While earlier sunsets and colder nights signal the end of summer, they also mark the beginning of harvest season. Grapes may not be a high-yield crop for the high desert, but the rest of Oregon has blossomed into a major wine-producing region over the past decade. In fact, Oregon has grown to be the third-largest wine-producing state in the country, with over 700 registered vineyards.
September traditionally is "stomp" month, when the ripened and picked grapes are ready to be squished and smashed. (Local winery Maragas stomped grapes Aug. 31, and Willamette Valley Vineyards will host its stomp on Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 21-22 from 11 am-6 pm at its Estate Vineyard; contact 800-344-9463 to ask to get your feet into the action).
To get in the mood, the Source staff visited a few wine tasting bars downtown last week to try some of our state's fermentations.
Bend d'Vine Chocolate Café & Wine Bar, 916 NW Wall
Last April, Jolie Fiore and David Kalov took over the shop, a boxcar room that stretches surprisingly far back from its Wall Street storefront. Kalov's stepmother was from Germany, and notorious for her knowledge and love of wine pairing.
"She taught us to drink wine and then we developed our own tastes," said Firore. "Now we're wine enthusiasts."
Many of the wines are chosen to complement the European-style, in-house (corn syrup and gluten-free) chocolates.
• Melrose Estate, 2011 Pinot Noir, Umpqua Valley, Ore.
Made in the Umpqua Valley, this wine was our favorite from the evening. With a long, oaky finish, this wine is drier and more relaxed than most pinots.
• Founder's Reserve, 2010 Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Ore.
A Willamette Valley vineyard, this company is helping lead new sustainability protocols for regional vineyards, fueling all of their vehicles, for example, with biodiesel and pushing for carbon neutrality. A surprisingly light pinot, Founder's Reserve carries itself more like a rose or a white. There is no bite, and very little finish, which will be favored by some, and makes a good wash-it-down complement to heavier meals like bloody steaks.
• Volcano Vineyards, Bend Blend, No vintage, Bend, Ore.
One of the few suppliers of Central Oregon grapes, Monkey Face Vineyard at Ranch of the Canyons in Terrebonne, is the oldest commercial vineyard in Central Oregon (er, planted in 2008). This is a dessert wine, sweet as strawberry punch with a strawberry Laffy Taffy aftertaste.
The Wine Shop, 55 NW Minnesota
Housed adjacent to Tin Pan Theater this is an elegant but overlooked, downtown bar. Exposed brick walls give the cozy feel of a 1920s speakeasy. The service was pleasant, but not necessarily speedy. All three Oregon pinot noirs are pulled from the burgeoning vineyard culture on the hills between Portland and the coast. The wet springs coupled with sunny, warm, but low-humidity summers produce some of the richest grapes in the country. This summer, with its early particularly hot summer, should produce a remarkable yield.
• Harper Voit, 2009 Pinot Noir, Eola-Amity, Ore.
A more complex wine, it is sugary with flavors of toffee. With an overly complicated taste, this one can be avoid by all but the adventurous.
• Stony Mountain, 2007 Pinot Noir, McMinnville, Ore.
Surprisingly sweet, with high notes of red licorice, but also counterbalanced with oaky and smoky undertones.
• Walnut Hill, 2011 Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Ore.
A bit thin, but a good complement for stronger tastes, like blue cheese. There is an understated tartness and a few subtle cherry tones.
900 Wall, 900 NW Wall
Although the two wine-centric downtown "bars" we visited closed by 9 pm on a recent weekday evening, 900 Wall is open later and has an extensive list of wines, although a disappointingly slim selection of Oregon reds. But the two they do serve are excellent. (Oh, and we should mention, there is a third wine shop downtown, Good Drop, which closes even earlier, but it is there if you want the full-on wine snob experience.)
• J.V. Stoller Estate, 2009 Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, Ore.
A sweet nose and almost sparkling taste, like a light carbonation that prickles the tongue with sweet notes. Not much finish, but an otherwise delicious and fairly traditional pinot noir.
• Ken Wright Cellars, 2011 Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Ore.
We recommend not smelling this one before drinking. The conversation went something like, "smells like dog food." "Yeah, but the wet stuff." "Nah, cat food. Definitively cat food." The taste, though? Big, round, full, fantastic.
Also recommended, Portello Winecafe, 2754 NW Crossing. On Mondays (4 -9 pm), they provide $5 pours and an extensive collection of wines.