If I have learned anything from working behind the wine bar, it is that the Willamette Valley’s wine industry is still quite the mystery to locals, and that’s okay—there is still so much to learn about the wine experience, especially within our own Willamette Valley AVAs (American Viticultural Areas). And as we prepare to settle into the holiday season, surrounding ourselves with good food and good company, we seek to find the perfect wine to pair with our special gatherings….
Which begs the series of questions: “Should I buy local wine? Or buy the usual standby at the grocery store? Is it good? What IS good?” This very conundrum opens up a Pandora’s box of frequently-wondered questions…often left unanswered. And thus, nothing really changes in the industry and the world continues to orbit around the sun. However, I had the pleasure of interviewing some of our local wineries and wine experts to spread some unknown nuggets of knowledge by answering some common questions during this wine-centric time of year.
Let’s start with the popular question,
“Why should I buy local wine?”
First things first: it is absolutely crucial to support local businesses. Period. If we put our hard-earned money back into our local community, our economy will strengthen and grow. Secondly, the people who work in our local vineyards are the salt of the earth; they work extremely hard to produce small quantities of exquisite wine.
It is often a family affair, involving numerous generations depending on when the winery was founded. Other wineries were started by individuals who had nothing but a handful of cash and a dream. Mary Olson, owner of Airlie Winery in Monmouth, says, “after a 22-year career with the telephone company, I sold my lifetime supply of panty hose and bought Airlie Winery.” For every winery, supplies and labor are locally sourced whenever possible. These people spend every year pouring themselves into their passions, offering their dreams to us in a bottle with a smile and an offer to come, eat, drink, talk. For that reason alone, we should stand behind Willamette Valley wineries.
“But what’s so special about Oregon wine?”
Oregon has a very unique environment—perfect for cool climate wines, making it a complementary contender alongside world-class wines from around the globe. “Cool climate wines, like Pinot Noir…can only be successfully grown in a few small pockets of the world,” states Bethany Ford, the National Sales Manager at Illahe Vineyards in Dallas, Oregon. It’s no wonder we’re often called the “pinot capital of the world,” or that people flock to Oregon to learn winemaking. Our varying weather patterns keeps Oregon wine “exciting,” says Christine Collier, Winery Director at Willamette Valley Vineyards in Turner. “I’ve always thought that the best wines are grown on the climatic edge. Stress in vines, just like people, produces character.” If not the climate, it’s the people that truly ‘make’ the wine. Randy Harnisch, a local wine expert and previous owner of West Side Wine Store, says that Willamette Valley wineries are generally smaller than other well-known wineries, but that this “translates to more handwork, [and] special treatment; differences are subtle, but worth spending more time to ponder.” When there is this much attention to detail and love of community, it starts to show not only in the people, but also in the product.
“But I don’t know that much about wine. How do I even approach it?”
Overall, the wine industry is still this exaggerated concept of sommeliers in Italian suits and crystal glasses and wine terms that don’t make sense and lots of spitting, which often makes it intimidating, even “off limits” to newcomers. But Willamette Valley wineries are trying hard to change that stereotype. “Winemaking and grape-growing is a romanticized profession,” Ford explains. “We feel lucky to do what we do, and we love it, but in reality, we are truly farmers that are turning our crop into a product.” Don’t let it intimidate you; every wine lover has to start somewhere. Harnisch recommends that newcomers “buy what you like and can afford. Second, branch out and try local wines – splurge and spend a little more than usual. See if you can taste the difference a few dollars makes – sometimes it doesn’t, but sometimes it does. You’ll know it.” And honestly, at the end of the day—it’s all about finding a wine you love. Let your palate lead you; ignore the snobs.
“Okay, I can get on board. Are there any local wineries that people really like? Where should I start?”
For a start, Ankeny Vineyard, Brooks Winery, Cória Estates, Cubanisimo Vineyards, and Redhawk Winery are just the tip of the iceberg—these wineries are among dozens of others which offer special events, live music, fresh food, regular tastings, and much more year round. But ‘tis the season for good drink and good company, my friends! If you’re looking for a great first impression, Thanksgiving weekend is the time to seek out our local wineries and find your perfect pairing. This particular weekend is one of the three big wine weekends in the Willamette Valley (Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends being the other two), so they’re pulling out all the stops. I highly recommend taking advantage of this season of community, and support local by supporting your neighbors. Wine naturally brings people together…you simply have to open up.
