Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Stormy weather...and wine tasting

Memorial Day weekend is traditionally when all of the local wineries open up their tasting rooms and vineyards to tasting and tours. Just 20 miles from the center of Portland there are more than 50 established wineries and over 1,500 acres of vineyards! ( making our small 5 acre Pinot Gris block appear insignificant) It is also the time of year when our weather is unsettled...and in the throws of switching from our wet Winter and Spring to our dry endless Summer. This year the rains and cool weather have continued into June.

Needless to say, we rarely have the time to go and explore other vineyards. Along with friends, Barb and Roger, we headed out to visit three of our favorite fellow winemakers. First stop was at Beran Vineyards, just a few miles down the road from us. Surrounded by bright red clover fields and old walnut orchards, the rolling vineyard rows glowed with strips of bright green new foliage...looking much like our own. Bud break occurred back in early May, about two weeks late, and the leaves have been slow to emerge.

Bill and his wife Sharon have a small operation, but make wonderful Pinot Noir. The old farm, antique barn and winery are all just recently up for sale, and they are hoping to stay in the area on a smaller parcel of land. This is a reminder that having a vineyard or winery may sound romantic, but it involves a tremendous amount of work. We toasted to their future retirement years, where drinking the wine, not tending the vines will prevail!

Our next stop was the Italian inspired Alloro Winery, owned by our friend David. My husband Fred goes by the vineyards weekly on his bike rides and we have always admired the buildings and plantings, which remind us of the places we've visited in Tuscany. The winery buildings and his recently built house are all done in stucco and stone, surrounded by herb plantings, and punctuated by large Italian cypress. There is a gorgeous patio with a stone fireplace and a formal herb garden with olive trees! My idea of paradise. Looking across the valley towards our hillside, the numerous cypress that he has planted at the edges of his vineyard blocks give a unique perspective to the landscape.
His tasting room is not open on a regular basis, so it is always a great opportunity to sample the wines and compare notes and vintages. Walking out into the vineyard we find the family dog has disappeared half way down a mole hole and is frantically digging in an attempt to catch the critter. The is a favorite activity for vineyard dogs! We had a labrador once who dug so deep that only his rear end was showing, making it hard to extricate himself from a near vertical position!

Besides the lab, a lovely butterscotch colored Italian breed stood patiently waiting by the tasting room door.

Many of the vineyards have copies of a book on vineyard dogs which has pictures and information on the numerous breeds and deeds of these valuable creatures. I have fond memories of our Labs and Rottweilers who spent many hours with us working in the vineyard ( and who especially enjoyed chasing deer and digging for gophers and moles!)

As a designer I have admired the small herb garden that Alloro has created next to the winery. Clipped hedges, a central fountain, and a four squared design of lavender, roses and olive sets the mood. Now if only we could get the sun to shine, the picture would be complete! At this time of year it has a habit in Oregon to tease us with short, eratic appearances. Better to come back in August.

Our final stop was at Willakenzie Estate Winery, located west of our Chehalem ridge. Founded by the Frenchman, Bernard LaCroute, and a Cornell classmate of mine, Ronnie LaCroute, the winery and vineyards are in a breathtaking location. The Estate was named after the soil type of the area. After tasting some of their new releases we go out into the vineyard with their assistant winemaker, Michael, to have a closer look. They are one of many wineries in Oregon who believe in sustainable viticulture, and organic farming practices. Out in the field Austrian Pea plants and grasses grow between the rows ( I grab a few for sketching back home!), a herd of long horned cattle grazes on the slope next to the vineyard blocks, and banks of solar panels are observed in the distance.

One of my favorite spots at Willakenzie is on the flat garden terrace located between the two production buildings. Brilliant green grass and white flowering shrubs lend a formality and elegance to the space. A large new stone terrace is being added that will bring you even closer to the sloped vineyard blocks, and open up additional views.

Having dodged raindrops and marveled at dramatic skies and sunlit hillsides, we reluctantly headed for home with our token wineglasses in hand. Not much will get done during the rest of the day!

Mt. Hood offers up a final show as the sun paints the tip and lower slopes with it's last fading light, and shadows break across the lower slopes. A perfect ending to a perfect day!