So I made it to Oregon!
A feat I would not have thought possible if not for a friend currently living out there due to her traveling job, and not so subtly nudging me to come visit. It just so happened to be a good time due to compounding stresses, one of which had to do with finding a sixty pound American Staffordshire Terrier on your doorstep in Brooklyn a home before painfully acknowledging that it's life might be with the local pound. I would have kept the big guy but I already have a dog and in New York even having a pet seems to make you a liability when in the throes of apartment hunting... le sigh.
I know to most the idea of planning a trip might not seem like a Herculean task. I like almost everyone can't wait to get away at times but if you knew me, I can be kind of hesitant to planning ahead for a trip that especially involves getting on a plane (ahhh!) to cross the continent or ocean. Flying is not my favorite mode of transportation, I feel like you have no control over your situation if something goes wrong, not that trains or busses are any better but at least I'm on the ground...
Clearly I mustered up some confidence, in two years at my current job I've used a day of vacation time, besides the trip was meant to celebrate our birthdays and part of the deal was that I would write up our itinerary which meant wineries, breweries, distilleries or whatever we could get ourselves into! I originally met Krystal while at West Virginia University during, as I like to call it, my first undergrad. I spent two years there before transferring to the School of Visual Arts. We met in the local Tae Kwon Do university class and the rest was rather history. Krystal's job allows her to travel, currently living four hours south of Portland in Medford: a small suburban city where it seemed sunny and dry, surrounded by a plethora of wineries of its own and complete with an amazing sushi restaurant where the portions of salmon seemed more like a steak!
I should mention that at the moment I'm writing this it's allergy season, full on torture in New York while in Oregon all that plant sex laden air seems to have passed; it was a glorious foray into breathing...
The list I whipped up originally included about 9 or so wineries with only one that I had any passing acquaintance with. In reality we only made it to about four which is not only more realistic but also better because it keeps your palate from overloading, your senses from going "numb" and avoids higher levels of intoxication - a few things that don't mix well with driving let alone appreciation.
Following lunch we unloaded our things at her current residence and made plans to go into Jacksonville for local libations and food to start the trip off, but alas paperwork had to be done so we planted ourselves on the patio amidst the garden in full bloom, in the sun, and sipping on Quady North's Cabernet Franc. It was nice and fresh, had some fleeting display of darker fruit, hints of green pepper but was otherwise uninspiring, playing between kind of thin and somewhat medium but without the depth and grit I usually enjoy.
After our short respite we met up with a friend of hers who also travels from work and is originally from Florida. Over the course of the night we were asked at every location, because they check your state licenses, how we a) knew one another and b) found ourselves to be in Oregon. It kind of became a running joke since we were from three very different parts and happened to find ourselves on the West Coast. Our first stop was the Quady North tasting room in downtown Jacksonville. The winery is named after Herb Quady, son of Andrew and Laurel Quady out of California and who make the black muscat based wine called Elysium, a wine I've had a few times and love. Herb's main focus is Syrah, Viognier and Cabernet Franc, all sourced from Applegate Valley AVA and Rogue Valley AVA just south-southwest of the tasting room. I was quite interested in the Viognier and Rose but the flight that day only covered their Syrah spectrum, four wines in total from first to last tasted: 2009 Mae's Vineyard Syrah, 2010 Steelhead Run Syrah, 2010 Sam's Vineyard Syrah, and then the 2009 '4-2,A' Syrah.
I don't often think of Syrah being grown in Oregon, Pinot Noir has laid claim here along with Chardonnay and Pinot Gris. If it's one thing I learned on this trip, it's the diversity the state has in varietals. Since I didn't take notes while we were standing there - sometimes I feel like this is either rude or pretentious, to take notes like a scribe rather than enjoying the company and moment - I particularly recalled the 2009 Mae's Vineyard Syrah, it had a funk to the nose like a musty cloud through a swamp -swamp fog- while the palate had all the darkened fruit and signature weight yet seemed a little awkward. The 2010 Sam's Vineyard was a bit like this without the swamp fog funk and more quaffable. I was really into the 2010 Steelhead Run Vineyard Syrah, the nose was more subtle, the palate more evened and the acidity was there singing underneath - let's see if I agree with myself when I retaste the wine! Finally there was the 2009 '4-2,A', a fuller bodied, deeper denser expression that was really pleasing and enjoyable but again I left the tasting room with the previous wine because of it's acidity.
