Willamette Valley: Land of Pinot!

Aloha from McMinnville, Oregon, just 40 miles Southwest of Portland!  We left Cloverdale on our 600 mile journey on Monday.  The first leg is from Cloverdale to Williams, which is where we pick up the I5 freeway.  80 miles.  2.5 hours.  There have been landslides from all of the rain and road crews were cleaning up, mitigating and otherwise trying to stay ahead of the game.  This amounted to two delays and about 30 minutes of sitting and waiting.  Frustrating when you have a good 10 hours of drive time under regular conditions.  The rest of the trip was uneventful.  The prettiest part of the drive is the Lake Shasta and Shasta Mountain region just before the Oregon border.  We had visited Lake Shasta, many years ago, when the shoreline was some 50 feet below the “bathtub ring”.  Not so on Monday.  The lake is full to the brim and the snow hasn’t even started coming down from the tallest peaks.  The tallest is Mount Shasta, topping out at over 14,000 feet.  Liz was driving and I took a snap shot at about 75 miles an hour.  It was lightly shrouded with clouds, but the majority of the white you see is snow:


We checked in to our Airbnb cottage in McMinnville at about 5:40, some 10.5 hours after leaving Cloverdale.  Shortly after unloading we had a visitor:


This reminded us of the herd of mule deer that make their way through our yard in Logan. Apparently, there were 4 of these little guys, but we only saw two.  She was unfazed as we went to and from the cottage.

McMinnville, it turns out, is not only the birthplace of Pinot in the Willamette Valley but also the birthplace of my running partner of 20 plus years, Paul.  Turns out, his childhood home is only 4 houses from where we are staying.  Paul went to Elementary school down the street and spent his formative years in McMinnville.  His father was a Methodist Minister and the home Paul grew up in was the Parsonage.  We walked by the house and Laura, the latest owner, was just arriving from work.  I introduced Liz and myself and she proceeded to tell us the history of the home.  It was built in the 1920’s by a doctor.  In 1949, it was “sold” to the Methodist church for $50.  It became the home of the Methodist ministers from 1949-2002.  I am sure that Paul’s family was one of the first families to move in.  In 2002, the church sold the home to Laura and her husband.  Nothing much has changed with the house with the exception of the clapboard siding (still there, white) which is now underneath a gray vinyl siding.  They also added on a small area off of the back to expand the kitchen/eating area.  Here are two pics of the house:



I emailed the story and the pics to Paul.  I am sure he will be pleased to see what great shape the house is in.

This morning, we headed off to taste Pinot Noir.  This time of year, the wineries are open 11-4, so 3 tasting rooms were about all we could squeeze in, plus a break for lunch.  We had several  recommendations from friends (thanks Clark!) and wanted to visit about 8 wineries.  But 3 would be the limit.  First up was Domaine Drouhin.  The Drouhin family dates back to the 1880’s with the patriarch starting his grape growing and wine making in Burgundy, France (hence the Domaine name).  Currently there are 180 hectares of vineyards in the Cote de Beaune, Cote de Nuits and Chablis areas.  Some of the family immigrated to Oregon in 1961 and began wine making here in the 1980’s.  They make Chardonnay and Pinot.  We tasted all of them and they were yummy.  When we told them about our adventures in Nuit St George, they allowed us to try one of their wines from France.  Fun!


The winery is located just outside McMinnville in Dundee Hills.  Several of the top wineries are located on these hillsides and the views are stunning:


Second, we visited Bergstrom, one of the more famous wineries in the area.  Here too, the wines are memorable and here too they only served Chardonnay and Pinot.  We noticed driving around that the vines are very close to the ground.  Also, when we arrived in Sonoma 5 weeks ago, the vines were bare (they are fully leafed out now).  Here, we are back to bare vines with tiny buds (North and colder).  So I asked about the vine height.  Have a look:  vines/root stock only 18 inches or so high, and spaced only 3 feet apart, compared to Sonoma where they were 4.5 feet high and spaced 5 feet apart.


Two parts to the explanation:  They are purposefully spaced closer together to encourage the roots to compete for nutrients and to dig deeper for water.  (This helps to concentrate the fruit)  Also, French Style Burgundies are planted in this same fashion.  They keep the canopy lower to the ground to help stave off freezing during the spring.  It was unusual to see these stubby little vines just starting to bud, especially in comparison to the vines in Sonoma.  We were also informed that the soils in the valley here are not conducive to grape growing.  So all of the vineyards are on the hillsides.  Not so in Sonoma; every square inch of mountain, hill and valley are covered with vines.

Finally we visited Chehalem.  We heard that they had a wider variety of whites (some of the wineries are even growing the Austrian varietal Grunerveltliner) and we wanted to taste those as well.  Chehalem had the usual collection of Pinot’s but also a Reisling, Rose, Pinot Gris and un-oaked Chardonnay.  We really enjoyed the Pinot Gris particularly.

We will need to make another stop here and expand our palette!  We also need to visit/explore Portland so perhaps we can spend a week in this region in the not too distant future.  Tomorrow, we head to Vancouver to spend time with our BC family(s).  We will visit May 3-6 and then head to the Okanagan Valley for more……..wine tasting!  I will blog to you from Beautiful British Columbia!!


Author: euro916

I am a college professor in the music department of Utah State University. I will start my sabbatical on May 1, 2016 and plan to document the year's experiences in this blog. The sabbatical consists of musical endeavors in Europe/UK for 3 months, and half a semester as guest artist in a couple of California universities. Thanks for following!

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