Salem Wineries and North to Soter Vineyards

As fate would have it, it’s that time of year when an excursion through Willamette Valley wine country seems not just fun, but necessary. I decided to shake things up a little so we got our start in Salem. Arguably, the vineyards in the west Salem area and the fruit that is harvested here is first class. In my opinion this region is under appreciated as evidenced by the few wineries located here, as compared to the northern most ???

Our first stop, St. Innocent Winery – Great wine and very nice people. St. Innocent Winery was founded in 1988 by Mark Vlossak who continues to be the winemaker, read more

Second, Evening Land Vineyards. This winery, though located in a West Salem industrial park was probably the favorite. Outstanding wine and a very charming tasting counselor named Ian Burch. Ian was in torn jeans and boots due to the fact he was working this day. Racking barrels and managing the crew all seemed second nature to this very knowledgeable “wine guy” If you get a chance to visit here do it, but call ahead.

Our third stop was Evesham Wood Vineyards & Winery. We had a small glitch in our timing between winery visits so we had only a small amount of time to visit. (no pics) Our guide was Erin Nuccioat, a very nice and informative winemaker. We tasted through their Evasham line up as well as the Hayden Fig wines, wonderful!

The fourth and last stop of the day was SOTER Vineyards.  If you’ve never been here then you’re missing out. Upon our arrival at Soter, we were all greeted with a taste of North Valley Highland White wine. (a Chardonnay & Gewurztraminer blend) A Good start but normally the ‘greeting wine’ is their highly touted Brut Rose. Unfortunately they were sold out due to its popularity. This sparkling gem is some of the best in Oregon. Their 2009 Brut will be available late fall. Please check back. Sitting in their tasting room (we call it the tasting room but it is so much more) on a perfect Oregon summer afternoon is always exhilarating. The architectural design and incredible view take your breath away. A Soter visit has to be experienced to be appreciated. They are open by appointment only. Don’t just stop by, you’ll be turned away. You may call for an appointment of call me and I’ll help you set it up.

Stretch SUV

Just minutes after departing, I opened a bottle of Argyle Sparkling Brut. Is drinking before 10:30am inappropriate? Can you say: S-T-R-E-T-C-H   S-U-V!

Fine Wine Shop

Lillian getting ready for a taste of St. Innocent Pinot Noir.

Fine Wine Shop

The Evening Land Line up. Second to None!

Evening Land’s Ian Burch can’t resist tasting with the rest of us. Salute!

Fine Wine Shop

Ian again, explaining the finer points of, well…. who cares. the eager women of our group just wanted to hear him speak! (he was “The Man”)


SOTER, Finally sitting for the tasting.

The southern view, SOTER tasting room.


“The Clan” at SOTER

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Fine Italian Wine, Online!

The Piedmont region of Northern Italy is a picturesque, landlocked valley guarded by sloping hills and mountains, known for outstanding aromas and wines. A very traditional land, with most of world-revered wines it produces being cultivated on family estates from the days of feudal Italy, instead of large corporate distilleries and courtyards as can be found in other countries. The major grape grown on these lands is the famous Nebbiolo, which is used to concoct some of the best that Italian wines online has to offer, from Barbera, to Asti, all of which are world prize-winners. A strong red, endemic to the region, runs through all the wines that use Nebbiolo as their base, although the Asti is a well-respected white wine weaned from Moscato grapes. These Italian wines tend to be the perfect complement to rice, meats, chocolates, pastas and cheeses.

We strive to uphold the tradition of delivering the world-renowned spirits from the region, from the top-rated Barbaresco, with its intensely sweet, spicy and dry flavor, which comes from being mandatorily aged in oak barrels for at least a full year. Barbera is another exalted win from the Piedmont region, possessing a ripe currant aroma, is richly perfumed and smoky, with a vibrant ruby red color from which it gets its name. Another winner is the famous Asti, and the strong and persistent flavor of Muscat grapes, with a sweet and heavily desirable flavor that usually means a shortage year-after-year as merchants snatch up bottles of one of the fine Italian wines online. The Nebbiolo tends to be an exclusively Italian wine, as it has only been successfully grown on the slopes of the hills of Piedmont thus far, despite many tries elsewhere. Other regions seem unable to preserve powerful and intense grape flavor and beautiful garnet-colored full-bodied nature of a properly aged Nebbiolo. Last; but most certainly not least, there’s the king of all wines – the Barolo – whose name actually means “the king of wines and the wine of kings”. And truly, does it live up to this name with its full-bodied complexity and chocolate truffle taste and perfumed violet smell, mesmerizing with an orange-red color. From Dolcetto to Barolo, You’ll find Italian wines online great deals with the very best that Northern Italy has to offer.