ANKENY VINEYARD – Come and join us at Ankeny Vineyard for Thanksgiving! We will be having live music Friday and Saturday night starting at 5:30 pm. Our full food menu including wood-fired pizzas, house made bread, pastries and much more will be available all day Friday through Sunday. 12 pm-8 pm $10 Ankeny Vineyard. Friday November 27th through Sunday November 29th.
BJÖRNSON VINEYARD – Another amazing vintage is in the barrel! We are excited to see you and share our wine and harvest stories. This Friday and Saturday, discuss the vintage with our newest winemakers and taste an elegant selection of wines from our winemaking trio: Bjornson Vineyard, Helioterra Wines and Mahonia Vineyard. Also sample an additional Bjornson Vineyard Designate “horizontal” flight offered only two times a year. Artisan cheese, wine-friendly food, and people friendly winemakers. Three great winemakers, one beautiful location. $10 fee includes wines from Bjornson Vineyard, Helioterra Wines, and Mahonia Vineyard. 11 am-5 pm $10 Bjornson Winery. Friday November 27th through Saturday November 28th.
BROOKS WINES – We are opening our doors this holiday weekend to welcome you and your family to taste Brooks Wines. Brooks will be featuring a choice of 3 wine flights at $15 each, refundable with a two-bottle purchase. Join us for a sweeping 5 mountain view and lounge on our cozy leather couch. Feeling wine fatigue? Brooks has beer and cider on draft. A little hungry? Try one of our cheese and charcuterie boards available for purchase. Need a Christmas gift or some wine with your holiday meal? We have holiday wine packs ready to go. We look forward to seeing you this weekend. Happy Holidays from our family to yours! 11 am-5 pm Brooks Winery & Tasting Room. Friday November 27th through Sunday November 29th.
COELHO WINERY – It’s our Tasting Room’s 10th Anniversary! Celebrate with the holiday release of our 2012 Paciência Reserva Pinot noir (very limited). Choose between two tasting flights: enjoy Pinot gris, Pinot noirs, Portuguese Red Blend, and Port-style wines. Also, Guest Chef Nicci Stokes of Wild Vines will be cooking up her Wine Country menu in her food cart this weekend. Special guests this Thanksgiving include Author Cila Warncke, who will be signing her new travel book: “Vine Lives, Oregon Wine Pioneers.” Pick up your autographed copy Friday at 2:00 pm. On Saturday, we will have a decadent chocolate Anniversary Cake to pair with our Serenidade Port-style dessert wine at 2:00 pm. Live Music will be Jerris, The Band, an American pop/rock band, who will perform Saturday from 1:30 to 5 pm. Come dance, taste and celebrate a decade of tasting memories with us! Bring your family and friends and partake in our family’s Portuguese hospitality at Coelho Winery! 11 am-5 pm Coelho Winery. Friday November 27th through Sunday November 29th.
CÓRIA ESTATES – Cória Estates is having a musical wine and food event the Saturday and Sunday following Thanksgiving! We will have a barrel out for tastings of our 2014 Pinot Noir, some delicious eats and wonderful music to boogie down to. Come for wine, come for food, come for music, or for all three! We are so excited to celebrate this years harvest with you, so come out and meet the Coria family and taste some great vino! Three Entry Options: $20 – Includes a glass to keep & wine tasting | $25 – Includes a glass to keep, wine tasting, & food | $30 – Includes a glass to keep, wine tasting, food & barrel tasting. Music Lineup: Sat 28 – Leanne McClellan Band | Sun 29 – The Orvil Ive Duo. THANKSGIVING WEEKEND SPECIAL: Purchase (3) of the same wines and get $12 off. Participating wines: 2013 Pinot Gris, 2014 Pinot Gris, 2013 Estate Pinot Noir. 8 am-5 pm. Saturday November 28th through Sunday November 29th.
