Oregon Wineries Minus the Crowds

Traffic-jamSome suggestions
for hassle-free Oregon wine touring

Oregon wine lovers turn out in droves to visit wineries on holidays like Thanksgiving and Memorial Day, a sometimes sadistic activity that requires as much patience as it does interest in wine.

After enduring apocalyptic traffic lines (it can look oddly like a post-Zombie escape from urban areas), you arrive at said winery only to find throngs of the same drivers following you into the parking lot. The scene at the bar is no better; a line six-wide and at least forty deep fills the tasting room, many folks already tipsy from their first three winery visits that morning.

at right, L.A. traffic,
a reminder of what it’s like in wine country on Thanksgiving weekend

But you push ahead and thirty minutes later you have a glass of Pinot Gris in your hand. You sip and try to shout at your companion over the din. Once you’ve finished that first glass your options are the same again: wait, push, sip, shout. There has to be a way to get a more pleasant tasting room experience, you think.

Well, there is and while it takes a little more planning, the results are so much better that you’ll probably never venture out to wine country on a major holiday again. Here is what we recommend:

Carlton Winemaker's StudioAppointments versus Drop-ins
If you have the time to make tasting appointments at Oregon wineries, you will be rewarded handsomely with an experience dramatically different from the one we described above. Though there is never a guarantee, you may have the opportunity to meet the winemaker or cellar crew who, if plied with compliments, might even give you a tour. If this tour includes barrel tasting, we promise that you won’t soon forget your visit.

Many wineries remain open for drop-ins for much of the ‘off-season’. These visits can turn into a decadent afternoon in a sleepy tasting room with the attention of the staff nearly all to yourself. Be sure to ask questions, these folks know more than you might think about the wines being served. And often the servers are the owners or winemakers themselves. This is precisely what sets winery visits in Oregon so far apart from places like California: intimacy!

at right, Carlton Winemakers Studio
on a rainy winter weekday – great personal service

By Appointment Suggestions:

Boedecker Cellars – 2621 NW 30th Avenue, Portland (503.224.5778)
The first lesson here is that you don’t even need to leave the city to visit a winery in Oregon anymore. Proprietors Athena or Steward Pappas/Boedecker will happily meet you at a pre-arranged time and show you around. We’re big fans of their 2008 Stoller Vineyard Pinot Noir, which – in the interest of advance research – you can buy here before your visit.

Brooks Winery – 9360 SE Eola Hills Road, Amity (503.435.1278)
It will only take you a couple minutes of chatting with the folks at Brooks winery to realize that they represent one of the most tight-knit winemaking families in the state with one of the most touching stories to boot. Jimi Brooks founded the winery in 1998 and after his early passing in 2004, ownership fell to his young son Pascal. Jimi’s sister Janie also volunteers much of her time to help run the winery. Oh, did we mention that the wines are delicious! Especially their Ara Riesling, which is consistently among our favorite domestic renditions of this grape.

Illahe Vineyards – 3275 Ballard Road, Dallas, OR (503.831.1248)
If you think the three generations of  Oregon winemaking is cool, you need to visit Illahe. Bethany, Brad or Lowell will be happy to arrange for a tour and tasting. They will admit that Beckett isn’t yet two years-old, but he has already shown an uncanny ability to tell Gruner Veltliner from Pinot Gris. Just as he does, we have a special spot in our heart for the Gruner.

Drop-In Suggestions:

Carlton Winemaker’s Studio – 801 N Scott St, Carlton · (503) 852-6100  – Eight wineries including two of our favorites: Ayoub and Brittan. It’s always busy these days, but on a rainy winter afternoon, you can sit at the counter and talk about the wines with the knowledgable tasting room people, maybe get a look at the winery floor, and run into one of the winemakers. Highly recommended

Red Barn – 9325 NE Worden Hill Road (503) 537-1098 March 1 through Thanksgiving – At the top of Worden Hill Road in the heart of Dundee Hills wine country, this underrated stop offers the wines of the Maresh family, made from their famous Maresh Vineyard’s fruit. The wines are made by some great winemakers including the family’s superstar son, Jim. Try the Riesling, made from vines planted in 1978. Wow. One of my favorites .

White Rose Estate – 6250 Hilltop Lane, Dayton, OR (503.864.2328) 11-5 Daily
Drop in during business hours to taste some of the most acclaimed Pinot Noirs in the state. Their wines, famous for their floral qualities, have become favorites of ours. If the quaint a-frame tasting room doesn’t win you over immediately, perhaps being served at the bar by the winemaker’s little brother will. If there is any left, try the 2010 Estate Pinot Noir.

Maysara Winery/Momtazi Vineyard – 15765 SW Muddy Valley Road, McMinnville (503-843-1234)
 12-5 Monday-Saturday
If familial involvement in a winery were a contest, the Momtazi family’s Maysara Winery would be a strong contender. Daughters Hanna and Naseem work on hospitality and sales, respectively, while their older sister, Tahmiene, acts as winemaker. The land that their parents Moe and Flora bought in 1998 is now a fully biodynamic farm, producing a range of whites and reds that are absolutely delicious. Go visit the Momtazi family but study up first by buying a bottle of their 2008 Momtazi Vineyard ‘Asha’ Pinot Noir.

Dominio IV Wines – 845 NE Fifth Street, McMinnville (503.474.8636) 
12-5 Friday and Saturday
Patrick and Leigh are celebrating ten years running their winery in McMinnville. Most of their fruit comes from the Ten Sleeps vineyard, which they own, in Mosier. This vineyard, which is fully biodynamic, offers a dramatic view of the Columbia Gorge from its steep slopes. The couple also runs a bed and breakfast on site which we hear is beautiful. You can get acquainted with their wines by trying a bottle of their  2006 Sketches of Spain Tempranillo .

Author: Jean Yates

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