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“No Sunshine? Bring on the Wine!”

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“No Sunshine? Bring on the Wine!”
by Julia Crowley for EDN

Looming clouds Memorial Weekend

Well, the blue skies and warm days did not make their debut in the South Willamette Valley for the winery open houses during Memorial Weekend; yes, it was raining. Rain or shine, we knew our local wineries were anticipating the arrival of wine lovers from here and a far, so with high hopes of the sun popping through the clouds at some point during the three day weekend, we were ready to experience all that our local wineries had to offer. I decided to dress in layers-starting with a tank top, I then added a t-shirt, and on went the sweatshirt.  I didn’t forget to also grab my raincoat as we headed out the door towards wine country; after all, this is Oregon.

Patriotic decor at Domaine Meriwether

On the drive from Eugene to Veneta, where Domaine Meriwether is located, we commented on the distinct line of dark clouds rudely hovering over a lighter less ominous looking group of clouds, and we then crossed our fingers in hopes that lightning and thunder would not be in our near future. When we arrived at Domaine Meriwether, we put our hoods up and darted for the winery.

Once inside, we could hear live music amid the chatter and laughter of people imbibing and enjoying their surroundings. Patriotic decorated tables were set up throughout the winery, and wines from both Domaine Meriwether and Capitello lined the back wall. For just $10, we received a commemorative “Domaine Meriwether” wine glass, 3 ‘taste’ tickets, and a ticket for a plate of food.

Frsh organic strawberries and baguettes

We were immediately drawn to the food table where there were baskets of freshly baked baguettes and bowls of just-picked strawberries. Catered by Adam’s Sustainable Table, a local “green restaurant” located in the heart of downtown Eugene, we knew we were in for something delectable.

Adam’s Sustainable Table focuses on cooking with local, seasonal foods. Centered on sustainability, they use heritage and heirloom products and strive to minimize their carbon footprint. Adam’s was serving Cheese Fondue made with Willamette Farm’s Young Gouda and Domaine Meriwether’s Chardonnay, Carved Roast Beef with Crème Fraiche on a French Baguette, Rosé Sorbet made with Domaine Meriwether Rosé of Pinot Noir, and fresh organic strawberries. Before we began to load up our plates, the server from Adam’s suggested we pair a certain wine with each of the dishes: Chardonnay with the fondue, Pinot Noir with the roast beef, and sparkling wine to sip with the rosé sorbet and fresh strawberries.

Adam's Carved Roast Beef with Crème Fraiche on a French Baguette

Without missing a beat, we headed straight for the wine. The creamy fondue poured over home-made croutons with Domaine Meriwether’s lightly oaked Chardonnay was a wonderful combination, and Capitello’s 2008 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir with silky tannins and ripe berry fruit flavors paired perfectly with the tender, juicy, full flavored roast beef. My favorite pairing was Meriwether’s NV Brut Discovery Cuvee Sparkling Wine with the mouthwatering Rosé Sorbet and fresh strawberries.

With the line-up of spectacular wines at both the Meriwether and Capitello tables, I decided to purchase more “taste” tickets so I wouldn’t miss out on tasting some of their other award winning wines.  I tasted several from both wineries, but the one wine that I know I’ll be enjoying all summer long & beyond is Capitello’s Willamette Valley Sauvignon Blanc. Incredibly well balanced and highlighted with apple, stone fruit and lime zest, the lasting finish conjured up images of me lounging in a hammock, barefoot and care-free, glass in hand with the sun beaming down on my face. This Sauvignon Blanc is truly a must-have summer wine.

WWII, Korea and Vietnam Vet Edmund P. Jacobs & wife Mary.

As I was walking back to the table to join my friends and savor my glass of Sauvignon Blanc, I passed by a gentleman with a decorated Veteran’s hat that caught my eye; it read, “VETERAN World War II, Korea, Vietnam ”.  I couldn’t stop myself from shaking his hand and raising a glass in his honor.

