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

Which Top US Wine was Preferred by Chinese Master Class?

(May 2017) Recently I was asked to teach a Master class in Shanghai, China entitled “Top Wines of America.” It was scheduled from 7 to 9pm at the Hyatt Regency, and all 34 seats in the class were filled with young Chinese wine professionals. Most were working in the industry as wine retailers, marketers, or educators. There were also a few importers and winemakers in the class.

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Participants in Top US Wine Master Class in Shanghai, China

The hosts of the Wine100 Competition organized the master class and arranged for the wines to be available for the event. They requested that I select 8 highly rated wine brands that were available in the Chinese market, and that could represent the major wine-producing states of California, Washington, Oregon and New York.

My translator was Melody, who had graduated from the WSET Diploma program, so she knew wine quite well. We began with a 30-minute overview of the history and statistics of American wine, and then spent some time describing the climate and soil of the four major wine regions we would be tasting (See Powerpoint below, which includes Chinese translation).

Wine100 Masterclass on American Wines by DRLizThachMW

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Line Up of Top US Wines for Master Class

Line-Up of Top 8 American Wines

We tasted through the following eight wines, and then I asked everyone to vote by a show of hand for their two favorites. Following are the results:

  1. Forge Dry Riesling 2015 New York Finger Lakes = 3
  2. Kistler Vine Hill Vineyard Chardonnay 2013, Russian River = 11
  3. Domaine Serene Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir 2013 = 13
  4. Kosta Browne Pinot Noir 2014 Gap’s Crown Vineyard Vineyard = 11
  5. Turley Old Vine Zinfandel 2015 = 6
  6. Opus One 2012 = 10
  7. Harlan The Maiden 2000 = 8
  8. Cayuse Syrah 2010, Cailloux Vineyard = 6

The Winning Wine from Oregon

So Domaine Serene Pinot Noir from Oregon ended up edging out the others by a couple of points. Though this wasn’t a scientific poll in anyway, and cannot be generalized, it was interesting to see the results.  They reflect an observation that was shared with me before arriving in China: that younger Chinese are beginning to show a penchant for pinot noir, over the more tannic cabernet blends that their parents usually drink. So perhaps we are starting to see a shift in palate preferences….

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My Two Brilliant Translators – Anita and Melody