While chatting with the tasting room associate, a neighboring associate from a nearby tasting room came in and suggested we go down the block to visit South Stage Cellars, it was the only other one nearby and opened for another hour. Hopping on over your immediately met by a wall of wine composed of various labels some their own and many others not their own and with what seemed like every varietal under the sun; I wouldn't have thought Pinotage or Tempranillo were being grown in the Oregon! South Stage Cellars has some 13 vineyards over 420 acres and was dubbed, at its inception in 1989, Quail Run Vineyard; they not only use blocks of this vineyard to make their own label but have formed partnerships with other local winemakers - one of which is Dobbes Estate, a winery on my list for the next day - whom Joe Dobbes crafts a few of the South Stage Cellar wines like the Carmenere. With that as our launching point our tasting flight consisted of Pinot Grigio, Malbec, Carmenere and one other white that I can't recall., maybe it was Chardonnay, I'm not sure, I was too busy tasting the Albarino and Muscat (bright and fresh!) and inquiring about how they work.
The Carmenere was by far the most interesting due to the distinct note of jalapeno on the nose, the Albarino was interesting in the fact that it was being grown there, a bit fuller and robust, somewhat like the Xangall that I posted not too long ago though less expressive; the other two were uninteresting and their Muscat wine was beautiful, floral and sweet smelling with a refreshing palate. By this time it was nearing 8pm and so settled up with our purchases (Carmenere!) and to a nearby barbecue joint where I went with a burger instead of the pulled pork. Don't judge, it was a tough decision, I just like my burgers!
The plan for the next day was to leave by 9am so we could have enough time (I thought) to visit all the wineries on our way up to Portland before our first appointment at Patricia Green Cellars (1pm) and then visit a few before our next appointment at Dobbes Family Estate (3pm). Suffice it to say I was being ambitious, about halfway through our drive we weren't going to make our first appointment but instead made it on time for our second and the rest of the wineries I had planned weren't going to happen. The colloquialism 'your eyes are to big for your stomach' is appropriate here, especially now with wine, I'm a kid in a candy shop and just by being in proximity makes me want to catch them all! And so this vacation truly turned into a vacation, meaning the plans made entailed more detours because when you're visiting a new place you might be better off going out and seeing what you run into rather than sticking to a plan.
But Dobbes Family Estate tasting room was our next stop. We were greeted warmly and the gentleman offered up a tasting of four Pinot Noirs and a Grenache Blanc, a grape that is kind of an oddball and mostly used in Southern Rhone blends rather than made as a stand alone. Without a doubt the Pinots were beautiful, influenced by Joe's studies abroad in France, yet I was more interested in the Grenache Blanc, it struck me as something akin to a southern French white with an oily acidity, if that makes sense, medium-full bodied and then that light grazing of silvery herbs/warmed grasses on the nose. We spent a little while here and for lunch were recommended Bert's Chuck Wagon right up the street where I scored the best pulled-pork and spiced tater-tots - the perfect follow up!
By this time of the day we were reaching the last stretch, most of the wineries on the list were either closed or too far south - the goal of collecting one bottle from each of the AVAs was ambitious and unrealistic considering the short time we ended up having - and at this point my friend had been driving the entire way. Luckily most of the wineries are within a five or ten minute ride and so at lunch I had called ahead for one last rendezvous, I mean, when will I be back to Oregon - hopefully soon! This last winery was Laurel Ridge Winery, established in 1974 but operating as a family winery since the mid-80's where we were quickly greeted by two lovely ladies and a flight of five wines of my own choosing: Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Gewurztraminer, Zinfandel and Tempranillo. I chose the first two because I don't often go hunting for typical "American" varietal wines, though lately I've been on a Chardonnay buying spree so we'll see where that goes; Gewuztraminer and Zinfandel because I have a long time love of them , and Tempranillo simply because it seemed an oddball. I started with the Gewurztraminer which was done in a lighter fresher floral style, it was nice but not how I like it; the Chardonnay didn't peak any real interest; the Cabernet Sauvignon landed in the same camp as the Chardonnay though I wouldn't mind revisiting; the Zinfandel had the spice, structure and fruit though again this one kind of fades from memory now, and the Tempranillo was interrupted by a separate smaller bottling of Tinto Roriz. It was explained that they don't make much of this and that it isn't apart of their regular tasting menu, and that although it's the same as Tempranillo it was a separate clipping from a pocket region in Portugal, rather than from Spain, and so has some distinctive characteristics associated with it. Well upon first taste there was an obvious difference in expression, it was much more powerful and distinctive than their Tempranillo label; could this be from the grapes themselves being that different, the new region or from wine making practices? I left with a bottle and will report back my findings at a later date. This was the quickest tasting of them all being the end of the day and were itching to get to our airbnb location to settle our things, grab dinner and unwind.
After settling in at our airbnb, we were directed to Mississippi Avenue for dinner and drinks; it was the closest hot-spot at this time of the day and Sidecar 11, with its wall of whiskey and scotch, certainly fulfilled our liquid craving. (For the record, as you will find out later, I had an Old Fashioned). For solid satisfaction we walked the strip to see the full gamut of what was available and then settled on Radar Restaurant, which just happened to be next door to Sidecar, and grabbed a few plates of tapas - some pickled pickings with a bluefin tuna tartar! It was the perfect end to a long drive and the beginning of a great, yet brief, odyssey into Portland.