Vietnam era Phantom F4

Retired Navy Commander, Edmund P. Jacobs, flew planes in three wars, starting with an open bi-plane searching for Japanese submarines in World War II and ending in an F4 Phantom Fighter Jet in the Vietnam War. Edmund and his wife, Mary, who live on her late grandfather’s 1853 ranch in Junction City, were enjoying their Meriwether Chardonnay’s and the live music all while not forgetting friends lost. Together we raised our glasses in memory of our fallen heroes, and I thanked him for his years of dedicated service to our country.

Concrete Loveseat

Our next destination was LaVelle Vineyards in Elmira. We had heard about the 5 piece ‘smoky jazz’ band, Concrete Loveseat, and we were all looking forward to seeing them perform while sampling LaVelle’s fine wines. Although it was quite busy in the tasting room, we were immediately greeted by the friendly faces behind the bar, and samples of their ’09 Estate Pinot Gris were in our glasses before we could say cheers. This unoaked, stainless steel fermented Pinot Gris is crisp and dry with citrus and melon flavors, a perfect Pinot Gris for the warmer days ahead.

Next up was the ’08 Columbia Valley Trilogy, with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc grapes purchased from vineyards located in the Wahluke Slope AVA of Columbia Valley, this blend is bolder than a Syrah but lighter than a Cabernet, and has a well balanced, smooth finish. One wine that I insisted my friends try is the Matthew’s Reserve 2008 Pinot Noir.  Aged in French Oak for 12 months, the fruit forward vanilla and ripe cherry flavors come together perfectly for an earthy, yet silky finish. Matt LaVelle was also behind the bar, and he treated us to some barrel samples of Riesling and Malbec, both 2010 vintages that will be released sometime in the future. The Malbec’s flavors were already deliciously complex and I look forward to its release. Each of us ordered a glass of Trilogy and headed into the winery so we could listen to Concrete Loveseat belt out their Billie Holiday era jazz from well-known covers to originals.

Field to Table Catering was set up and selling freshly prepared cuisine, which included:

  • Garlic & herb rubbed grilled chicken, potato salad, drunken beans
  • Charcuterie Plate with pork, salami, local cheeses, pickled veggies & baguette
  • Bruschetta loaded with zucchini, goat feta and herbs
  • Chop Salad with spring vegetables, field greens, hazelnuts, champagne herb vinaigrette
  • Carolina BBQ Sandwich with smoked pulled pork and slaw on a brioche bun

Much like Adam’s Sustainable Table, Field to Table’s motto is, “We believe in using only THE FINEST FROM THE REGION, KEEPING WITH THE SEASON”, and they believe that sourcing ingredients locally is good for our environment and our local economy. We decided to share a plate of the Zucchini Bruschetta and the Carolina BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich. I’m a Eugene transplant from the East Coast, and BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwiches are offered on just about every menu from Virginia to Key West, but it’s rarely seen on menus in the Pacific Northwest. Field to Table’s Carolina BBQ Sandwich was much like one of the best I’d ever had when visiting the Great Smoky Mountains near Asheville, North Carolina. The slightly hickory flavored sauce was spicy, sweet, and tangy, and the pork was so tender it practically melted in my mouth. Kudos to the chef’s at Field to Table for creating a true Carolina BBQ Sandwich! Although it was a blissful match with the Trilogy I was drinking, I think it would be a perfect pairing with the LaVelle Riesling too.

Before leaving LaVelle for our next winery designate, we took note of the lush property that surrounds the winery. Grassy lawn and evergreens dominate one side of the property, and the vineyard sits on a slope on the other. In between the lush lawn and the sloping vineyard, there’s a unique labyrinth which invites visitors to walk quietly amid its stone-lined pathways. At the top of the vineyard, there’s a wooden deck under a single large Madrone tree. On certain days, weather permitting, the LaVelle’s will get out The Gator, an all terrain vehicle, and take visitors up to ‘The Deck’ where the view extends out to Fern Ridge Lake and sailboats can be observed while enjoying a picnic lunch and a glass of wine.

