Monday, September 28, 2015

A Wonderful Fall Afternoon at Willamette Valley Vineyards

September 27, 2015
Willamette Valley Vineyards
Turner, Oregon

We were invited to bring a group to one of Oregon's oldest and largest Wineries and Vineyards this fall. We were so pleased that this was timed with the early harvest of 2015.  We were thrilled that we were able to take along some friends and customers for this event and the weather cooperated perfectly.  A beautiful 75 degree Sunday afternoon and a clear blue sky the perfect backdrop to Willamette Valley Vineyards.  Arriving at the beautiful facility located just off Interstate 5, next to the Enchanted Forest, we were  set for our own type of enchantment.  Wine tasting . . . . 

The tasting room is beautiful, with its panoramic views of the mid Willamette Valley, flooring created from various types of reclaimed woods, native to Oregon, and a kitchen capable of serving delicious plates of food meant to pair perfectly with the wines.  On a sunny day, like today, we could see all the way to the coast range mountains.  We all expressed our envy to our hostess Veronica, at her fortune of being able to come to work and enjoy this view every day.  Veronica was a wonderful ambassador for the winery and vineyard.  Her knowledge of the history and production facility was complete, she was able to answer all of our questions and filled her role as Ambassador well.

We were welcomed to the tasting room by the host.  An elderly gentleman who was obviously experienced handling the various arrivals and getting everyone where they needed to be.  He greeted each of us with glasses of Pinot Gris as we arrived.  Sitting and chatting with one another until our other friends arrived, sipping on the 2014 Estate Pinot Gris which was crisp, refreshing and just the right balance of acidity.  I could tell we were in for a great experience.  The tasting room was full of other people enjoying this gorgeous fall afternoon.  Looking out over the deck, it was also full.  People enjoying the sunshine, view of the Willamette Valley and beautiful Oregon wines.  Once our entire group arrived we were greeted by the Winery Ambassador, Veronica, and whisked upstairs to our private room for tasting.

Laid out on the table were Oregon Pinot Noir glasses, plates of cheeses, crackers, fruit and nuts, wine lists which told us what we would be tasting, in what order and the bottle prices along with the discounted prices just for us!  We began with a 2014 Gewurztraminer as Veronica explained the history of Willamette Valley Vineyards and how the owner Jim Berneau is involved in many of the policies that have been and continue to be developed for the Oregon Wine Industry.  In fact, the very glasses we were drinking from, the Oregon Pinot Noir glass, was developed in consultation with Jim, specifically designed to showcase the aromas and tastes of Oregon Pinot Noir.  After hearing a significant history and sampling all of the white wines and starting off with the 2014 Willamette Valley Whole Cluster Pinot Noir to get us in the mood, we all headed out to tour this beautiful estate for ourselves.  This 2014 Pinot has been given a respectable 90 points from Wine Enthusiast and named one of America's Best Value Pinot Noirs at just $22 a bottle.

As we traveled out to the deck, overlooking the vineyards and the amazingly beautiful central Willamette Valley, we were given the 2012 Bernau Block Pinot Noir (retail $55) as the first four rows of vines below us were pointed out.  These rows were the vines that were initially planted in this vineyard and produce Pinot Noir worthy of the owner's name.  We enjoyed the beautiful flavors of the wine as we looked out over the very vines that this wine came from.  Amazing!  I have to tell you, this was one of my favorite wines of the afternoon and yes, I have some at home now in our wine cellar.  It is going to age very well with the perfect balance of fruit and tannins, I look forward to drinking it in about five years.

When we had arrived, we noticed the big white tents set up in the parking area.  Doug & I just thought those were for a wedding or other event, common to see these at wineries in Oregon where the weather can switch from sunny and 75 to rainy and cool in an afternoon.  No - these tents were brought in because as luck would have it, we were here during harvest!  The opportunity to actually see this amazing process as it happens!  Veronica opened the tent flaps and lifted the covers on the 5 foot tall white bins to reveal fruit, beautiful, deep colored grapes, pressed and juiced and waiting.  She told us that even though this fruit was pressed, it was done so delicately so that the seeds remained intact.  Seeds, or Pips as they are called, are left to provide the right amount of tannins in Pinot Noir.

On to the fermentation tanks.  These tanks are huge!  With an average annual production of around 69,000 cases of Oregon Pinot Noir, they need tanks to hold it all.

Feeling a little invasive, walking around the workers who I am sure a bit tired working these 18 hour days during harvest season, they were nothing but friendly and pleasant.  It seemed as if they were happy to see visitors and take pride in creating a product they know we'll be enjoying.  We were all a little envious of this guy who clearly has one of the best views of any Oregon worker, am I right?


Beyond the fermentation tanks and out over to the back you can see the newly harvested fruit being carefully placed on the conveyor belt and up into the machinery that will gently press and juice it, keeping those delicate pips intact as I described earlier.

After the fermenting tanks we traveled down a long hallway, watch out, that wet concrete floor is slick!

Stacks upon stacks of wooden wine barrels waiting to be filled.  Then onto the cellar where last year's barrells still sit, slowly and carefully aging, some of these holding the 2012 and 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Grenache (Griffin Creek label).

As we were guided around, Veronica would pause to pour us another taste of the very wine we were talking about.  The experience of seeing the process of the winemaking and then tasting the previous year's product is a memorable one that I hope everyone who enjoys wine can have at some point, if not several times.  Each harvest as with each vintage of wine is different.

Back in the tasting room and back upstairs to our private room, we were able to taste a couple of additional wines that Doug chose to purchase for the group.  The 2011 Grenache.  Grenache being one of our personal favorite wines, we wanted to see how Willamette Valley Vineyards measured up. We typically prefer a Columbia Valley Grenache (northeastern Oregon) and the Griffin Creek label is from the Rogue Valley (southern Oregon).  While the differences in terroir could be noted, we did certainly enjoy this Grenache and so did everyone else in the group, each of them taking home several bottles for themselves.  We then moved on to the 2011 Syrah, again a Rogue Valley wine.  Finally, a sweet Tempranillo was offered to finish off the tasting.  Not typically a sweet wine fan, I can see why others enjoy this wine.  In fact, mine didn't go to waste.  One of the other guests enjoyed it so much that she finished mine up.

A lovely afternoon of sampling delicious Oregon wines, enjoying the great company of our friends and an informative tour given by Veronica, who has a good amount of knowledge of the winery and plenty of energy to talk about it every weekend with guests.  But really, who wouldn't love heading to work each and every day with this view?

Willamette Valley Vineyards was founded and planted in 1983 by current owner Jim Bernau on the site of an old pioneer plum farm.  The winery was built in 1989 and now hold's the title of "One of America's Great Pinot Noir Producers" from Wine Enthusiast Magazine.  It is located in Turner, Oregon just outside the state capitol of Salem, Oregon.  It is the big, beautiful winery that you see alongside Interstate 5.
Additional information to note:  Private tour and tasting fee is $20 per person.  Winery suites are available for overnight accommodations and include a tour, tasting and wine credit towards bottles to take home.  We were given this tour and tasting complimentary and not in exchange for any future advertising.

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