“Our mission in growing cool-climate varietals is to create elegant, classic Oregon wines from the Willamette Valley Appellation. As native Oregonians, we treasure our environment and use sustainable practices in growing and vinifying our winegrapes.”
- Jim Bernau, Founder/President
As part of our participation in the Wine Tourism Conference, we opted for the final event: a wine and food pairing dinner at Willamette Valley Vineyards. This was also the 4th winery we've visited in our project to visit a winery in all 50 states. The winery, founded by Jim Bernau in 1983 and now celebrating its 30th anniversary, is making the tasting experience the main focus of customer visits, believing that wines should be tasted with food. We were the first group, the dress rehearsal if you will, of the newly built space.
Unfortunately, we arrived after dark and did not get the full experience of seeing the winery, but the new tasting room overlooks the estate and sits atop the newly constructed barrel storage facility, which probably is dynamite during the day. Even in the dark of night it is a magnificent space, with homey touches such as an open fireplace near the entry and backlit glassware that creates an inviting atmosphere. It is a large, open space on several levels, though it can be adjusted to create smaller, more intimate spaces as well.
The dinner was all we'd hoped it would be, though I was disappointed when I realized the first course was fish - I could have requested a vegetarian option, but didn't since I had been told there would be no fish courses. The food and wine pairings went thus:
Bread Service2011 Pinot BlancCascade Baking Rosemary BaguetteWhipped Butter with Juniper SaltCourse 12011 Estate ChardonnayColumbia River Steelhead Cake, Monastery Mustard Aioli,Fresh to You Roasted Corn SalsaCourse 22011 Estate Pinot NoirGrilled Anderson Ranch Lamb Loin with Porcini,Oregon Huckleberry Gastrique Jam andFull Circle Creamery White Cheddar Cheese Scalloped PotatoCourse 32010 Tualatin Estate Pinot NoirWillamette Valley Rabbit and Dried Tart Cherry en Vol-au-vent,Oregon Mushroom LLC Chanterelle and House Smoked Bacon RaguCourse 42011 Tualatin Estate Semi-Sparkling MuscatGerry Frank's Konditorei Spiced Pumpkin Cake
Excepting the first course, an outstanding meal - I'm not usually a fan of rabbit, but it was presented amazingly well. Nothing overly artsy or contrived, the meal was a nice reflection of what the Willamette Valley has to offer gastronomically. While all the wine and food pairings were on the money, my favorite was the lamb with their Estate Pinot Noir, though the others were definitely not far behind. Chef Eric Nelson has a large commercial kitchen in the new tasting facility, along with a demonstration area featuring a wood burning stove, so plenty of great food will be had.
As I mentioned, we did not get a chance to see anything outside -- along with the dark, it was also cold, windy, and wet, so most of us explored the interior of the new space. After checking out the library tasting room, we headed upstairs to the mezzanine, then up endless stairs to the top of the tower. I bet the view during good weather is spectacular. I also nipped down to the barrel rooms in the basement, chock full of great wine and the unmistakable aroma of the angels taking their share. We'll definitely return if we get the chance, if only to check out the views from the steep hillsides (though the food and wine would be worth a trip alone).
The Estate vineyard, Tualatin Estate, and Hannah's Vineyard, all in the Willamette Valley Appellation, are certified sustainable, and are planted with Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Muscat, and Chardonnay. Elton Vineyards, in the Eola-Amity Hills Sub-AVA, is planted mostly with Pinot Noir, but also includes Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, a small amount of Grüner Veltliner grapes and is also certified sustainable.
Along with an emphasis on using biofuels, recycling, reuse, and reduction of materials, their vineyards have been certified sustainable through LIVE and Salmon Safe since 1997. Additionally, their Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir plantings were certified organic in October 2007 by Oregon Tilth.
More information can be found on the Willamette Valley Vineyards website, on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
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