called LIVE – Low Input Viticulture and Enology.

Today there are 6 smaller AVAs in the Willamette Valley (see slide below). These are: 1) Dundee Hills, 2) Eola-Amity Hills, 3) McMinnville, 4) Yamill-Carlton, 5) Ribbon Ridge, and 6) Chelhalem Mountains – where Adelsheim Winery is located.

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Six Sub AVAs of the Willamette Valley

Tasting 30 Willamette Pinot Noirs Blind by AVA

After David’s overview presentation, a panel of experts described each of the six AVAs in detail. After each AVA presentation, we tasted a flight of pinot noirs from that region. Since the tasting was blind, it was fascinating to learn the name of the winery at the conclusion of the tasting. All wines were from the 2010 vintage, one of the coldest on record. This was probably a wise choice with so many European MWs in the crowd, because the wines had the high acidity and earthiness that many of them prefer. Following are my notes on the tasting.

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Panel of Presenters on Willamette AVAs

Dundee Hills AVA – named for a location in Scotland. Slightly warmer, protected from winds, mainly volcanic red soil – clay/loam, very slippery when wet. Produces red fruit character – red cherry, red raspberry. Label must be 95% from Dundee Hills. There are currently 45 wineries in this AVA. At the conclusion of the tasting, I learned that my two favorite wines from here were:

  • Archery Summit 2010 Pinot Noir – Medium ruby, spicy, muted red fruit. Red raspberry, fine grained tannins, concentrated, long, a bit of warm earth, well balanced, allspice, oak.  92
  • Sokol Blosser 2010 Pinot Noir – Floral, red cherry, earthy, bigger tannins, higher acid. Long juicy finish. 91

Eola Amity Hills AVA – lowest point in coastal range, a bit cooler. Marine and volcanic soils, but different on each side of hill. Wind and cooler in the evenings. Last on the margin of viticulture, especially during cooler vintages. Usually higher acidity and elegance. Around 30 wineries. At the conclusion of the tasting, I learned that my three favorite wines from here were:

  • Antica Terra Antikythera 2010 Pinot Noir – Ripe, black berry jam, floral, rich, velvety, structured tannins, long finish with an energetic vibe running through it. A truly amazing, and mind-blowing wine. Utterly delicious – wow! 96
  • Evening Land 2010 Pinot Noir – Cherry cola, supple, rich, concentrated, long. Lovely! 92
  • Christom 2010 Pinot Noir – Floral, stemmy (earth), black cherry, truffle, dirt, well-balanced, complex, tempting – 92

Yamhill-Carlton AVA – on the map it looks like two crab claws. Maritime climate, cooler, more sedimentary soils. They don’t plant on the north slopes because they can’t ripen pinot there. Known for bramble berry, blue berries, and some blackberry; Christmas spice, savage notes, and some salinity. At the conclusion of the tasting, I learned that my two favorite wines from here were:

  • Big Table Farm 2010 Pinot Noir – Spice, oak, smoke, and black cherry, deep, juicy, complex, earthy – yum! 94
  • Sotor 2010 Pinot Noir – Ripe berry nose, spice, grippy, yet supple tannins, inviting – 91

McMinnville AVA – mix of soils, but primarily volcanic. Furthest west, closer to the ocean, but further south. The town of McMinnville is not in the AVA. Known for bright acidity, black fruits, ash, deeply colored and concentrated larger tannins. At the conclusion of the tasting, I learned that my two favorite wines from here were:

  • Hyland Estates 2010 Pinot Noir – floral, raspberry, juicy, long, black cherry, earth, well-made. 91
  • Brick House 2010 Pinot Noir – spice, ash, burnt cherry, big tannins, chewy – 90

Ribbon Ridge AVA – a spine that runs like a ribbon along the top of the ridge; has had its own community for years. All sedimentary soils – drains down the ridge. 5.3 kilometers long. Some spheres of basalt. Close to Dundee Hills. More red fruit with some black cherry. At the conclusion of the tasting, I learned that my two favorite wines from here were:

  • Beaux Freres 2010 Pinot Noir – Rich, ripe, raspberry, luscious and approachable.  Very satisfying! 93
  • Ayres 2010 Pinot Noir – Muted nose, black cherry, more concentrated tannins, earthy, long – compelling, 92

Chehalem Mountains AVA – Mixed geology and soils. Not a clear signature style, due to mixed soils, but seems to have more concentrated tannins. At the conclusion of the tasting, I learned that my three favorite wines from here were:

