Tag Archives: Willamette Valley

At last – a wine for your Cuban sandwich

26 Nov

There’s rumba in them thar hills! One Oregon winery  owner has put some ritmo into the Willamette Valley winemaking community, and he’s all about passion for sabor.

At Cubanísimo Vineyards in Salem, neurosurgeon and Havana native Dr. Mauricio Collada named his winery for the ‘very Cuban’ flavor he brings to one of the top Pinot Noir regions in the U.S.

Forget about lame ambient music on winery sound systems. Visitors to Cubanísimo’s tasting room can enjoy a little rumba with their award-winning Pinot Noir, and if you’re lucky enough to live in the area, you can sign up for salsa lessons every third Saturday of the month.

Not a local? Then take home a souvenir guayabera with the Cubanísimo logo embroidered on the back. Low on TP? Not to worry – you can pick up a few rolls of Fidel Castro toilet paper for a revolutionary way to–ahem–take care of business.

Read the whole story (penned by yours truly) on TheLatinKitchen.com and find out how Cubanísimo is merengue-ing its way through Oregon wine country. ¡Salud!

Oregon Wine Country, Part 3: All in the Familia

19 Oct

I knew the gods were smiling on me the day I married Señor Jim. You see, his familia hails from the Pacific Northwest, land of the Pike Place Market, birthplace of Nordstrom, breeding ground for some of the world’s most delectable salmon, and home to two wine-producing states. Oh, and he’s a pretty fine hombre, too.

Oregon boasts 16 AVAs (American Viticultural Areas), or officially recognized wine grape growing regions.

So earlier this year when he told me his cousins were planning a September family reunion in Oregon’s premier wine region, the Willamette Valley, I thought it would be fun to finally get to meet some more of his family, and try some smaller label Oregon Pinot Noirs. But when I learned that two of his relatives actually made small label Oregon wines, I knew I’d hit the Spouse Super Lotto.

As it turns out, Jim’s cousin Brenda worked in the wine industry for more than 25 years, both in California and Oregon. And Brenda happens to be the proud mother of not one but two winemaking sons, Stirling and Christian.

Brenda’s son, Stirling (photo: Mad Violets Company).

Stirling Button Fox is the proprietor of  Mad Violets Wine Company, where his lovely wife, Kelly Kidneigh, is the official winemaker (Girl Power!).

Kelly, the winemaker at Mad Violets (Photo: Mad Violets Company)

Mad Violets is a family business in every sense, including its moniker, which is a mash-up of the names of Stirling’s two daughters, Madeleine and Violet. Fort-five percent of the grapes in the 2009 Pinot Noir come from the couple’s own vineyard, Buttonfield Estate (careful readers will note that Button is a family name), and 100 percent of the grapes in the 2010 Pinot Gris are also from the estate.

What’s a family reunion without family-made vino?

Both the Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris display classic characteristics. I personally loved the minerality of the Pinot Gris, and the Pinot Noir’s gorgeous strawberry notes were a hit at the reunion dinner. If you like your vino with peach and honey aromas, the 2011 Riesling is a winner. These grapes are sourced from the oldest Riesling vineyard in Yamhill county.

One of the things I adore about Jim’s family is how warm, open and genuine they are. This blog post would rival a García Márquez novel in length if I were to acknowledge each and every one of them for their hospitality and kindness during our five-day Oregon wine county odyssey.

So let me acknowledge one cousin whom I got to meet for the first time, the one whose newsy Christmas letters I’ve had the pleasure of reading in the 12 years Señor Jim and I have been together, and the one without whom today’s post literally would have been impossible.

Brenda with her fabuloso cousin, Señor Jim.

Brenda, thank you for sharing your love of wine and passion for life with us, not to mention your enormous heart.

And to the entire Button clan (I’m looking at YOU, Carolyn, Diane, Jeanie, Carlee, and your wonderful hombres), I raise a glass to you. ¡Salud!

