Hold on to your wine glass...

...because we have a ton of exciting things coming up on The Oregon Wine Blog. Let me preface by reminding all TOWB'ers that like most in the wine industry, our staff all have day jobs which become very very busy during the month of September. Gotta pay the bills, you know? As a result, plans are subject to change, although our team is dedicated to providing our readership with a quality product, on-time, 95.9% of the time. In the next few weeks you can look for the following features.

First up, we've dispatched a crew to cover Celebration Oregon! The Oregon Wine Awards Ceremony and Tasting on Friday at the Oregon State Fair. A spectacular evening of sampling Oregon's award winning wines...AND...elephant ears. What more could a wine writer ask for? Maybe a bacon-covered maple bar from Voodoo Donuts in Portland, but what can you do? Actually, some of Oregon's top chefs are showcased at Celebration Oregon! so there will be great food abound.

Secondly, we have a team headed to the heart of Eastern Washington wine country this weekend to do some features on the wine and experience of Columbia and Walla Walla Valley. We've got a bit of driving ahead of us, but totally worth it for some good old Red Mountain wine. Do you have any "must-see's" in the Tri-Cities for Walla Walla? Leave a comment. For your stalking pleasure, we've included our route map.
Finally, spanning mid-September into October, we're excited to publish a series on the non-traditional wines of the Pacific Northwest. Malbec, Barbera, Sangiovese, Lemberger, what? We'll tell you what - and include some reviews of local producers of these unconventional NW varietals.

Put on your bib, strap one some boots, and pour a big old glass of Cabernet. This is going to be quite the journey!

A Celebration of Cycling and Wine!

If you've been following The Oregon Wine Blog recently, you know that over the past month we've been participating in Le Tour de Vino -- a cycling journey to 6 wineries in the Willamette Valley. The tour brought blown tires, gravel roads, dead ends, torrential downpours, tight spandex, and a lot of great wine and scenery. As a finale celebration, Rick and I hosted Drew from TOWB as well as Nick, Kristin, and Chris from Block 15 Brewing Company for a feast featuring local, fresh food and some of the best wine from our tour.

We started menu development by choosing the wine, featuring selections from Tyee, Spindrift,
and Belle Vallee. Then came the quest of matching gourmet culinary features that would highlight the wine. We consulted a number of resources, but I want to give a plug for a cookbook that provided the majority of the recipes for the evening -- Best Places Northwest Cookbook. The book is amazing and we suggest picking up a copy from Powell's Books in Portland or another fine book purveyor. From there, Rick and I toiled in the kitchen for many many hours, getting ready for the perfect evening. All dishes were made from scratch with the exception of the Lemon Sorbet.

As we've already discussed the wines in previous Le Tour de Vino posts, I'll highlight the food and how the pairing worked, taking you through the courses as we enjoyed them:

Appetizer -- Oregon Honey Wheat Hazelnut Bread with Aged Gouda, Farmstead Smoked Fontina, and Rogue Oregon Bleu cheeses; paired with the 2007 Tyee Gewurztraminer. A great start to the evening, the cheeses were wonderful and our guests noted that the crisp wine cleaned the creaminess of the cheese off of the palate. We're particularly proud of the bread and it was probably the technically best executed dish of the night.

Salad -- Pepper Steak Salad with Mango, Avocado, and Jalapeño Vinaigrette; paired with the 2002 Belle Vallee Merlot. We knew we wanted to feature the merlot and also knew it wouldn't pair with our desired main dish, so the challenge became finding a pairing that would work using a non-traditional wine progression. This salad hit a homerun! We found it to be a flavorful, spicy salad with quite a bit of heat, although the avocado and mango had wonderful mellowing effect. The wine stood up to the spice and helped temper the heat. The salad had the best presentation of the night and the merlot was our favorite wine.

Palate Cleanser -- Lemon Sorbet. This allowed us to go from the bold merlot with the salad to a more subtle pinot with the main course. Thanks Dryer's!

