Tag Archive: oregon


Eagle aerie, bonus if you can find the raptor in the picture!

Bald Eagle aerie, bonus if you can find the raptor in the picture!

I am battling a sinus thing, and thus have little to no brain power. So have a picture. This is another from the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge.

Apparently the occupants of this nest are off enjoying their freedom, having recently successfully fledged an eaglet. So like any good empty nesters, they are probably in Boca. Or, as these are Bald Eagles, anyplace close to water.

When the wetlands fill up again (which they most likely did with this recent system of storms), they’ll be back. If you look closely at the picture you can see a speck in the sky, this was another raptor; a hawk of some sort – though probably either a Cooper’s or a Red Tail.

I have a fondness for bald eagles. Raptors of any ilk are pretty amazing, but the eagles have a special place in my heart. I have had the privilege of working with a set of bald eagles and a set of goldens.

They have a lot in common, especially attitude. They are smart, silly, gorgeous birds.

For more information on the natural history of our national bird, try this site.

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The Tualatin River

After the wind and rain and rain and rain of the last week, the sun and summer made a bit of an encore today. Clearly this was a day not to be wasted with computer screens and work. Clearly this was a day to be outside, grab some vitamin D from the source, get some fresh air. And maybe some wine.

A good encore should leave you happy you hung around and yet wishing there was just a little bit more. This one delivered the goods.

We started, Beth and I, with the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge. This gem is located right of Highway 99, just east of Sherwood, Oregon. I’ve passed it a hundred times, maybe more. We joke about it, say “We should stop in there” and then speed on past on our way to a winery.

I am so glad we stopped today. This place is just amazing, and this was the perfect day to be there. We were greeted by a flock of Canada geese (again, love them) that did a couple of flyovers, and then we headed out on one of the trails.

Soon enough we heard the sound of water, and followed to a view point out over the river. This was

s the payoff. The water was like glass, the still summer blue sky filled with dramatic clouds reflected perfectly in thewater’s surface. It was stunning.

Woolly Bear. Legend has it that the larger the brown band, the more severe winter will be.

Woolly Bear. Legend has it that the larger the brown band, the more severe winter will be.

Heading further down the path, a bit of movement out of the corner of my eye caught my attention. At first I thought it was a leaf being ruffled by the wind. But no, on closer inspection it was a woolly bear caterpillar making it’s merry way across the path. I have never before seen one of these critters, and I have to say they are pretty darn cute. You kind of want to reach down and pet them. Kind of.

Further on there were snowy white egrets to catch our eyes, a hawk made lazy circles above the distant wetlands, and an eagle’s nest stood stark and empty (for now, at least, the eaglet has fledged and once the water returns to the wetlands the mating pair of Bald Eagles will return as well) in the limbs of a leafless tree.

Tree frogs sang, a blue heron did a great imitation of a statue in a pond while coots scooted about. Big fat bumble bees were busy gathering nectar in the sunshine, and occasionally our geese would cross overhead again sort of like our own honor guard.

We finished it off with a stop in the visitors’ center. There is a great exhibit on the history of refuge, both the natural history of the area and the history of the formation of the place. We chatted a bit with the staff and Beth added the egret to the list of birds that had been sighted that day.

Then it was off to Sokol Blosser for a glass of wine and a picnic lunch next to the vines. Harvest is nearing an end, but the there were still some fruit on the vines we passed.

There were a goodly number of people at the winery this afternoon. I kind of got the feeling that like us, they were trying to fit in one more day of summer, one more chance to sit in the sun, close their eyes and soak in the warmth. A worthy encore indeed.

 

Mt. Hood looking like a Sumi painting in the distance

Summer is beginning to wane, though I have high hopes for a wonderful Indian Summer. While fall is just around the corner as the days grow noticeably shorter, we are mollified by the wonderful variety of late summer harvest.

So yes – tomatoes, summer squash, white corn (oh, the white corn!), peaches and pears are the trade off for school starting and vacations ending.