Oregon Wine Country, Part 2: Latinos and vino

12 Oct

So this Mexican college student walks into an Oregon winery…

If this sounds like the setup for yet another tired joke, you couldn’t be  more wrong, chicas y chicos. This is literally how the story of  the Willamette Valley’s only Mexican head winemaker begins. And it’s a story I stumbled upon during day three of my Oregon wine country sojourn in late Septmember.

The tasting room at White Rose Estate.

But first, the backstory: On day two of our trip, a bright and friendly young woman working at the Ponzi Wine Bar in Dundee saw me scribbling tasting notes and we started chatting. When I shared with her  Señorita Vino’s mission to spread the love of wine among Latinas and wine newbies of all stripes, she told me about Jesús Guillén, head winemaker at White Rose Estates. I was intrigued. And I was determined to meet Señor Guillén before returning to L.A.

Jesus Guillén, head winemaker at White Rose Estate.

The next day I found myself inside the uber-hip, black-walled, A-frame tasting room at White Rose Estate. Dagoberto, the young man behind the counter, turned out to be Guillén’s younger brother, and for the next 10 minutes, he diligently texted and called his big bro so that Señorita Vino could squeeze in an impromptu interview. 

A native of Chihuaha, México, Jesús Guillén was studying computer engineering there until his life took a detour through Oregon.

“My dad came here from México in 2000 to work in the vineyards,” Guillén says. During a summer  break from college, he traveled to Oregon to help his father. One evening  Guillén went to a wine tasting and knew on the spot that he wanted to work in the wine industry. He returned to México, finished his degree, and came back to Oregon to work the vineyards. In 2002 he came to White Rose as a vineyard worker, and by 2008 he was appointed head winemaker.

The vineyards at White Rose Estate, where Guillén got his start.

Guillén dreams of having his own vineyard one day, and if the quality of White Rose Estate’s wines is any indicator of his abilities, he’s well on his way.

As if you needed more proof that wine makes some pretty fantástico things happen, I’m going to leave you with a tale of what happens when successful winemakers pay it forward.

Much like California, the majority of seasonal vineyard workers in Oregon are Latino. Because of the constant moving and variable pay, many workers can’t afford health care and often they and their families don’t get medical attention until it’s too late. Enter ¡Salud!

Founded by the Ponzi family, ¡Salud! is a collaboration between Oregon winemakers and local healthcare professionals to make healthcare services available to Oregon’s seasonal vineyard workers.

The Ponzi Wine Bar in Dundee, Oregon.

Since 1991, ¡Salud! has provided health screenings and health education programs to vineyard workers and their families. Last year alone, ¡Salud! logged more than 7,000 medical and dental encounters including vaccinations, clinical visits, dental procedures and worksite wellness clinics. Each year, ¡Salud! holds its signature fundraising event, the two-day Oregon Pinot Noir Auction, to support the health and well-being of seasonal vineyard workers. This year’s event is Nov. 9-10. Visit http://www.saludauction.org for details.

If you can’t make it, then just do Señorita Vino this favor: The next time you have a glass of wine, raise a toast to all of the people who worked with love and diligence every step of the way to create that liquid magic. ¡Salud!

Next week: Oregon wine country, part 3: It’s all in the familia! 

Oregon Wine Country, Part 1: A wine newbie’s paradise

5 Oct

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.

Oregon – A Snob-Free Wine Zone.

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.

Germs aside, thank you, Virgin America for ensuring my wine bottles survived baggage check. [NOTE: Virgin did not pay for my flight, but I mentioned them anyway. De nada, Sir Richard Branson.]

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.

Sipping rosé at the Carlton Winemaker’s Studio.

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.

Morning fog lifts over Pinot Noir vines. A typical Pacific Northwest setting of fir trees and hills provides a unique backdrop.

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.

Oregon winemakers are (rightfully) proud of their award-winning wines.

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.

Rocky soil means the earth doesn’t hold rainwater, forcing the grapevine to send roots further down into the earth for water, and allowing the vine to put more energy into growing grapes versus grape leaves.

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.

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