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Oregon Wine Country

“We could in the United States make as great a variety of wines as are made in Europe, not exactly of the same kinds, but doubtless as good.”
~ Thomas Jefferson

TJ was right on target when he predicted that the United States could make some mighty fine wine – just took a few decades

In the case of Oregon Pinot Noirs it’s only been 50 years since they first started planting Pinot vines near McMinnville, OR – my next destination – now ground zero for some world class Pinot Noirs – and, since it’s October, time for the “crush” – time to bring in the grapes and start another vintage – perfect time for a visit. – yes siree!!

Good wine is a necessity of life for me.
~ Thomas Jefferson

Like I said – that TJ is one sharp guy that I can relate to…life is too short to drink cheap, bad wine

I had originally planned to stop here on my way from Bend OR and before I went to the coast, but then the “Reluctant RV’er” decided that she needed to experience the Pinot tour too – her business schedule conflicted with an early October stop so I needed to back track a bit from the OR Coast – no worries – a short run back over the coastal range to McMinnville, OR

And, it was a pretty run into Willamette Valley (pronounced like “damn it” – get it right or they know you’re not from these parts!)

The valley itself is west of Portland and stretches for about 150 miles from the towns of Yamhill Valley through the city of Salem and south to Eugene – it’s a nice drive through an area of family farms, nurseries, orchards and colorful vineyards and views of the mountains in the distance.

McMinnville is in the heart of the Yamhill Valley portion of Willamette – and, a perfect base from which to stop at the winegrowers of Dundee Hills as well as stop at the world class Evergreen Aviation Museum

“Known in wine circles as the epicenter of Oregon Pinot noir, the first grapes in the Dundee Hills were planted in the late 60s, when pioneers such as David Lett of Eyrie, Dick Erath and the Sokol Blossers planted many of Oregon’s first vineyards. It wasn’t much later that others took note, including Burgundy producer Maison Joseph Drouhin. Drouhin embraced the Dundee Hills as the next frontier in Burgundian varietals with his 1987 decision to purchase 225 acres and building a winery squarely placing the Dundee Hills and Oregon on center stage for world class Pinot noir. “

I thought the history of this place was pretty remarkable too – it’s only been 50 years since they started growing Pinots here – they had had their own version of “Bottle Shock”

For decades vintners believed northern Oregon was too cold to grow good wine grapes. They were wrong. Once growers began to realize the weather wasn’t the problem they had feared, they realized that the climate plus the soil varieties produced by the state’s varied geologic past melded beautifully to grow the thin-skinned, low-yielding and sometimes cranky pinot noir grape. Wine characteristics, growers say, can vary substantially from area to area in the valley, depending on the soil, even though the grape is the same

Winemaker David Lett planted the first Pinot noir in the Dundee Hills in 1965, naming it The Eyrie Vineyard. Soon after arrived Dick Erath of Erath Vineyards. It didn’t take long for the world to discover Dundee Hills and Oregon – after the relatively unknown Eyrie Pinot noir placed among the top three wines in the 1979 Gault-Millau French Wine Olympiades, beating out more famous French labels.

And, if you’ve been following along with this nomad, you know I like learning about the history of places; meeting the locals; experiencing the food, drink and culture of places – sounded like McMinnville was certainly was going to be the epicenter for a great week…time to get going….been told there were some 50 vineyards in the area

Time to hit the tasting rooms…

First stop was Drouhin – one of the great producers of the so-called “cranky pinot noir grape” – both in France and now in Oregon. The vineyard is on a beautiful hillside with a wonderful tasting room – a wonderful first stop. And, here they were all smiling – after a few weeks of extraordinarily difficult hard work the harvest had been completed just hours prior to our arrival – the balloons marked the final bin picked in the field –

Drouhin was the first of many over the days to come – Serene with its Tuscan style building; White Rose with its old world cluster approach to making fine wines; Erath and Lange; DePonte with a chance to taste some fine so- called “library wines” – somewhat older vintages. Tasted some very fine wines; met some wonderful folks passionate about what they do; experienced a range of wine maker styles over many vintages

And, everywhere folks were whispering about the hopes for the 2012 vintage – they didn’t want to jinx things –2012, however, had a great growing season and had the hallmarks of a classic vintage – maybe need to head back there next year to taste the first bottles 🙂

And, this being a “journey de cuisine”, I was very pleased with the mighty fine restaurants that tiny McMinnville and Dundee offered – if you go, be sure to check out Nick’s, Dundee Bistro, Bistro Maison. Had an outstanding meal at Maison celebrating the Reluctant Ones’ birthday – and enjoyed the chat with the chef owners wife – transplants from the big city existence – simplified their lives to simply live – love that story

This trip was not just about the wines though – could have been of course – but McMinnville is also home to the West Coast’s version of an aviation Smithsonian – the Evergreen Aviation Museum. I had actually picked an RV site next to the museum – a short walk to one of the country’s most remarkable museums spread over many acres and housed in 4 great facilities.

I was really very impressed – the museum facilities display a huge collection of aircraft, vehicles & space technology both inside and outside of the buildings. They even have a new aviation themed waterpark in a building that has a 747 parked on top of it!

I really was completely taken by surprise at how many things they had at Evergreen. Almost every major military aircraft can be found here from the B-17G Flying Fortress, Sopwith Camel, Fokker Triplane, a Messerschmitt , a P-51 Mustang, Spitfire, F-4C Phantom , even a MiG-15. They also have a variety of military helicopters – large and small – like the Cobra, Iroquois & others

And, I was really stunned by the centerpiece of the museum’s first building – the famous Spruce Goose. The flying boat Howard Hughes designed – the largest airplane ever constructed! And, it’s made of wood!! This thing is gigantic, enormous, extraordinary – its size cannot be believed until you see it up close!

In another building, the space history is housed – from Sputnik through Mercury, Gemini, to the moon missions and beyond…amazing

And, throughout the museum were volunteers very ready to answer questions and tell some stories – many had flown these planes – all were very proud of their service. With flags flying everywhere, military might on full display – well – you know the drill – start whistling “God Bless America” with me 🙂

McMinnville and the surrounding area really was offering up some very special experiences. And, like so many place on this journey, McMinnville was one of those places I could have spent weeks – after all, we had only been to a fraction of the vineyards – so many, so little time…

But it’s time to move on – just down the road..

Time for a few repairs in Eugene – the Oregon monsoon had showed this nomad that the Bunkhouse leaked in a couple of places – need to get those taken care along with the list that always exists on the RV

More on all to follow – take care…see you down the road

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. suzanne #

    great writing

    October 29, 2012
  2. Ah, Pinot Noir – my favorite. I brought a case home from Oregon. Did you also have an opportunity to visit Argyle?

    November 4, 2012
    • Stephen #

      really grew to appreciate really fine Pinot Noirs too – Oregon is making some might fine ones – didn’t get to Argyle – so many so little time 🙂 and, like you, stocked up on some wines – in fact, enjoyed one last night with dinner – outstanding! take care.

      November 4, 2012

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