Through the Eyes of Newbies: Willamette Valley Vineyards

Since beginning The Oregon Wine Blog, one quality we've strived to stick to is breaking down the wine industry in a way that makes it accessible to young people who don't know anything about wine. These folks are usually intimidated by the thought of driving their Honda up a long, winding driveway and parking it in front of a beautiful chateau just to belly up to the bar and not know what to ask for. We know this feeling, but the truth of the matter is it just isn't the case in the Pacific Northwest. We've broken this down numerous times, but it's time we prove our point in person.

To do this, I'm going to dedicate more time dragging people who don't know Chardonnay from Syrah out to wineries I enjoy. This provides three incredible benefits:

1. My
guinea pigs
friends get to experience Oregon wine first hand, find out what they like, and hopefully become lifelong wine consumers of Oregon wine
2. You, the reader, get to hear about their reactions
3. I get to pick wineries I already enjoy and drink great wine either way

For our first journey, Josh and I took Alyssa, Cole, Shannon, Laura, and Chelsea to Willamette Valley Vineyards. Why Willamette Valley Vineyards? For one, they make a little bit of everything. I had no clue what kinds of wines were going to be popular with this group, so it was a safe bet bringing them somewhere that produces pretty much the entire gamut of wines. Not only does this help my friends decide what kinds of wine they like, but it selfishly helps me narrow down what to bring to gatherings. I'm not saying that I particularly minded drinking an entire bottle of Latah Creek Petite Syrah by myself, but I also don't want to be that guy.

The second reason is even more important than the first. We weren't just getting any tour; oh no. We were getting a tour from Willamette Valley Vineyard's very own Wende! Wende is super rad and guided our tour during the Le Tour De Pinot Finale, so we knew our friends were in for an awesome experience.

After quick introductions, we were guided into the main hallway and given a brief history of the wine industry in Oregon as well as the story of how Willamette Valley Vineyards came to be. We even heard about how cork is harvested! While I'm sure our group didn't retain absolutely everything, it was really great hearing an explanation about the industry from somebody who actually works in it. For me, the industry itself is almost as fascinating as the wines it produces and from the feedback I got, everybody in our group really appreciated hearing about it.

With our history lesson over, it was time to hit the wine making facilities! Here we got to walk through their cellar, wine making facilities, and even saw a bottling line. Wende broke down the complicated methodology of making world-class wine into terms so simplistic that Cole even started throwing out questions regarding creating hybrid and custom grapes. While he probably won't end up changing careers to winemaking, it was clear that everybody left with exponentially more knowledge than they had when they showed up.

With the tour out of the way and one glass of Pinot Gris down, it was time to do some tasting!

Instead of bellying up to the bar and going down a tasting list, Wende had other plans for us. Upon walking out of the bottling room, we were lead into a separate event space and had a private table laid out with gourmet cheeses and five different bottles of wine.

Have I mentioned how awesome Wende is yet? Because it's a lot.

For our palate's pleasure, we all had the opportunity to try their regular Pinot Noir, Founder's Reserve Pinot Noir, Merlot, Frizzante, and Viognier. This provided quite the range of wines and lead to some surprising results. I would have guessed that the Frizzante and regular Pinot Noir would have won the crowd over, but here's how things played out:

Pinot Noir: Ranked towards the bottom of peoples favorites of the five. I was kind of shocked because WVV's Pinot Noir is fairly light, fruit-forward, and not at all offensive. It turns out that while they're all wine novices, it was actually too simple for their palates. Even Cole, who can often be found with a Coors Light, shrugged it off.

Founder's Reserve Pinot Noir: This was a home run with the entire crew. Everybody seemed to love how bold it was and how the flavors changed as each sip evaporates off the palate. Wende also showed us a cool trick of rolling a pinot glass on its side with wine still in it, so maybe that had something to do with it.

Griffin Creek Merlot: This was about as varied in opinion as I thought it would be. Surprisingly, this was one of Shannon's favorites. Shannon tends to drink Rieslings and Pinot Gris, so I'm still a bit perplexed as to how her palate works. That said, she really enjoyed the medium spiciness from this Southern Oregon favorite. I may just have myself a new red wine buddy!

Tualatin Estate Frizzante Muscat: Not at all surprisingly, this was a hit with everyone. It's practically wine soda!

Griffin Creek Viognier: This was perhaps the wine of the day. While our guests didn't have experienced enough palates to express every nuance of this wine, they all had the realization that there was a whole new dimension to white wine that they didn't know was there before.

Whole Cluster Pinot Noir: This wasn't one of Wende's wines, but I made everybody try this on the way out. This ended up being a big winner as well, which still has me scratching my head as to why the regular Pinot Noir wasn't. Oh well.

After our incredible tour and tasting session, we hit up the tasting room once again and each picked a few bottles. I was really excited to see that our wine newbies purchased a little over a case worth between themselves. While those guys were picking out their favorites of our tasting session, Josh and I got a little distracted by a few cellar wines on display:

Somehow we resisted the urge to buy the 2000 The Griffin as well as a magnum of port; instead leaving with a few bottles of Griffin Creek Cab Franc. As a somewhat regionally-respected wine journalist, it is my semi-professional opinion that you can never have enough Cab Franc on your rack.

All in all this trip was a huge success. The Oregon wine industry just gained itself five new customers and I got an excuse to visit one of my favorite wineries. A huge thanks goes out to Josh for coordinating the reservations and another out to Wende for being WVV's Senior Executive Director of Awesomeness.

Look for more of these posts as I drag my non-enophile friends to other wineries!


Josh Gana said...

The next step...get our friends to bring good wine to gatherings!

Corks + Caftans said...

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post. They are good people up on that hill---a very special, welcoming place. My wife and I got the chance to enjoy a Wende tour when we visited for our blog about a year ago. Her enthusiasm is contagious.

Loved hearing your thoughts on the wine. I too prefer the Whole Cluster over the entry Pinot---and the Founders is a stunning bottle. I also went straight for the Griff Creek Cab Franc!

I look forward to getting deeper into your blog---there is great stuff here. Happy to see Southern Oregon Wine blog on your links list! Christine and Chris are seriously cool.

If you want to read about our trip to WVV here is a link (feel free to pull it if you publish my comment---not here to pimp!):