And so it was that we made a quick trip to Hood River and the wonderfully named ‘fruit loop’ to see what there was to see.

We were in search of blackberries, which we didn’t find. We did however find Alpaca babies, sunflowers, and lots and lots of lavender. What else can you ask of a hot August day, unless, perhaps a potluck picnic under a tree. It was a lovely day, made all the better by good company, good weather, and a couple of squabbling hummingbirds.

Ready for my closeup…

This little one and friends were at Cascade Alpacas. Another large group was relaxing in the barn, the favored spot was an area right in front of a large fan. Inside the shop we all oohed and awed over the incredibly soft yarn that comes from Alpaca wool. So much so that, as usual, I contemplated trying to learn to knit again. I haven’t been successful in the past most likely due to a lack in concentration and my inherent impatience with things that need practice to perfect. There is something so wonderfully Northwest in the notion of carding and spinning my own yarn before knitting it into some stylish garment and yet – practice and attention. Oh well.

Lavender field (filled with wonderfully buzzy bees)

Hood River Lavender farm was fragrant. Lilac trees added a sweet floral note to the more astringent lavender. Big, fat, striped bees were hard at work here. I never mind the bees at these places. They are a lazier, mellower bee; you get the notion that stinging someone would be, well, bad karma in their multifaceted bee eyes. Besides, with so much food at hand, what would be the point in being all aggressive? I love the low hum of them, their soft and fuzzy look, and their very industriousness. We were also treated to some hummingbirds arguing over who’s turn it was at the feeder. I love how outraged a hummingbird can sound, sort of the antithesis of the bees in the field.

An echo of the day’s sun

Another stop was at the Gorge White House with it’s large U-Pick flower fields. Beth reveled in the huge stands of sunflowers while TK made her way up and down all the rows. I split my time between the two, taking my own pictures, loving the scent of the place, enjoying the sunshine.

It was a low-key day. Lots of laughter. Lots of pointing out the window at things. Some getting lost and found again.  It is becoming an end of summer trip. So many of these trips, these places seem to find a mark on the calendar – these places that we go back to again and again, the experience all fun but always a bit different.  It keeps me looking forward, and that is not a bad thing at all.

Marketing

here is something about markets I love. I can while away hours in a market of any kind – street market, farmer’s market, supermarket. I am probably the only person I know who gets a kick out of going to food markets in foreign cities. There is something wonderful and local about a market whether it is the little place where I picked up fixings for dinner in Hvar, Croatia or the elegant market in Bruges where I got a sandwich while bicycling around the town or the places I go for my groceries at home. I love a market.

I especially enjoy local markets, ones that are part of the woof and weave of the community – locally owned places that really get the communities they are part of. In Seattle, my great joy was Metropolitan Market on top of Queen Anne. I could rely on it for the everyday and the quirky. The meat counter had ready to pop in the oven selections that saved me from many a frozen meal. Meatloaf, mushroom burgers, kebabs. A local bakery supplied the breakfast Danish, the deli section had a generous apportionment for wonderful local and exotic cheeses, and I could always find something new and interesting on the shelves.

Now that I am a bit further south I have finally gotten over my poutiness for not having a Met Market. In its place I have three rather wonderful alternatives. The first is Chuck’s in Vancouver. This is a lovely place that has an emphasis on local vendors. Most of the produce is from local farms, the shelves show a definite local bias in everything from pickles to coffee. I like that they support the community they are in, and I like that I can find many of the things I love at the farmer’s market here, especially during the months when that venue is closed.

We also have Zuppan’s, a local, somewhat upscale market based in Portland. Zuppan’s is beautiful inside, gorgeous and unusual produce, a spectacular deli counter, shelves filled with exotic and local specialty foods. Zuppan’s is one of those places you go both for favorites and for finding the unexpected. It’s fun, it’s interesting just to wander the aisles and see all the things you had no idea someone had canned, boxed, dried or otherwise packaged. Zuppan’s is shopping as a destination activity rather than a chore.

