There is wine in them there hills!!!
...well at least on the other side of the river.
Several months ago I received an e-mail from Jason Hanson at Hanson Vineyards. The e-mail was asking if I was interested in being a wine judge at an event that was coming up. Now I have to admit, that while I was excited about the possibility, I was nervous. I didn't want Jason or anyone who reads The Oregon Wine Blog to think that any of us were misrepresenting our selves with regards to our knowledge of wine. And I have to say that while I have probably been enjoying wine longer than any other contributor here at TOWB, I definitely feel as though I am the least qualified to judge any wine events. After
some emails back and forth with Jason confirming I am not a expert on wine, I felt better about agreeing to judge. I would also learn that pretty much all of the judges were
not experts in wine, and we may have all been bloggers as well.
The premise was very simple actually - there would be several judges and we would be sampling wines from the 11 wineries that make up the East Valley Wine Association. All of them are small family owned wineries. The wines were broken down in different categories - Pinot Noirs, Other Reds, Whites, Deserts, and Other from what I recall. The request was made that if we started judging in one category, that we continue through that entire category. We did not have judge all of the categories, either. The worst part was that we could only end up picking 3 each category, with our top choice being given 3 points, 2nd 2, and 3rd 1 point.
So on a clear, sunny, and warm May day, I made my to St Josef's Winery with my colleague Kate, where the event was taking place. It was Kate's last weekend in Salem, as she was moving to the Puget Sound area for a new job. And considering Kate was the first person I met when I came to Willamette for my interview, it seemed fitting she and I hang out a bit this weekend nearly 3 years later. It was also helpful for me to have a designated driver as there was another get together for Kate later in the evening, so she was committed to not drinking as much this afternoon.
True to form, the wines I decided to partake in and judge were those in the Pinot Noir category. Kate jokingly observed that I did choose the category that had the most amount of wine. Hey, what can I say :-)
The approach I took to each was trying to engage the staff member who was there from each winery asking them and about the winery - mostly due to the fact that I was completely unfamiliar with all of them, but also to be polite, rather than just going up to them and asking for a sample, and just chat with them a bit about their wines. As a result, I have some notes about the wineries as well as the notes I made about their wines.
The first pinot I had was from Piluso Vineyard located in Aumsville, Oregon. They are a small winery, only producing about 500 cases a year. I remember their 07 Estate Pinot Noir to have a bit of a stronger aftertaste.
The 08 Estate from Pudding River Wine Cellars was next. Kate had had wine from them before, and while their labels looked familiar, I don't recall having had them before. Their pinot was one that enjoyable and clean. It was light, almost sweet on the nose and was subtle on the palate. Pudding River is based out of Salem. They are known more for their whites, with the grapes coming from the East Valley. They are also getting a bite more acclaim in the white area. Their estate is located near the Oregon Gardens.
I then went to try the 07 Pinot Noir of Hanson Vineyards. In talking with Clark Hanson, he told me about the farm being in his family since the 1930s I believe it was. They started growing grapes in the early 2000s after his son, Jason Hanson returned from the East coast. Clark did say that about 50% of the land is designated for grape growing. When I asked him why only 50%, he jokingly responded "You don't go 100% in with something like wine." That statement seems to be true with almost every winemaker I have talked to - they take their time growing and developing the art of viticulture. Their pinot noir was among my favorites of all of the ones I had that day.
I went over to King's Raven next where they had two pinots. One was an 08 Reserve which I thought was very good and among my favorites. I noticed the color on it immediately and I found it to be great on the tongue. The other was an 08 Estate which I found the spices to be noticeable and enjoyable immediately.
I don't have any notes on the winery or vineyard itself, which could bebecause I find myself missing a page of my notes, which may mean I will undoubtedly leave a winery or two out. My apologies to our readers and the wineries for that mishap on my part.
Another winery I don't have complete notes on is Alexli Vineyard and their 08 Pinot Noir. Alexi used to be known as Markham Hill, and through Markham Hill have around for about 30 years. They decided to take a different direction and along with that re-branded themselves as Alexli, which has been around for about 3 years. At Alexli, they do everything by hand. I also learned that their whites are aged in steel barrels.
Last, but certainly not least was Christopher Bridge based out of Oregon City. While I don't have a lot of notes about the winery, I have some on their wine. The first wine I had as a 07 Estate. This was another good wine to help round out the day. I found that it didn't linger too much on the palate, but it had a full, yet subtle, lasting aftertaste. One of the other wines I had from Christopher Bridge was their 08 Estate Muscat. This was not as sweet as other muscats, with a lighter sweetness to it.
This was such an amazing day, with great music, wine, food, and desserts. I was excited to have experienced an event like this because it was my first experience seeing the collegiality of wineries in an area. They all knew each other and complimented each other so much - these family vineyards were together like a family in the East Valley Wine Association. I look forward to visiting the wineries individually and seeing what else they have to offer.
Until next time...