Main Course -- Rosemary Lamb with a Curry Yoghurt Sauce and Ginger-Garlic Grilled Carrots; paired with the 2007 Spinnaker Pinot Noir from Spindrift Cellars. By far the favorite overall dish, the lamb from Cattail Creek was tender, flavorful, and perfectly prepared. The Pinot complemented both the lamb and the carrots, and we couldn't have hoped for a better match. The lamb melted in our mouths and the curry / rosemary flavor profile was exquisite.

Dessert -- Espresso Creme Brule with Espresso Crumb Cookies. Initially, we hadn't planned a wine pairing with dessert as we hadn't picked up anything sweet on Le Tour. Also, we figured folks would have had enough by that point in the evening. Well, we ended up cheating and making a last minute addition not from the tour and cracked open 2007 Willamette Valley Vineyards Riesling. The approximately 5% residual sugar was perfect. The creme brule tasted wonderful, however the texture was a bit off due to a broken custard. The cookies, however, were the biggest surprise of the night and melted in our mouths.

All in all, Le Tour de Vino Finale Dinner was a smashing success. It was the first time that Rick or I had prepared a multi-course meal of this magnitude, and it was the perfect capstone to a month of biking and drinking. Send me an email if you'd like the recipes and leave a comment and share your perfect pairing experience.


Book Review: Wine Trails of Oregon

Wine Trails of Oregon: A guide for uncorking your memorable wine tour

In what is hopefully the first of many to come, The Oregon Wine Blog presents its very first book review. I'd also like to note that, unfortunately, this review has been delayed entirely too long. While some would say we're lazy, I like to think that we simply let it age and mature. How'd it stand the test of time (3 months)? Let's find out!

To preface our review, Wine Trails of Oregon's author, Steve Roberts, contacted us personally and sent us an autographed copy of his latest book. After writing Wine Trails of Washington, it only made sense to write one about Oregon. Perhaps even more unique is his Idaho rendition coming out in Spring 2010. Anyway, onto the review now that that's out of the way.

Steve Roberts, in an effort that can only be described as monumental, set out with one goal; to visit every single winery in the state of Oregon and write about it. Daunting? Perhaps. Worth it? Totally!

Wine Trails of Oregon is essentially a comprehensive almanac of every winery in the state of Oregon. Each winery's information is displayed in a standard two-page format listing it's name, the story behind it, what's good, contact information, general demographic information, directions, and even a map of its general location in relation to what county it's in.

For example, let's say you're visiting some friends in Corvallis and want to see what wineries are around to go tasting. OWB staff happen to be out of town tasting elsewhere, so you must consult your trusty guide. Wine Trails of Oregon is so well organized that the table of contents would quickly guide you to "South Willamette Valley." This section would then break down 8 wineries in Benton County alone. Want to go a little further south? There are 11 more in Lane county as well. The possibilities are endless (or 19 if you're counting).

So what's the verdict? If you live in Oregon and like to go wine tasting, this is an absolute must buy. If you're out of state and want to learn more about the 200+ wineries listed in this book, I'd also recommend picking it up. This book is out now and is available for $24.95 from Powell's Books (our personal favorite book store).

BONUS THOUGHT: While this is an incredible book, the inner-nerd in me had another thought. One device almost all of us at the OWB have on hand is an iPhone and since this book uses a consistent template, this would make an AMAZING iPhone app. While I don't know the feasibility of that project, I can't imagine having a more convenient way of planning a wine tour than having all of that information in a gps-enabled application. Just a thought.

Oh, and we're planning some features on Washington in the upcoming months and I think we might pick up a copy of Wine Trails of Washington to assist.

Winery Websites

One of my favorite aspects of working with the Oregon Wine Blog is that I also get to maintain the actual website. I've been doing web and graphic design for about 13 or so years now and it's something I love to do for fun. Many of you have sent kind remarks about our recent redesign and I'm glad you all like it.