And then there is the hybrid of the two, New Season’s. This place also has a great selection, but also carries some of the brands you would find at Safeway or other such national chain. Great deli and meat counter, where they smoke all their own sausages and bacon. Really, really good bacon. A good wine selection, and a sampling bar that greets you when you walk in.

Sure, I still love my Safeway, I still go to Whole Foods, I still peruse the aisles at Trader Joe’s. There are things I can get there that are either cheaper, more mainstream, or just not available at the local places. But I find I go there less and less. Unlike my time in Seattle where I split my marketing between Met and Safeway (they were two blocks away from one another), I find that the majority of my marketing is done at the local joints, that they begin to be my winter stand in for the farmer’s markets, and because I found a local alternative for that national brand.

I like that it is relatively easy for me to live up to the shop locally ideal. I know that many places are not so lucky. We really are spoiled over here in this corner of the country, and I am proud to admit it!

Once, several – okay, many years ago I was a zoo keeper.  It wasn’t a big place, there were just two keepers, a couple of dozen animals and a handful of volunteers, but it was the best job ever.  I love zoos, have loved them since my first zoo visit with my wonderful grandfather when I was about six.  So I am going to let you in on a little secret about zoos that most people seem to miss.  The best day to go to the zoo is a cool, cloudy, even misty day.

Sure, it is much nicer for us humans to wander around outside when it is sunny and warm, but zoo critters?  They are happiest when it is a little cool.  Which is why when you drag your kids, your family, whoever, to the zoo on a sunny day you spend an inordinate amount of time playing “where is the animal sleeping?” rather than actually seeing them.  Cool days cause elephants to frolic, primates to play, big cats to bat about bowling balls and so on.  Try it sometime, you might get a bit damp, but you’ll have a great time.

Which leads me to this week’s Portland Adventure.  Yes, it was the Oregon Zoo.  I love this zoo.  It is a great size – just perfect for a day’s outing.  It is beautifully laid out for humans to walk and beautifully built for the animals that live there.  I should confess here that the very first zoo I visited – the one that Grandpa Louie took me too (as well as two of my big brothers) – was indeed the Oregon Zoo.  I have many fond memories of that day, and I credit my love of zoos to that visit.

Saturday was one of those cool, overcast days; a bit of fog was clinging to the hills of the city and Beth suggested that we hit the zoo.  I have been itching to get there for the past few months but felt a sort of ennui over the idea of hoards of children, hot summer days, noise and parking.  But on a fall Saturday with just a hint of chill in the air, it seemed a perfect day to head to Washington Park and give the critters a look.  The morning mist soon gave way to a glorious and sunny afternoon with just enough of a breeze to keep it from being too warm.

We started our journey, appropriately enough, in the Great Northwest section.  A beautiful exhibit of black bears; two of whom were sleeping, the third wandering about the place looking for food most likely; was our first stop.  We wandered along the paths, pointing out animals to one another, – the majestic bald eagles, the mountain goats; we spent time identifying the various ducks in the Cascade Stream exhibit and waiting impatiently for the cougar.  We did give up on the cougar, whose exhibit was being cleaned when we arrived; which was kind of sad because I have a special affection for the cats having had the chance to take care of one.

From there we stopped at the Family Farm exhibit, mainly because of the goat who was perching on top of a barrel.  You don’t see that every day.  I am always happy to see zoos that embrace the domestic side of the animal kingdom as well.  It is all well and good to take a four year old to a zoo and point out the bears, the lions, the tigers; but truthfully they are going to get the most excited by the ones they can get close to.  So bring on the chickens and the goats, let them get the thrill of getting nose to nose with the calves and the piglets.

We made our way past the Orangutans where, much to my amusement, a little boy was adamantly correcting his father that no, these were not monkeys they were apes.   Then it was on to the stars of the Oregon Zoo, the elephants; or as they will now and forever will be remembered by Beth and me – the elfanets, as they were referred to by a very cute little girl.  The Oregon Zoo is known for its elephant program and it was a blast to see the newest member of the herd, two year old Samudra.  It was a bit daunting to come around the corner and see one of the large bull elephants, he was humongous!  We ogled fruit bats, admired the giraffes, smiled at the Colobus monkeys looking all rock and roll with their white fringe, and enjoyed watching one of the tigers doing what tigers do best – sleeping.  I actually got my fill of animal wonderfulness, or at least enough to tide me over for now.

