A Week in Oregon Wine Country
I lived in Oregon for about a year, but didn’t develop an interest in wine until some time after I moved away. Ever since, I’ve wanted to return and explore some of what I missed out on. My wife Jill and I talked about such a trip even before our trip to Sonoma a couple of years ago, and this year, the timing finally worked out to go.
Previous wine-based vacations taught us a lesson that we applied to our time in Oregon: slow down. I tend to want to try as many places as possible, which inevitably leads to headaches, shot palates, fuzzy memories, and falling asleep on the floor of our hotel room before 6 pm. This time, before even getting on the plane, we accepted that we would not be able to visit every winery we wanted. Instead, we narrowed our selections down to just six, based on recommendations from a friend with connections to the local wine industry, online research, and personal experience.
This is where we went and what we thought.
Our visit to Kramer started with Harvey the puppy greeting us at our car. This was enough of an adorable distraction to keep us from approaching the tasting room for a minute or two, which is all it took for the host to notice us and to come out to say hello and introduce us to the pup.
As it turned out, the tasting room was in the middle of having some interior work done, so we’d be doing our tasting outside. Fine by me, it felt incredible out there, and the views were beautiful.
As for the wines, Kramer proved to be more varied in their offerings than any other winery we ended up visiting. The Willamette valley specializes in Pinot Noir with some Chardonnay on the side, which is all well and good, but I like variety, and Kramer had it. One memorable wine we tried, 27 Blocks, was a strange blend of 9 different grapes — Marquette, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Muller-Thurgau, Pinot Meunier, Gruner Veltliner, Muscat, and Carmine. I wouldn’t say I absolutely loved it, but it surprised me with how friendly and drinkable it was.
Their Pinot Noir ended up being the star of the show. Even their least expensive Pinot was fantastic, and lucky us, it was on sale. We bought too much of it. The winery also had a variety of reasonably priced sparkling wines, which I did not get to try, but a friend who joined us did, and he spoke highly of them.
After the tasting, we walked up and down the hilly vineyard and enjoyed the views. I rarely feel like I would want to revisit a winery if we were in the area again — after all, going back to a winery means that’s one less new place you would get to try — but if we ever do return to Oregon, Kramer would be on my list of stops again for sure.
The wine at Saffron, all Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, was great, and our host was friendly and knowledgeable, but the most memorable part of our time here was the view. I mean, just look at this place.
We found out that the winery was designed by the same person who designed the Portland Japanese Garden, which added some context for why the place was so stunning. I think my opinion that vineyards are often nice to look at is a common one, but throw in some well thought out foliage and a koi pond, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for a place that you won’t want to leave.
We purchased a couple of bottles from Saffron, and I’m looking forward to opening them up so I can taste them in a different environment. Again, we all thought the wine was excellent, but it would be difficult to not enjoy just about any bottle you opened up surrounded by that much beauty. On the day we were there, you could have poured me some barely drinkable bottom shelf bulk wine and I’d still be over the moon.
This winery was recommended to us because of its historical significance to winemaking in the region. I think we would have enjoyed ourselves more if we would have done some kind of guided tour that would have communicated something of that history to us while we were there, but we just did a normal tasting, and they were busy, and possibly understaffed. Now, I wouldn’t say we had a bad time at Adelsheim at all, but Jill and I agreed that it was the most forgettable of all six wineries we visited, and our friend who joined us for a few days also agreed that it was his least favorite stop.
As for the wine itself, it ranged from solid to good, but nothing jumped out at us as great, and the ones that we liked more were also much more expensive than most of the wine at the other places we visited.
Still, we enjoyed ourselves, and they did have a rosé that surprised me with its sharp complexity. We drank a lot of rosé on our Sonoma trip, and while I never grew to dislike it, it did tend to blur together and feel like it was just a hurdle to get to the better stuff.
If you decide to go to Adelsheim, I’d suggest trying a tour instead of doing a normal tasting, or at least try to go during a less busy time.
The Pinot Noir we had at Winderlea was, simply put, the best Pinot I’ve ever tried, full stop. Now, given I’m not wealthy enough to try elite Burgundy on the regular, so someone with greater access to all that likely wouldn’t agree with me, but I was floored by the quality and uniqueness of what we tried.
The tasting experience itself was wonderful as well. The space was intimate, the host knowledgeable and welcoming, and, stop me if you’ve heard me say this before, the views were breathtaking. I could have stayed here all day sipping glasses of wine and reading a book, but unfortunately we didn’t show up to Winderlea until near closing time and we didn’t want to wear out our welcome, so our time here was shorter than I would have liked. We left with more bottles than I’d like to admit, and the knowledge that if we ever come back up this way, we’ll be making another stop at Winderlea.
If you’re reading this in preparation for your own Oregon trip, or you live in the Oregon area and are curious about the wine being grown in your backyard, I hope it’s obvious that I would highly recommend heading to Winderlea. We enjoyed all the wineries we visited, but if you only add one of them to your personal Oregon wine checklist, make it Winderlea. If you like Pinot, you won’t be disappointed. And if you don’t like Pinot, you probably change your vacation plans.
Stoller Family Estate
This place feels like the entire Williamette Valley flexing its tourist muscles, and doing a pretty damn good job at it. It’s big, showy, and over-the-top in ways that you might expect Napa to be. I unfortunately didn’t get any decent pictures of the place, although I did get some video, which is where the picture of the helicopter taking off from the vineyard came from. Yep, we were hanging out, tasting some wine, and a helicopter lands a couple football fields away from us, picks up some people way richer than us (I’m assuming), and takes off. Some say they’re still helictopering to this day.
Generally speaking, this style of winery isn’t really my thing — I tend to prefer smaller places with a higher chance that you’re going to end up chatting with the person who made the wine you’re drinking. Truth be told, we decided to go to Stoller because they had a picture of a disc golf basket on their website and we wanted to play. Unfortunately, it turned out they didn’t really have a course on site (à la Flat Creek Estate down here in Texas), they just had a few old baskets stuck around at random. We weren’t too disappointed in that regard, as we probably would have been something of a spectacle, running around, buzzed on wine, throwing frisbees in front of a massive crowd. Don’t get me wrong, I would have done it, but it might have been weird.
The wine itself was good and matched the style of the venue. Big, showy, enjoyable. If you want spectacle, you probably can’t do much better than Stoller. I don’t know who you need to talk to about getting a helicopter ride, though. Sorry.
We finished our trip at Cristom, which was the only winery from our trip we had any previous exposure to, having tried a few of their bottles back home. We loved what we tried, so we made sure to check out the winery while we were in the area.
Our experience there was nice — beautiful grounds, good wine, nice hosts with cool knowledge of the area’s history. We were excited to spot a Syrah on the tasting menu — finally something that isn’t Pinot Noir and Chardonnay! We were confused when we tried it and it tasted like Pinot Noir. This is probably why they mostly grow Pinot in the area, I suppose. Everything is going to taste like Pinot anyway. Mind you, the Syrah wasn’t bad, not at all. We even left with a bottle. But how strange to taste a Pinot style Syrah. I wish I could have blind tasted it, I wonder what I would have guessed it was.
After our tasting, we bought a couple of glasses of wine and hung out in an umbrella covered area that was probably supposed to be for club members only. No one kicked us out, though, so we made the most of it, enjoying the views and the mild buzz while talking about our trip.
Maybe we’ll be back again soon. Or maybe we’ll head to Santa Barbara for our next wine trip, or even Lodi. I hear they’re doing some interesting things over there…