I mention this because while writing for a wine blog, I also visit a lot of winery websites. Almost every winery out there has a website and I've discovered an odd trend; there is an inverse relation to the quality of a winery and the quality of its website..

Granted this doesn't hold for every winery, but let's try a little experiment. Think of your absolute favorite winery, open a new tab, take a look at its website, and come right back here. It's OK. I can wait.

Welcome back! If your favorite wineries are anything like mine, here are a few things you probably just noticed:

-The website you just looked at looks like it was designed in 1998. If their wine is really good, you probably even noticed they used tables!

-It probably has some useless Flash animation. For some reason, certain designers seem to think that Flash somehow makes up for having a crappy website. Don't have any real content to post? Make a wine bottle fly across the screen!

-Any sort of News section is out of date or scarcely updated. With so many websites using simple content management systems to update information, not having timely updates is just lazy. You could even just use a Twitter feed if you felt like it.

-It looks like garbage on a mobile browser. Sure, accessing websites from something like an iPhone is a newer trend, but it's a good idea to have your site work on mobile devices if your business is one where people will be traveling to visit you.

Alternatively, Sutter Home's site is great! Look at those delicious recipes and how much fun their cycling team is having! Also, Yellow Tail's website is very web 2.0. There are all sorts of useful information posted, like what functions to drink what wine with. Backyard temperature chardonnay? Sign me up!

Now that I've been largely negative, let me preface that I completely understand that small, family-owned wineries make significantly less profit than large conglomo-wineries. The larger point I want to make is that if you make world-class wine and have websites that get very little attention, some may think the same kind of attention is given to your wine. Those of us in the industry know that's not the case, but it's not at all difficult to have a decent, modern looking website. Services like Wordpress, Blogger, and even iWeb make websites incredibly easy. What's even better is many of these services are free. The Internet is a powerful tool and using it to your advantage can do great service to your business.

I'd also like to fully acknowledge that this is by no means the best designed website on the planet. We have a list of things we'd like to change and will get to them when we can. I also fully understand that like wine, everybody has different taste.

Own a winery and want some suggestions on how to improve your site with little effort? Drop me a line and I'd love to share some thoughts.

TdV Stage 6: Benton Lane Winery

As you may have noticed, our stages for the 2009 Tour de Vino have been switched up somewhat from our original plan. Some wineries were deemed unreachable by bike due to long gravel roads (we ride road bikes) and some would require bikes of greater technology. We generate absolutely no income from this blog, so no pair of Bianchi 928 Carbon SLs for us.

One of those last minute changes was a decision to ride out to Benton Lane Winery in Monroe, OR. From where we're at, this means an approximately 42 mile trip back and forth. That may not be far in cycling terms, but keep in mind neither of us are cyclists first and that part of the trip involves carrying wine back. Needless to say, the distance seemed worth it and off we went!

Benton Lane Winery is a family-owned winery that mostly produces pinot noir and pinot gris. They're also very environmentally-conscious; ensuring that all of their wines are salmon-safe as well as a variety of other certifications. Another aspect worth noting is their consistent postage stamp themed branding. You'll see this on all of their signage, labels, and even their wine club shipment wrappers. I point this out only because I'm the Marketing guy and am impressed, so kudos.

Benton Lane's tasting room is actually a rather large facility with both an indoor facility as well as a large outdoor patio area with an amazing view. Upon walking up to the tasting area, Josh and I had the opportunity to taste the only two wines they were currently tasting; their 2007 Pinot Noir and 2008 Pinot Gris. Unfortunately, their 2006 First-Class Pinot Noir (a top 100 wine) was not available for tasting. The reviews:

2007 Pinot Noir: A relatively classic Oregon pinot, this wine is relatively fruit-forward and is very drinkable. The winemaker notes two specific qualities -- a "sexy, spicy character, and incredible fresh cherry flavors." At $26, this is a great bottle to pick up either to pair with a meal or have sitting around for the random occasion.