I think we are fortunate on this end of the country to have a lot of really great zoos.  The Seattle area alone has three, Woodland Park in Seattle, the Point Defiance Zoo in Tacoma, and Northwest Trek Wildlife Park in Eatonville.  Each has something just a little different.  Oregon Zoo has their famous elephants, Northwest Trek specializes in the wild animals of the region – you won’t see a tiger there, but you might find yourself looking at a grizzly or listening to a pack of wolves howl.  Point Defiance has a very successful red wolf conservation program and a good aquarium to boot, and Woodland Park has a variety of award winning exhibits as well as a breeding pair of Sumatran tigers.  We are rife with great animal parks around here!

While I know that some people chafe at the notion of zoos, I am a big supporter.  The horrible cage heavy zoos of old are pretty well gone, replaced by beautiful exhibits that seek to duplicate the natural habitat of the animals they house.  California Condors fly free over the Grand Canyon today because of the LA and San Diego zoos.  Przewalski’s Horses, the Arabian Oryx, Trumpeter swans and the European Bison are just a few examples of species that would be extinct today were it not for the conservation efforts of accredited zoos around the world.  I am fortunate to live in a place that takes such conservation seriously, both regionally and globally; and much of it is indeed happening at the zoo.

Many years ago a friend of mine gave me a Norteño version of the Beer Barrel Polka.  He thought I would find it funny because I am of hybrid Germanic ancestry.  Not so much a mutt as a labradoodle – German on Mom’s side, Danish (mostly) on Dad’s.  It was funny; I love that recording.  But it mostly makes me smile because there is something relentlessly upbeat about polka in general (which Norteño is derived from); there is something in the beat and the accordion that makes you tap your foot and want to start hopping about the room with a guy in lederhosen.  Well, maybe not the lederhosen part, but I think you get the drift.

And what, you might be asking, does any of this have to do with the theme of this blog?  Food, wine, and life in the Northwest; isn’t that the tag line?  When most people think of the region they don’t think polka, they don’t think lederhosen, they really don’t think bratwurst and cider ‘kraut when it comes down to it.  Okay, beer.  That much I can give you.  But for four days in mid-September every year for the past 45, the town of Mt. Angel, Oregon becomes a mini-Bavaria in the midst of their annual Oktoberfest.  The signs in the town are all rendered in German, the townspeople dress up in traditional costumes, children perform German folk dances in the street and Lufthansa flies in popular polka bands from Germany.

No, really.  It is something I have wanted to experience for years now.  Mt. Angel is also home to a Benedictine Abbey and Seminary that I visited many years ago to gawp at a display of illuminated texts. The trip took place just before the beginning of Oktoberfest and I was amazed at the dedication to the theme.  It struck me, then, as funny to think that an entire town would throw their heart and soul into a four day event; but it made me want to check it out.  Now having lived here as long as I have, it was time to actually make good on that idea.

Oh my God was it fun!  It was completely different than I had imagined.  This was not the ticky tacky make believe Oktoberfests that I have attended in other places.  These people throw themselves into the event heart and soul.  From the moment we arrived, I think we were all a bit awestruck.  First off, you run a gamut of food carts that offer everything from Pierogi to pizza, but mostly different wursts, sauerkraut, cider kraut (oh my, the cider kraut!), apfelkuchen, strudel, and other such wonderful German delights.  We had to do some sampling.  It seemed rude not to.

We fetched up at the giant glockenspiel that towers over Charles Street near the center of the festival, just in time to catch the last of the bells.  It is very cute, and is supposed to tell the story of the town.  From there we found a place to eat, imbibe some Spaten Oktoberfest and Optimator; okay, I know – not local beers, but it seemed appropriate to drink Bavarian beer for this occasion.  I promise I will make it up by imbibing some local craft brews in the next week.

