If I had a dollar for every story I’ve heard about an encounter with a wine know-it-all, I’d be writing this from my palazzo overlooking vineyards in Italy’s Chianti region. But alas, I sit at my desk in a Los Angeles suburb, nursing a nasty cold I caught on a trip to Oregon’s Willamette Valley two weeks ago.
I was there for a familia reunion planned by Señor Jim’s cousins. Let me say that if you could choose where your spouse or partner’s family hails from, anyplace that’s home to 15 wine-growing regions ain’t too shabby. And Oregon’s Willamette Valley, chicas y chicos, is the perfect place for vino novices. Why? Because this is not a natural habitat of the critter known in scientific circles as Winus Snobus. In fact, I didn’t encounter a single one the whole time we were there.
At this point, I’d like to take a bit of a detour and acknowledge the Coughing Wonder that sat across the aisle from me on the flight from LA to Portland: Dude, muchas gracias for sharing your influenza virus with Virgin America flight 802. You’re supposed to cover your mouth when you cough.
Thankfully, it wasn’t until the day before we had to fly home that Typhoid Larry’s germ shower finally set up shop in my sinuses. Which means I had the ability to taste each and every delicious drop of Oregon vino for four entire days.
Three of the wine grapes Oregon is best known for are Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay. ¿Porqué? Because the soil types, relatively mild winters and cloudy summers in the Willamette Valley are ideal for these grapes, creating near-perfect conditions for the grapes to ripen and the soil to drain. If you’re a Pinot Noir kind of chica or chico, you need to add the International Pinot Noir Celebration to your bucket list. It’s held here annually in July.
At 40 years and counting, Oregon is a relatively young wine producing region. Some sources describe the region’s early winemakers as renegades and visionaries who escaped Northern California’s more established winemaking industry and literally planted roots in the rich Oregon soil. The results are nothing short of excelente, as evidenced by the dizzying display of awards at several of the wineries we visited.
But don’t let the flashy gold medals and crystal trophies scare you, chicas y chicos. As noted earlier, theWillamette Valley has a friendly, down-to-earth vibe. Vino newbies’ questions will be meet with answers that the average person can understand. Not only that, but some wineries have educational displays in the tasting room. One of my favorites was the little glass jar at Elk Cove Vineyards holding a sample of the rocky soil.
We were told that the “Estate Soil” sign went up after a (possibly borracha*) woman mistook the rocks for biscotti and took a bite. Take it from Señorita Vino–stick with what’s in your wine glass and you’ll be fine. ¡Salud!
*For my non-Spanish speaking readers: Borracha means drunk. If she were a guy, she’d be borracho.
Next week: Latinos in Oregon’s wine industry.