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Oregon Pinot Noir

Some of the world’s finest Pinot Noir vintages come from Oregon’s Willamette Valley. It’s at the same latitude as Burgundy, and similarities to its climate make it ideal for this difficult-to-grow variety.

Eyrie Vineyards first put the Oregon Pinot Noir on the map when their 1975 vintage ranked as one of the best in the world at the 1979 Wine Olympics. Maison Joseph Drouhin, a venerable winemaker in the Burgundy region of France, was so impressed by this Oregon Pinot Noir that they bought land in the area and started their own vineyard, Domaine Drouhin Oregon.

Many highly rated Pinot Noir wines grow in Oregon.Wine Spectator rated Erath’s 2008 Prince 115 Hill Pinot Noir at 93 out of 100 points, and its 2008 Estate Selection Pinot Noir at 90. The Wine Spectator Top 100 List includes three Oregon Pinot Noir offerings:

Domaine Serene Pinot Noir 2008 from the Grace Vineyard in Dundee Hills, rated at 97

Sineann Pinot Noir 2009, by Resonance Vineyard in Yamhill-Carlton District, rated at 94

Rex Hill’s 2009 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, rated at 93

Stoller Vineyards’ solar-powered winery includes guesthouses and a stunning view of Mount Hood. Wine and Spirits gave Stoller’s Cathy’s Reserve Pinot Noir 2008 94 points out of 100, and their JV Pinot Noir 2009 and SV Pinot Noir 2008 both got a 90-point rating. These two wines also won awards at the San Francisco Chronicle international wine competition.

Wine tasting in Willamette Valley is far smaller-scale and less commercial than in Napa or other wine-growing regions of California. This leads to a more personal experience, often including a chat with the owner about how they grow their grapes and why.

New hotels like theInn at Red Hillsand even a luxury resort, theAllison Inn Spa, have sprung up to cater to the wine tasting trade, as well as new restaurants likeFarm to Fork,ThistleorNick’s Italian Cafein McMinnville. TheR. Stuart and Co.winery has alsoopened a wine bar in downtown McMinnville, which is also home to the International Pinot Noir Celebration in the last week of July. There’s even amobile appfor Willamette Valley wineries.

These are just a few of the fine Pinot Noir wines from the Willamette valley. Order a shipment or plan your a visit today!

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DION Winery – Up and Coming…

I was recently exposed to a new winery (new to me) that I think has much promise to become a real contender in the Willamette Vally Pinot Noir rivalries. My tasting experience was of a wine that showed purity and grace. Dark, cherry like fruit was prominent with great spice characteristics. Though the winery has existed for just a short time, it reveals to me good wine making and attention to detail. The owners are still working their days jobs and maintaining a winery that’s producing a product you wouldn’t know (or think) is an optional vocation for the proprietors. Right now, it’s very good wine with reasonable prices and my instincts say that the wine will get better and the prices will go up. Committed owners with a good team rarely fail and I don’t see these hard workers failing. You’ll find their wine on the website and stay tuned for subsequent vintages. It will be worth the wait. Fine Oregon Wine, to be sure. jp  ♠ DION Wines

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Chardonnay or ABC?

In the US, Chardonnay is ‘KING’, the most popular of all white varietals. It is the most consumed white wine and sales are increasing every year. Go figure! So often I hear people asking for wines like Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc? Is it just an Oregon thing? I’m sure you’ve seen or at least heard the acronym once or twice…i.e. ABC – Anything But Chardonnay. Though I don’t hear that phrase much, what I do hear, a lot, is no thank you. Many people seem to cringe at the mere mention of Chardonnay. I understand this reaction but it doesn’t have to be this way.

To be sure, there are now many ‘cookie cutter’ Chards as every winery seems to be making some. Oregon & Washington are producing a few decent Chards but far more are mediocre. The sheer volume of production in California seems to have diluted quality as well. Perhaps it’s the ‘house wine’ in a lot of restaurants that gives Chard a bad name.
As a prior employee in the wine distribution business, I showed wine long enough to know that restaurant managers and owners are thinking more about glass pour prices rather than real quality.(sadly) Have your ever had a ‘really good’ house chardonnay? (No, I mean “really good”) I understand the difficulty of balancing ‘glass pour’ prices and giving the customer a good glass of wine but it’s really not about the retailer or restaurant. It’s about education. If people are going to continue to drink mediocre Chardonnay then wineries will continue producing it.

