Pinot Noir, from its home in Burgundy, France to
California, Germany, New Zealand, Chile, and even Argentina’s Patagonian
desert, this most challenging of grapes attracts the intrepid winemaker the
world over. We tasted the acknowledged greats and uncovered some hidden gems in
the Willamette Valley. Most delightfully, we had the pleasure of inducting seven
new Irish and Irish-American winemakers and proprietors into the Society: Trish Rogers of R Stuart, David O’Reilly of
Owen Roe, Scott Flora of Native Flora, Dick Shea of Shea Vineyard, David Hansen
of ArborBrook, Tom Fitzpatrick of Alloro Vineyard and Elevée Vineyard, and
David Polite of Carlton Hill.
Our home for the tour was at the four-star Allison
Inn & Spa in Newberg, Oregon wine country’s premier luxury destination
resort, surrounded by vineyards, flower and herb gardens, and spectacular views
of Parrett Mountain, the Chehalem Mountains, and the Dundee Hills.
Our first evening was spent in the company of
Irish-born Trisha Rogers, founder and partner at R Stuart & Co (www.rstuartandco.com) with her friends
Rob and Maria Stuart. They founded the winery in 2002 having worked together
with one of the great pioneers of Pinot Noir in Oregon, Dick Erath of Erath
Vineyards. Trisha’s background in science, analytical chemistry, and literature
with years involved in the wine and food industry led her to write the
exuberant and eye-opening The Zing! thing, a way of seeing and
understanding wine and food anew. We were delighted to receive autographed
copies of her book.
Carmen Peirano Ferguson prepared a stellar meal paired beautifully with R Stuart wines at Nick’s Italian
Café, where the food movement began in Oregon. Founder and owner Nick Peirano welcomed us to his marvelous restaurant.
The following days passed swiftly with visits to JK Carriere
led by its talented and much-respected winemaker and owner, Jim Prosser.
JK Carriere – graceful and age worthy Pinot Noir, staggering views, wild-eyed
winemaker – classically Oregon; Owen Roe (www.owenroe.com)
(named after the famous Irish patriot), led by the delightful Belfast-born David O’Reilly,
whose wines enjoy a near-cult following; then on to the small and secluded
to dine with owners Scott and Denise Flora where the vistas entice
as much as the wines, not least their ravishing sparkling wine. Tom Danowski,
head of the Oregon
Wine Board, kindly joined us for dinner and provided insight into
wine developments in Oregon.
Friday morning saw us setting out early for a tour
and tasting at Domaine
Drouhin Oregon (www.domainedrouhin.com),
Burgundy’s first venture into the New World from where they now produce
exquisitely elegant wines in the Burgundian style, but with Willamette Valley
boldness. Assistant winemaker, Arron Bell and Sales Director, Ashley Bell made our visit memorable. Then on to neighbors Domaine Serene (www.domaineserene.com) for a tour and
tasting lunch guided by Ryan Harris, President of Dom Serene.
Before departing for dinner, we assembled on the
terrace of the Allison to enjoy the superb wines of the McWilliams family from the
Russian River Valley of Sonoma, Arista Winery (www.aristawinery.com), provided through
the kind assistance of Rachel Gaffney. At Recipe, the winemakers’ favorite, in a classic
Victorian home in the heart of old town Newberg, chef and owner Paul Bachand prepared a feast showcasing the exquisite Willamette Valley wines.
The superb wines kept coming with a tasting at Bergström Wines and a delightful al fresco lunch at charming ArborBrook Vineyards (www.arborbrookwines.com) with the
Hansen, then on to Shea Wine Cellars and Vineyard (www.sheawinecellars.com) where Dick Shea enchanted us with his stories of vineyard practice and winemaker Blair Trathen shared his wine expertise, while Peter Shea kept the superb wine flowing.
Once more into the vineyard with winemaker Tom Fitzpatrick of Alloro
in the western reaches of the Chehalem Mountains, on a glorious afternoon, then
to the cellar for a fascinating tasting that included his own wine, Elevée Vineyard (www.eleveewines.com). Our evening
concluded with dinner at the charming Lenné Estate (www.lenneestate.com) with winegrower Steve Lutz.
Gorgeous wines, a beautiful setting, and marvelous music provided by
B Connolly on the button accordion and Cary Novotny as vocalist and on
Our last day in the Willamette Valley brought us to
Hill Vineyard (www.carltonhillwines.com)
Polite charmed all. And yes, sitting on top of Carlton Hill is a
croquet court where from time to time local wine makers engage in a battle for
supremacy. Croquet, the sport of winemakers and now the sport of WineGeese when
a marathon match ensued won ultimately by June and Archie Bennett who received
to remember their triumph, on a perfect Sunday afternoon, a magnum of the 2008
Carlton Hill Pinot Noir, a vintage and a wine for champions. Teams surged
forward and fell back with astonishing regularity, but second place was taken
finally by Kevin Curley and Cathy Grimes, who are ready to enter the lists once
more in a re-match.
Our far-reaching and memorable tour concluded with a
farewell dinner at justly famed Ponzi Vineyards (www.ponziwines.com), one of the pioneers
of the region, with a perfectly paired meal provided by their own Dundee Bistro showcasing local ingredients and those seductive Ponzi wines.
We wish to
express particular appreciation to Ralph Stinton of Grape Escape (www.grapeescapetours.com) and his
magnificent guides, John Davis, Larry Landauer, Stefany Bapst, and Bill
Bourque. Our journey was made all the more enjoyable through their
knowledgeable and cheerful assistance.