After some browsing in the shops we ducked into the Weingarten where we had yet more beer, listened to some wonderful music and had fun just watching people enjoy themselves.  People sang along with the band, there was some spontaneous polka dancing that broke out on occasion, and a lot of folks catching up with friends they would run into.  We also took a quick look inside the Biergarten, where a more sedate crowd was intent on dancing.  Feeling a bit guilty over drinking the foreign beer, I did get some Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Noir just to remind myself that I was indeed still in Oregon.

We ended our day with a last visit to the Weingarten, lounged a bit on the benches taking in the atmosphere and generally just relaxing.  It was wonderful.  That travel itch that has been growing and nagging at me for the last two months was sated for a bit, I was in Germany for the afternoon and able to sleep in my own bed that night.  Though come to think of it, I have spent an afternoon in France at the Bastille Day in Portland, another in Italy while drinking Sangiovese in Carlton, and now Germany in Mt. Angel.  I wonder which country will make an appearance in the area next.  I’m voting for Spain.

No, not paired.  That would be silly.  But they were both in abundance on Saturday.  Spring had arrived (and apparently is gone again), the niece has turned 21 and finished with finals; it was the perfect day for that promised first wine tasting.  Thus a car was rented, a picnic was planned and packed (with enough food to keep a regiment happy for a month), wineries were mapped and we were off for Salem.  It was a picture perfect day; sunny and warm with just a bit of a breeze.

We grabbed Michelle and headed west to a lovely place called Cubanisimo Vineyards that is nestled into the Eola Hills.  Salsa music wafts over the place – indeed salsa lessons are to be had at the winery – there is a lovely patio for a nice picnic lunch, and the intimate tasting room invites you to move in and get cozy.  The wife of the owner was our tasting guide and she was really great.  She talked us through a flight of six wines, including two very tasty roses and a beautiful, dry but fruity pinot gris.   In the end we grabbed a bottle of the 08 Rose and had it with our lunch out on the patio.

Beth and I, of course, had thought that we would hit a couple of different places but in talking with Michelle we ended up going back into Salem and spending a goodly amount of time at the Farmer’s Market.  I have mentioned them before, but I really love the Farmer’s Markets here.  Salem was no exception.  Very reminiscent of the street markets in Europe, you can get pretty much everything at one of these.  Well, maybe not the lingerie that I saw in places like Lyon and Vienne – and nothing compares to the first time  you wander a French street market and find that you have left the produce area and are now in the lingerie section.  But I digress.

We bought lemon thyme wild rice mix, ground coffee from Cape Foulweather Coffee Co., tomato plants, and even yarn from Alapaca wool.  Alongside these wonderfully eclectic booths was a woman selling fleece dog jackets, a booth touting emu products (including emu oil moisturizers), people selling grass feed organic locker beef, another booth offering organic free range chicken eggs, an artist showing off his cast cement lawn ornaments… the list goes on and on.

It is amazing what you find when you look around here.  In fact, I think one of the requisites of living in the Northwest is that you have to be willing to be an explorer here.  You have to take that gravel back road that leads to the winery with the spectacular view.  You have to be willing to go one more row at the Farmer’s market, and you have to be willing to get lost in the back country on a sunny day.  Because just around that corner, over that hill, beyond the organic vegan bakery stand you are going to be surprised by what you find.  I suppose you could say that living in the Northwest has taught me how to best travel – with anticipation and fearlessness.

I am constantly and pleasantly surprised by what I find here.  It makes me a better, more adventurous traveler both at home and abroad.  Never have I lived in a place that feeds my appetite for seeing other places quite like this place does.   Never have I lived in a place that makes me want to come home again after my adventures quite like this place does.  And I owe it all to the wine, to the tomatoes, to the coffee, to the organic vegan baked goods and to the people who make them all accessible to me.