2008 Pinot Gris: Like the Pinot Noir, this is another wine that aims to be a regional classic for its genre and succeeds. From the winemaker -- "This pale straw colored Pinot Gris has generous floral and pear aromas. In part, this comes from the addition of a small amount of estate grown Viognier grapes. Pressing the juice from whole grape clusters instead of individual grapes minimizes skin contact and this, along with a very cool fermentation, accentuates the delicate aromas." A 93 from Wine & Spirits Magazine doesn't hurt either.

While the wine was fantastic, one thing I do want to point out about our experience at the winery is that it was easily the least-inviting of any winery I have ever been to. While the experience wasn't necessarily negative, I felt as though it didn't matter if we were there or not. We generally don't share about writing for a wine blog until towards the end of our visits, so by no means did we expect any sort of differential treatment. Josh and I were the only two people there at the time and no effort seemed to be made to educate us about the wine nor the property. Perhaps the person behind the counter was just having an off-day, but it left a metaphorical bad taste in my mouth (the wine taste was great).

All in all, the wine and the ride definitely made the trip worthwhile. I'll also make sure to visit their tasting room at another date in the future to see if maybe I experienced an off day. If you're already in the Willamette Valley wine tasting and want to try some great wine, I'd suggest putting Benton Lane on your list of places to go. I caution, however, that their tasting list may not be as robust as others and also that the atmosphere may be a stark contrast from other wineries in the region.

Beware of Wine Bloggers?

Not often do I feel compelled enough to solely repost material from another blog or outlet, but I ran across a post on another wine blog via Wine Press Northwest's twitter feed that I think all blog aficionados should read.

There has long been a sense from traditional wine writers and media outlets that blogs are not legitimate in the world of journalism. Some of this, in my opinion, is a fear of new media, some is offense taken at the new angle that blogs bring, and some is plain old job protection.

Amy and Joe do a great job of breaking down the issue and responding to a critic in the post, Beware of Wine Bloggers!

TdV Stage 5: Springhill Cellars

The 5th stage of Le Tour de Vino was unique in that we did it in two parts. Last weekend, temperatures reached triple digits and while we're all about making sacrifices to enjoy great wine, dying in the heat didn't sound very fun. To keep in the spirit of LTdV, we ultimately decided to do this stage in two pieces. Last weekend we left early in the morning and rode to Springhill Cellars well before their tasting room opened. Today, we revisited and actually tasted wine.

Springhill Cellars is a small, 1ooo case/yr producing winery located just as you enter Albany from Corvallis. As we pulled up to the winemaker's house, we were quickly greeted and escorted to their airconditioned tasting room. Here we were introduced to three wines available for tasting; two pinot noirs (one estate-grown) and an estate-grown pinot gris. Of the three, here are what Josh and I picked up:

2007 WV Estate Pinot Gris: This pinot gris delivers at about .7% residual sugar, yet one may think its higher due to its strong floral aromas. Aside from being slightly sweeter than most pinot gris, I'd say it sticks to the genre fairly well without much deviation. This is very much more of a utility pinot gris that would be enjoyed by a wide audience. At only $15/bottle, you can't go wrong having a bottle of this sitting around.

2005 WV McLain Vineyard Pinot Noir: While not technically estate grown, McLain Vineyard is owned by the founder of Springhill Cellars, Mike McClain. The 12-acre vineyard in the Eola-Amity AVA yields both 115 and Pommard Clone Pinot Noir, and produces a nice drinkable Pinot. Relatively fruity, this Pinot will be a nice utility on the rack.

All in all, you should definitely check out Springhill Cellars if you're wine tasting around Benton County. It's always a treat visiting small-production wineries such as this and getting to pick the brain of the winemaker himself. If you go by bike and ride up Highway 20, be prepared to tackle some hills up to the winery. While it may be frustrating getting to the winery, riding back down is a blast.

Anybody else have the opportunity to visit Springhill Cellars and try a wine we didn't? I hear they have a delictable Rose depending on the time of year.