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Oregon Part 2: One day in Willamette Valley

Following part 1’s history of grape growing in Oregon, this time we bring you a selection of must-visit estates if you had just 12 hours to tour the region.

Willamette Valley is not one road of continuous wineries. You can stretch from the northern Chehalem Mountain AVA, south to Ribbon Ridge, west to the Yamhill-Carlton, south again to the McMinnville AVA or east to the Dundee Hills or to the southern-most Eola-Amity Hills. You would need several days at least to take it all in.

But if you only had one day, what would that day look like? The drinks business took to the region with locals Dan Johnson of and Beau Carufel of, and came up with one day of visits which encompasses a small, family-run winery, a beautiful respite, a historic producer with some of the earliest roots in the region, and the Oregon outpost for renowned Burgundy negociant, Joseph Drouhin.

They all have one thing in common: a fierce determination to produce the best wines of Oregon.

Read on for information about the producers featured in the one-day tour.

First stop is just 35 miles west of Portland, the Kramer Vineyards in the Yamhill-Carlton District. Trudy and Keith Kramer moved from Warren, Oregon to Yamhill-Carlton after hearing that great Pinot Noir was being produced there. Back in the day, Matt Kramer gave wine classes out of his Oregon home, and it was there that the Kramers tasted the grand Domaine de la Romanée Conti, and sealed their winemaking fate.

Today the winery produces approximately 3,000 cases per year and 20% of their production is sparkling wine, made in the traditional method of re-fermentation in the bottle. Estate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are used for these Kramer sparklers.

The 2009 Kramer Vineyards Sparkling Wine ($24) has 3g/l of sugar in the dosage. The wine is fresh and dry with green plum flavours.

Winemaker Kim Kramer, who is championing the sparkling programme at Kramer, proved to be adventurous and set out the 2010 brut, bottled and not yet given its dosage, with various levels of sugar addition. Good fun was had tasting the non-dosage with just over a year’s aging on the lees; the wonderfully balanced version at 3 g/l version, followed by an interesting find at 5 g/l of sugar – some of the enticing green apple fruit disappeared. It was noticeable again at 10 g/l.

A drive south past Ribbon Ridge country leads you to the next stop: Adelsheim Vineyards in Newburg, Oregon. Adelsheim was the fifth winery in Willamette Valley to pioneer its way into Oregon wine country. Opening in 1971, their first vintage was the 1978 – all 1,300 cases of it. Today the winery produces 4,000-4,500 cases of wine a year.

The 2010 Caitlin’s Reserve Chardonnay is a beautifully crafted, crisp and fruity wine. The wine was fermented in 80% neutral and 20% new oak. There is high acid and green plum fruit, but also a creaminess on the palate.

Adelsheim Vineyards Patio

In general, Oregon started to produce exceptional Chardonnay with the introduction of the Dijon clone from mid-1990s. A glass of this Adelsheim Chardonnay, on their outside deck, would shed the stress from even one of the toughest days.

Image from Domaine Drouhin Facebook Page

Traveling further south, Domaine Drouhin, in Dayton, Oregon, is the next stop. Remember the 1979 Paris tasting we mentioned in part one of our series on Oregon wine country? That is where the Eyrie Pinot won top prize along with great red Burgundies. Well, this Burgundy negociant took more than notice.

Following that tasting in Paris, Robert Drouhin, head of Maison Joseph Drouhin, sponsored a rematch at the Drouhin cellars in France. Several Oregon Pinot Noirs were pitted against the finest Drouhin grands crus. A Drouhin grand cru did take first place, but second place went to the 1975 Eyrie Vineyards South Block Reserve Pinot Noir.

It didn’t take long after that for the Drouhin family to open up shop in Willamette Valley. The winemaker for the domaine’s Oregon wines is family member, Veronique Drouhin.

Domaine Drouhin Edition Rose 2011 Pinot Noir Dundee Hills is found in the tasting room only, but a perfect greeter upon arrival. It is both refreshing and fruity. The Pinot Noir grapes spend 12 hours on their skins and produce great red fruit and wet stone aromas.

Drouhin Laurène 2008 Dundee Hills ($65), ages for 15 months in the barrel and another 18 months in the bottle. Twenty percent of this is new oak. Deep aromas, black fruits, complex.

Next visit is De Ponte Cellars, also in Dayton, and owned by the Baldwin family. Winemaker Isabelle Dutartre is French and honed her winemaking skills working side by side with Veronique Drouhin.

The 2011 Melon de Bourgogne ($25) was one of those lemonade from lemons stories. The family purchased Pinot Blanc, but Melon de Bourgogne was delivered and planted. A DNA test done in the early ’90s proved what is really was, but the wine had already won over many followers. Ten percent is fermented in neutral oak and aged sur lie (but not stirred). 800-100 cases are made.

De Ponte Cellars 2007 Dundee Hills Pinot Noir ($39) has deep aromas of red fruits, spice, stones, tobacco and more. An incredible wine.   

Eyrie Vineyards – image from

Last stop is the historic Eyrie Vineyards in McMinnville, where the 1979 Paris tasting comes forefront again. On the wall of the winery you see a telegram proclaiming the second place win of the Eyrie Pinot Noir – where it was only beaten by a ’59 Chambolle-Musigny.

Eyrie Estate Pinot Noir 2009 ($35) is full of red cherry and spice. The winemaking protocol is a natural ferment, so the wines go through full malolactic fermentation. Grapes are picked on aromatics, not brix levels.

It is tasting older Eyrie wines where you get your “aha” moment – and fully understand the magnitude of this producer’s wines. The 1997 South Block Reserve Pinot Noir ($190 – it is a library wine) is so beautifully structured at its age, all of the history, winemaking style and more all work together to show greatness.

What is astounding as well about this wine is that it was just released in 2011. As Jason Lett (son of the late David Lett) notes, after the rematch of great Burgundies and Oregon Pinot Noir, instead of selling the now-famous South Block Reserve Pinot Noir wine, his father would not allow the wines to go on the market. “They were too young to be consumed” explains Jason.

Although wine country is always welcoming, May 2013 is the second annual Oregon Wine Month, when local retailers and restaurants will offer specials all month long. It may be the perfect time to see what Oregon wine country is all about. Visit for more information.

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