Sadly, during the prohibition era many growers (Chard) were forced to dig up their vineyards and plant studier varietals, only a few survived as in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California, but planting of this varietal became popular again beginning in 1970’s, perhaps too popular. Have you ever been wine tasting event (at a winery) and found a long list of different wines to taste? This isn’t necessarily a good thing. You’ve heard the saying, jack of all trades, master of none. It’s the same when making wine. Winemakers, for the most part, are passionate about their vocation and make the best wine they know how but Chardonnay seems to be the least important on their production hierarchy. Chardonnay is adaptable to many climates and is easy to cultivate, thus producing high yields. High yields usually means poor quality. Wineries that produce exceptional white wine, especially Chardonnay understand that putting the same effort into their white wine production is as important as what they do with their red’s. They don’t cut corners and genuinely care about the results. This cannot be said for the casual Chard producer. Wine consumers can buy a decent (drinkable) Chard for $15.00 or $20.00 but can you buy something that you are going to remember? Something transcendent? Not likely. So, If you (and you know who you are) are not prepared to spend a little more for good Chardonnay then don’t expect anything to change. If you are content with mediocre wine, then keep buying what you always buy. (it’s OK) Not all Chardonnay’s are buttery and oaky, though that’s OK too. To be fair, being in the trade I’m around people that are perhaps more attune to a better glass of wine but from my experience it is evident that most people just haven’t experienced a good Chardonnay. I’d like to change that.

I feel that California (and few others) have found the right recipe for really good, even great Chardonnay. Please remember Carneros, Russian River, Sonoma Coast.
and Napa North Coast. These areas are where the good stuff comes from. Some can be very expensive and while I don’t advocate spending $80, $90 or $100 on Chardonnay
I do recommend spending $35.00 or so. There are good reasons you should be drinking Chardonnay. Quality Chardonnay is within your grasp! ♠ jp

California Chardonnay


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Pinot in the City

I just attended the ‘Pinot in the City’ event on Sunday here in Portland [OR] and boy, was it HOT! No, I mean the weather. Wow. It was sponsored by ‘Willamette Valley Wineries’, a non-profit that’s committed to getting Oregon’s Willamette Valley wineries recognized as premier Pinot Noir producers. A well organized affair but the location was a little, well,…odd. A vacant lot in the midst of Portland’s acclaimed Pearl District. A graveled piece of earth that seemed more like a construction site than tasting venue. I realize that an outside event in downtown Portland in mid September isn’t likely to produce temperatures in the mid nineties but that’s what happened. The vendors were trying to keep their wines at drinkable temperatures and not all were successful. A lot of the white wines were too warm and some of the Pinot Noirs were too chilly. It was miserably hot. Oregon’s wine, generally cool climate varietals like Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc are very sensitive to heat. The serving temperatures of these wines  is critical. This problem is eliminated in an indoor venue, where most wine tasting events occur. I hope they try another location next year. Did I mention it was hot?    On to the wine…As I try to do at each event like this, I explore wines that are new to me. One standout was Dominio IV. They are biodynamic farmers that produce some other varietals like Syrah and Tempranillo. Their Pinot Noir’s were very good, even excellent. As I chatted with winemaker/owner, Patrick Reuter, I could appreciate their commitment to quality. These are wines worth seeking out. Hamacher Wines was another attention getter. Eric Hamacher was showing his ‘H’ bottling blend. Fruit from several vineyards go into making this wine. It’s good and very reasonable at $20.00 retail. His Willamette Valley Pinot was excellent and noteworthy. I hope to have some on the website soon.
Dobbes Family Estate was offering their Grenche Blanc, 2009 Grand Assemblage Pinot Noir and the Quailhurst Pinot Noir. To me, the two Pinots were very good but the champion was the Grenache Blanc. This white is crisp, fruity and to the point. I’ll try to get some of this too, stay tuned. Good wine and good people represent Dobbes. Other notables were Panther Creek Cellars, Penner-Ash Wine Cellars, Redman Wines, Soter Vineyards and a lot of other I didn’t get to. Also, another up and coming winery is Amalie Robert Estate, a small production winery with great results lately. Over 100 wineries were represented over the two day event, the best in Oregon. If you haven’t been to Portland recently, please come and visit when you can. It’s a beautiful city with some of the best restaurants and local wines in the country. Yes, Portland and Oregon Pinot Noir are ‘on the map!’  ♠ jp