CRISTOM VINEYARDS – Cristom Vineyards will be hosting our Holiday Celebration event on Saturday November 28th. The $15 entrance includes a 5 wine flight and a complimentary picture taken in our holiday photobooth area – a great chance to take a fun photo for your personal holiday cards! We’ll be offering special pricing on everyone’s favorite stocking stuffers: library half bottles! Additionally, we’ll be hosting local Cub Scout Pack 122 as they sell holiday wreaths and table centerpieces. Your $15 tasting fee is refundable with a two-bottle wine purchase. 11 am-5 pm $15 Cristom Vineyards. Saturday November 28th only.
CUBANISIMO VINEYARDS – Join us Thanksgiving Weekend for Wine Tasting, New Releases, Live Music, Cuban Style Tapas, and Football! The $10 General Admission Fee includes wine tasting; FREE General Admission for Wine Club Members. $8 Cuban Tapas Plates. Special $20 Afternoon Package ($10 for Wine Club Members) includes entry fee, wine tasting, a Cubanisimo wine glass, tapas plate, and raffle entry for our daily door prize. Our patio area will be tented, so we will be celebrating rain or shine! Take advantage of our Wine Sale and stock up for the Holidays. Cubanisimo wines are sure to please at Family Dinners, and make great gifts. We will have all the best football games playing on the big screen (sans sound) in the tasting room all weekend long, so you won’t have to worry about missing any big games. And what would a Cubanisimo celebration be without live music? Enjoy the sounds of The Orvil Ivie Duo on Friday and Saturday, and Terry Bay on Sunday. Music starts each day at 1:00pm and concludes at 5:00pm. *No Outside Food Or Drink Permitted.* 11 am-5 pm Cubanisimo Vineyards. Friday November 27th through Sunday November 29th.
REDGATE VINEYARD – Taste wine, listen to music, and munch on appetizers at the Redgate Fieldhouse this Thanksgiving Weekend from 12 to 5. Acoustic Story plays from 1 to 4 all three days. Featuring guitarist, slide, and doboro player Clay King, this music will fill your soul with blues. 12 am-5 pm $10 Redgate Fieldhouse. Friday November 27th through Sunday November 29th.
REDHAWK WINERY – It’s time for our annual Thanksgiving Festival! Please join us for wine & barrel tasting, delicious food, our incredible view & music. We will be having our popular Tri-Tip sandwiches, Betty’s widely talked about butternut squash soup, homemade sausages, house-made smoked salmon pate’, cheeses, & more! Meet the winemaker, sample our current selection of wines and barrel taste a future release. All this included with your $10 Tasting Fee with special wine discounts during the festival! 11 pm-5 pm $10 Redhawk Vineyard and Winery. Friday November 27th through Sunday November 29th.
WILLAMETTE VALLEY VINEYARDS – Please join us to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday on November 27-29. We’ve planned an exclusive library tasting in our cellar as well as a futures tasting of our unreleased 2013 single vineyard designate Pinot Noirs. We invite you to our Thanksgiving Weekend Open House & Futures Tasting to enjoy a futures tasting of unreleased 2013 single vineyard designate Pinot Noirs in the cellar. Led by Ryan Clifford, fresh off working harvest with the winemaking team, and Winery Ambassador Jennifer Bell, you will have the opportunity to hear stories about the 2013 and current harvest while tasting the Hannah, Elton, Tualatin Estate Vineyard and Signature Cuvée Pinot Noirs. These wines will be available for pre-order this weekend only. As a member of the trade, we would like to invite you to attend either event and receive complimentary admission for you and a guest. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to make your reservation. 11 am-6 pm Willamette Valley Vineyards. Friday November 27th through Sunday November 29th.
2565 Riverside Rd. S., Salem
3635 Bethel Heights Rd. NW, Salem
Brooks Winery & Tasting Room
21101 SE Cherry Blossom Lane, Amity
111 5th Street, Amity
8252 Redstone Ave SE, Salem
6905 Spring Valley Rd NW, Salem
1754 Best Rd. NW, Salem
8175 Buena Vista Rd, Independence
Redhawk Vineyard and Winery
2995 Michigan City Lane NW, Salem
Willamette Valley Vineyards
8800 Enchanted Way SE, Turner