The next day we trammed it over to the Pearl District to grab lunch at the Rogue Dead Guy Distillery because I'm in Portland and it's a pretty damn good beer, the beer menu could easily be a small pamphlet if ever bound, offering over twenty different types to compose your flight from and in recent years have been producing their own line of spirits. So of course I had a beer flight, what was I going to do, have one pint of one beer on the list, never! Not with all these choices! As my friend sipped on her Bloody Mary, the pickings were also amazing though I'm beginning to fall into the mindset that tater tots, buffalo wings and seasoned french fries are all one needs to pair with anything, maybe it's because I'm getting older... We also threw in some blue cheese meatballs but weren't entirely impressed and for that flight I chose the: Chipotle Ale, Morimoto Soba, Republic Rouge and the Beard Beer. I think my favorite was the Chipotle Ale for the infused spice, though the savory mouthfilling Morimoto would easily satisfy me pint after pint; the Beard Beer was a bit fuller and forward and the Republic Rouge was perhaps the blandest out of the group. One day I will get around to adding beers to this list, I've sketched out a few but at the moment it'll have to be a future project since my beer knowledge is rather weak. Regarding Rogue, I don't think I need to rain down praise, it has quite the following and I wouldn't be saying anything here that others wouldn't already know, except that, I wish I could have tried more but alas we had a distillery and a whiskey festival to walk into on happenstance.
Our last adventure included a visit to Bull Run Distillery where we joined a tasting of all their spirits. I'm not one to taste liquors, sure I'll have a good mixed drink - a nice old fashioned, a pina colada, a painkiller, a rusty nail - but straight alcohols just have a distinct smell, a kind of presence like a poltergeist where the high alcohol content will overwhelm on the palate and come whipping back in terror when I make it to the third drink. Sometimes I get in the mood for a single-malt scotch, but that's few and far between and even then I know that although I enjoy the nose (before the burn of course) it's not something I can have more than one serving. But at the same time I really want to be swept up in the charming cocktail and spirits lifestyle, be classy behind the ornamentations or the glow of that diaphanous liquid and sit looking through the crowd of smoke and ties as if in some 1920's swing bar. But we started off with their two vodkas (the most vile of all spirits) and was pleasantly surprised by the Medoyeff, it's not distilled to high heaven and so retains a lot of complexity on the nose and almost creaminess on the palate. I've tasted a few vodkas over the last few years that are made in smaller batches with little distillation, allowing the liquid to retain its character and find that I much prefer these over the more well known swill. I sometimes feel there is a little deception in the fact that vodka looks like water in fancier more expensive bottles. From there we moved onto the gin and then the rum where, particularly with the rum, the creaminess was more prominent. It's Hawaii based sugar cane meets Portland, Oregon, aged in bourbon barrels and so takes on a yellowish tinge to it. I most enjoyed this one and could see myself having a good pina colada with it or anything else with it as a base. The rest of the line-up consisted of their rye whiskeys and I left my friend to taste those, I tried and on the second or third I was barely holding it in my mouth and quickly leaning over the spit bucket as if I were going to vomit; is it just me or does alcohol make one salivate profusely? I dipped back in to taste the Chinato barrel aged whiskey and their aquavit - a seriously enchanting libation with a nose full of herbs, some salinity and all beauty - I preferred both over the line-up of whiskeys and could see myself sipping each under an ice cube.
While we chatted with the woman running the tasting, she mentioned that there was a whiskey festival happening nearby. Gladly we made our way over and ended up spending the rest of the day there, soaking up sun, music, drinks, an iron work station and drinks. Since my friend Krystal is from West Virginia, I guess it's not unfair to say she has a taste for moonshine and whiskey. I left much of the tasting up to her and opted for beer to quench my thirst; I spent more time sniffing the over two-hundred samples of Ryes, Bourbons and Scotches showcased, enchanted more by bottle designs and labels leaving the conversing to her while I eavesdropped.
At Olympic Provisions we ended filling our stomachs with a large cheese and meat plate, a long walk over the Fremont Bridge followed before giving in to the tram because everything feels within walking distance to a New Yorker, and then some Netflix before bed.
At the close of the trip I managed not to come home with a full case of wine, so I'm a bit proud of myself in that respect and of course fell in love with that part of the northeast. I was told I made it there before the rain that the northwest is known for, every day was sunny and where Krystal lived, I was told was more tame with the rain than what Portland is known to be.
I'll leave the details about the regional history and wineries to be elaborated on in the next post in this American Wine section with reviews.