  • Ponzi Aurora 2010 Pinot Noir – black cherry, earth, chocolate, chewy tannins, good acidity – delicious! 93
  • Bergstrom Silice Single Vineyard 2010 Pinot Noir – cola, earth, mixed berry compote, wonderful juicy acidity, fresh – tempting – 92
  • Le Cadeau Winery Rocheux Vineyard 2010 Pinot Noir – Lovely rose perfume and raspberry, jammy,  juicy, concentrated tannins, texture – very approachable. 92
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Discovering My Favorite Wine of the Blind Tasting

A Three Day MW Wine Tour of Oregon

(May 2017) Though Oregon and Washington State border one another, and even have overlapping appellations, they are like two different countries when it comes to wine. After spending five days touring Washington wine country, and then crossing the border to Oregon, the only thing in common between the two famous wine regions is their friendly and hospitable welcome.

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The Beauty of an Oregon Vineyard, Willamette Valley

Indeed, as the 42 MWs on this trip soon discovered, Washington State, with its massive cabernet based blends and warmer weather could easily be compared to Bordeaux, whereas Oregon, with its focus on elegant earthy pinot noirs birthed from its cooler climate has aptly been likened to Burgundy. Viticulture methods and philosophy are also similar to these two French regions, with Washington focused on efficiency and quality control in large manicured vineyards, whereas Oregon vines are prone to be farmed in an organic fashion in smaller designated vineyard sites.

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42 MWs on Oregon Wine Tour, Temperance Hill Vineyard

Key Facts About Oregon Wine

According to the Oregon Wine Board, in 2016 there were 702 wineries in Oregon and 1052 vineyards. The cooler climate, coupled with 15 hours of daylight during the summer, allows Oregon wineries to ripen grapes with high quality, good acid, and vibrant flavors. There are 72 varieties of grapes planted in Oregon, but pinot noir is dominant at 62% of the production, followed by pinot gris at 13% and chardonnay at 5%.

Oregon boasts 5 major regions (see map below), but the Willamette Valley produces more than 50% of the wine.  Altogether, Oregon has just over 28,000 acres of vineyards, or 11,345 hectares and is still growing.  The number of vineyards has nearly doubled since 2005, but most wineries are very small with 70% producing less than 5000 cases per year.

Oregon Wine Regions

Five Major Oregon Wine Regions. Photo Credit: Oregon Wine Board

Wine Tour Itinerary

Our transition from Washington to Oregon started in the morning at our hotel in Walla Walla where Tom Danowski, President of Oregon Wine Board and Oregon Winegrowers Association, ushered us onto a bio-fueled bus. It was a bright, sunny, and soon to be very hot day as we traveled down the Columbia Gorge to the town of Hood River.

The drive was stunning, as we followed the mighty Columbia River from the parched desert bluffs in the East to the fir-covered hills that sprang into sight as we came closer to the Pacific Ocean. On the bus we were treated to a lecture on the climate and geology of Oregon by Dr. Greg Jones. The schedule for the rest of the trip was as follows:

Day One: Columbia Gorge and Portland

  • Depart Walla Walla and drive to Hood River
  • Lunch and Tasting with Columbia Gorge Wineries
  • Drive to Portland and check into Hotel Vintage
  • Tasting with Southern Oregon Wineries at FlexSpace
  • Dinner at Clay Pigeon Urban Winery, Portland
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A Stop Along the Columbia River Gorge, Oregon

 Day Two: Willamette Valley

  • Drive to Newberg in Willamette Valley
  • Oregon AVAs Session and Tasting at Adelsheim Vineyards
  • Lunch and Tasting at Domaine Drouhin, Dayton
  • Check in and rest at Comfort Inn, McMinnville
  • Walk-Around Tasting and Dinner at Domaine Serene Winery, Dayton

Day Three: Willamette Valley

  • Vineyard Hike at Temperance Hill Vineyard
  • Lecture and Tasting on Climate Change at Cristom Vineyards
  • Lunch at Zenith Vineyard
  • Break at Comfort Inn McMinnville
  • White Wine Tasting at Trisaetum Winery
  • Walkaround Tasting and Salmon Bake Dinner at Penner – Ash Wine Cellars

For more information on our Oregon adventures, please check out the following posts – coming soon!

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Entrance to Domaine Serene Winery in Oregon