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Walla Walla

So we made our annual pilgrimage to Walla Walla Washington this past weekend and it did not disappoint. Our main goal was to attend the Spring Valley Vineyard harvest party and then on to other fantastic Walla Walla fine wine establishments. Spring Valley has been a favorite of mine for over 8 years and this was their fourth annual harvest extravaganza. This is a mailing list only event and they have been paring down the invitees over the last couple years. Get on the list, you just might get invited to their next event. The SVV Uriah is their flagship Merlot blend with consistent ratings over the years but their Frederick Cabernet Blend is fast becoming a fan favorite with some equally good ratings. Don’t forget their Derby Cab, Muleskinner Merlot, Nina Lee Syrah and their regular bottling’s of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Their winemaker, Serge Laville, a native of France has come to Walla Walla to work magic with the western Washington fruit. His wine making philosophy of “listening to the vineyard” and “allowing nature to take its course in the wine making process with minimal, careful intervention including picking, sorting, and punching down the wines gently by hand” has paid dividends in spades. If you haven’t tried SVV yet, though it’s not the most inexpensive wines, buy a bottle anyway. You’ll thank yourself later.

Another Wall Walla favorite of mine is Patrick M. Paul Vineyards. A very limited production winery with a very special Cabernet Franc. The first time I had one of their wines I would swear I was drinking a left bank Bordeaux. (really!) A suave wine with character and ‘old world’ styling. Get in on this wine while you can as their prices are still very reasonable, for now. We made it to several other special places such as the Chateau Rollat‘s tasting room, the Airport, where you’ll find many garage wineries like Dunham and Buty. On our way home we stopped on the Oregon side of Walla Walla appellation to visit Zerba Cellars. Winery of the year for 2011. If you check this place out you’ll find out why. They now have a tasting room in Dundee, in the heart of Oregon wine country. I love their Syrah. Of course heading east back toward Portland we never miss a stop at Woodward Canyon Winery. Rick Small, owner and production director is one of the originals in Walla Walla and operates one of the oldest wineries in the area. I am never disappointed with their Estate wines, their Artist Series Cabernet and Old Vines Cabernet. They have a non vintage red blend sold only at the tasting room that has to be tasted to be believed. The price is less than $20/bottle and 10% off case purchases, don’t miss this one. We always enjoy ourselves in Walla Walla wine country and never fail to seek out places we’ve never been. A fun experience and adventure can always be had in Walla Walla. Newsletter sign up.  ♠ jp

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The Weekend before the Holiday Weekend

Its always fun to go to my favorite wineries and take advantage of the good food and new wines especially before the holiday, in this case, Memorial Day. Saturday consisted of my usual suspects, Adelsheim Vineyards, SOTER Vineyards and Trisaetum Winery. These three (and many others) are producing some of the best wines in the valley.

Adelsheim was tasting their traditional Auxerrois, Elizabeth’s Reserve and the flagship Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2009. The latter, my favorite of the day was spicy and long and seemed to lack nothing, unlike previous bottling’s of the WV. Though not a single vineyard offering, it is sensational and should not be missed.

Tony and Michelle SOTER had their annual release party with lots of goodies and wines. Along with their regular offering of North Valley Pinot and the 2008 Mineral Springs Ranch Pinot (a dollop of the fantastic Brut Rose of course) they had a new bottling just called “Mineral Springs” Pinot. It’s the best of the best barrels from vineyard and it’s Oh So Good! Long on the finish, a fresh and tasty mouth feel, good fruit and great cellar potential. Its’ very expensive, retailing at about $85 and wont be available to the public until later this year. Even then it’s not a sure thing that I can get my hands on any. We’ll see in September. By the way, Tony and Michelle are the most gracious hosts and I cannot say enough good things about them and their wines.

Trisaetum, another great (and young) winery was tasting their two Rieslings, Artist series No.10 Pinot Noir, Trisae Pinot Noir Rose and some barrel samples of the 2010 vintage Pinot Noir Reserve. These guys are doing some great things with their estate grapes. The fruit from these vineyards is fantastic and considering that some the vines are only 5 -7 years old, it’s magical what is going into the bottle. You don’t normally see this kind of quality for several more years, Salute! ♠ jp

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Wine Merchants West now has a blog! Check back for the latest Posts

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