On a clear day Sarver's view is tough to beat

The next stop on our list was Sarver Winery, which boasts one of Willamette Valley’s greatest unobstructed views of the Cascades and sometimes even snow-capped Three Sisters. Their cozy cottage style tasting room is always inviting and full of happy, friendly people. In fact, we ran into old friends and suddenly everyone was greeting each other with hugs and friendly handshakes… it was as if we had just joined a party at an old friends house.

We made our way through the crowd and up to the bar to sample some of Sarver’s outstanding wines, starting with their Estate Stainless Pinot Gris: light, crisp, and refreshing, with cool citrus notes-one of my favorite Willamette Valley Pinot Gris since their opening, which was not quite a year ago. Sarver has a spectacular line-up of wines, including a ’08 Estate Grown Pinot Noir, ’09 Estate Grown Sur Lie Aged Pinot Gris, ’09 Estate Stainless Pinot Gris, ’05 Rogue Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, ’08 Yakima Valley Syrah, ’07 Napa Valley Petit Sirah, and a ’08 Estate Grown Vin Glacé. There’s not a single Sarver wine that I don’t absolutely love, but on this chilly, grey day, the ’08 Estate Grown Pinot Noir, which recently took gold at the Oregon Wine Awards, was calling my name. Their Pinot Noir is true to its varietal; it’s an un-manipulated, lush, and elegant wine that is extremely food friendly or totally gratifying all on its own. We zipped up our hoodies and joined the other wine enthusiasts on the patio with a view.

The last winery on our schedule for the day was Silvan Ridge Winery in Crow. Up until our arrival at Silvan Ridge, the sun had not broken through the clouds even for a quick peek; but, as we drove up the gravel driveway to the winery, we got a glimpse of blue sky. We noticed an outdoor table right next to the entrance, so we eagerly took residence.  Within minutes, all of the outdoor seating was taken and everyone was talking about the sudden change in weather. We took turns going to the tasting bar for fear of losing our patio seating, and I was pleased to find they were offering six complimentary tastes from their wine menu. They had two whites: a Pinot Gris and a Viognier. There were 9 different reds including their critically acclaimed Elizabeth’s Reserve, which is a bold and jammy blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec. They were also offering samples of two different Pinot Noirs and Merlot’s, a Malbec, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and a Portage Syrah.

I started with the Viognier, which is one of my favorite summertime varietals. With tropical and floral fragrances, the silky flavors of peaches in Silvan Ridge’s Viognier creates a smooth, well balanced and long lasting finish. I also love their Malbec and the Elizabeth’s Reserve, but that little bit of sun coming through the clouds called for a white wine, and the Viognier is what filled my glass. With our premier patio seating, we could feel the warmth of the sun on our cheeks, and as quickly as the blue sky appeared, our premier seats allowed us an unobstructed view of the dark line of clouds blowing in our direction.

In the blink of an eye, the blue sky was gone and the dark clouds, thunder and lightning had arrived.  As we huddled inside the entrance to Silvan Ridge, everyone watching the storm with intensity, someone behind me broke the silence and said, “No more sunshine? Bring on the wine!” So they did. Rain or shine, everyone was having a great time listening to the music, socializing with friends, and enjoying every bit of Silvan Ridge’s excellent wines.

We realized at the end of the day, well several things – (1) crossing your fingers in hopes of something particular happening does not work, and (2) dressing in layers is very wise; but, most importantly, regardless of the weather, everywhere we went the bands rocked the wineries, the caterers showcased some of their best delectable dishes, and the winemaker’s proudly poured their impressive, delicious, handcrafted wines. Smiles lit up the wineries from both winemakers and wine tasters. It was all good.

A special ‘Cheers’ to Ret. Navy Commander Edmund P. Jacobs. I salute you, sir.

Julia – Writing about Eugene’s Wine Scene

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