Which arrived in force today, though for how long no one can say.  But today was glorious.  Big, fluffy white clouds way over there on the horizon (instead of right overhead tipping down rain), spacious blue skies, a warm breeze and the sun soaking everything.  It was the kind of day when everyone – EVERYONE – is outside. Boats were zooming along the river, people were out walking with dogs and children, anyone silly enough (or lucky enough) to have a convertible had the top down and was out for a drive, bikes were being ridden in abundance about the place.

There is something about a sunny day here.  It is hard not to smile.  It is hard to be anything but upbeat and happy.  The sun is back.  Finally.  Days like this I understand the fervor of ancient religions and the sun.   Growing up in the desert as I did, the sun was something I took for granted.  It was the rain that brought me out, the rain that propelled me, fascinated, to stand just out of it’s reach and watch as water fell from the sky.  Living in San Diego, sun was a given.  Even on the gray days of June Gloom, you were pretty sure that by late afternoon you were going to see blue and gold if you looked upward.  But here?  We don’t take it for granted.  Here I find myself drawn out of my abode and into the outside.

This brings some of its own problems along for the ride.  Because everyone wants to be outside, any venue that is outside is going to be swarmed.  Even well after the lunch hour any place with outdoor seating will be full.  Hosts look fearfully at you as they ask “inside or patio?” cringing to tell  you that outside will be a 40 minute wait.  The Zoo will be crammed with families, the parks will be full of picnickers and sun worshipers, the outdoor malls will be crowded and bustling.  Traffic to and from these places will be frustrating and slow.  It is a given.

And yet, as mentioned above, it is hard not to smile even in the midst of the traffic jams, the people, the bustle.  Because the sun is out.  Who knows how long it will be here, so get out and enjoy – who knows,  it might just  to rain tomorrow.

Let’s talk wineries today, shall we? One of the first forays on this journey came two weeks ago, when the idea of this blitz on wineries was still fermenting in my head. The lovely people at Deux Vert (Mike and Patty Green) had sent an email out about an event Laurel Ridge (another great winery) was hosting. It was a guest winery weekend, featuring the good folks who use the Laurel Ridge facilities for making their wines. What could be better than a bunch of wineries under one roof?

My trusty sidekick (or am I hers?), Beth, was game for the gig so we loaded up and drove to Carlton, OR. Carlton is a lovely little town, and Laurel Ridge sits just northeast of it (address is 13301 NE Kuehne Road;  www.laurelridgewinery.com). As a bonus, you will often be met at the car by one of the winery dogs who takes his job as chief greeter very seriously. On this day we had the joy of experiencing the wines of seven different wine makers. It felt like cheating on the whole “visit all the wineries” goal, but what a great idea this is. One tasting fee, several small winemakers many of whom do not have tasting rooms of their own. To be honest, it is events like this that have led me to some of my favorite wines.

On this day we had the good fortune to be introduced first to Domaine Meriwether (www.meriwetherwines.com). Let me just say, I love these guys! The gentleman who was running the tasting this day was wonderful, I wish he had his name on the card we took, but when he said that we were in for a graduate course in winemaking he wasn’t kidding. I really appreciated his time, patience, and willingness to explain his craft. When they open their new tasting room later in the spring, you can be sure I will be making the drive to Veneta.

Domaine Meriwether does sparkling wines in the Methode Champenoise. As the name implies, this is the way they do it in France. It is a complex and exacting method that pays off in a beautiful sparkling wine with complex and lasting bubbles. Our host was great in explaining the process (I think it helped that we stood there with pen and paper in hand, eagerly dashing off notes – everyone likes an appreciative audience!).

We started with the Discovery Brut, a nice, dry white champagne. It is a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, made from the second pressing. I liked the crisp acidity of this wine – this is one of the driest sparkling wines I have tasted from this area – and yet there is a great fruit flavor to it as well; very nicely balanced, and just really fun to drink.

We then moved on to the 06 Prestige Rose. This is a beautiful pink champagne, the color coming from the addition of a little bit of red pinot noir. Two thoughts came to mind – the first was that it reminded me of a pink champagne I love, Gosset Rose; the second (which I actually said out loud) was that it was sweeter than the first. I was corrected on the second. It isn’t so much sweeter as it has a fruiter tone to it. In other words, you taste the fruit, but it is still dry, dry, dry. The winemaker had an interesting thought on this – first days I am going to do a blind tasting with some friends to see if I can prove him right. Yes indeed, this was my sparkling wine purchase for the day. I’m thinking I am taking this one to the Bay Area with me in April to drink with Erik and Bob.

Next up was an 06 Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley. My notes on this say it was a very ‘soft’ wine, this is not a big, bold, hit you in the face with a grape pinot gris. It is subtle, silky, and meant to be drunk with food. Some wines just are, and this is one of them. I could see this with seafood, easily. It needs a little something to bring it out, but nothing too spicy or overpowering.

Then we came to the 05 Chardonnay. Everyone will give you the whole ‘two camps’ spiel about this grape. Either you want a ton of oak and butter, or you don’t. Which is generally a way of saying ‘we did this all in stainless so if you like California Chards, you won’t like us’ or the reverse. I think there is a third camp, the group that likes a nicely balanced white. This one fits the bill. Sure enough, it is ½ oak, ½ stainless, and it has a lovely crisp acidity and great fruit. This is a perfect hot day on the porch kind of wine.

And finally we ended up the Pinot Noir Rose. Yes, I know. Rose. Every time I mention this to folks you can see them thinking “box of wine” or “woo hoo, white zinfandel.” Well, they are missing out. This one met my criteria of ‘summer in a glass.’ Pinot Noir Rose, when done right, is the perfect summer wine. It is fruity without being overly sweet, it is crisp and refreshing, it is a great sipper and is also great with the foods I associate with summer – salads, light fare, grilled veggies. This one was a summer in a glass wine. These guys did it right!

In Part II, more of our adventures at Laurel Ridge…

According to Kevin Zraly’s “Windows on the World Complete Wine Course, the State of Oregon has 321 wineries in 16 AVAs (American Viticulture Areas).  It sometimes feels as though each and every one of them has a Pinot Noir to sell you, and nothing else.  

Pinot Noir is good, so good it inspired a movie all about it (Sideways).  It is a versatile wine that goes with a lot of foods.  For me it is the default Thanksgiving wine anymore since we always have both turkey and roast beast (usually a standing rib roast).  It goes well with both. 

 It is a picky grape, not easy to grow (it is picky about climate, it is susceptible to birds and pests and frost, etc.), it is not easy to harvest (it dries out quickly when picked due to the thin skin, easily damaged); it is not easy to ferment (a high number of amino acids makes it a tricky process); it is not easy to age.  Which means that it is often produced in smaller quantities, and is often a bit pricier than other reds.

 Yet here in Oregon, especially in the Willamette Valley, pinot noir thrives.  And pinot lovers flock to the region both for the quality of the wine and the amazing range of prices on the stuff.  Here you can find a truly magnificent pinot noir priced in the high $70’s, certainly – but odds are you can also find one that will knock your socks off for around $30, sometimes even less.  If you are lucky, you might even find a rose of pinot noir that will take your breath away for $15 – $20. 

 (Seriously, if you have never had a rose of pinot noir – made by limiting the amount of contact with the grape skin – you really should.  This is not the cloyingly sweet rose we all regret ever trying several years ago. It is crisp, bright, and wonderful as a sipping wine.  Try it slightly chilled on a hot July day.  It is truly summer in a glass.  For my money Sokol Blosser and Elk Cove make the best, but there are a lot of really good ones out there!)

 But if you think that pinot noir or pinot blanc or pinot gris are all that you’ll find here, you are mistaken.  In coming posts we will talk about the lovely tempranillos, the big and bold Italian reds, and even some of the lesser known white grapes – like Melon de Bourgogne, and Roussanne. 

It may be the land of Pinot Noir, but the Northwest has long had a reputation for not just tolerating, but encouraging diversity.  Why shouldn’t that extend to the grapes as well?