Time capsules

We’re getting closer and closer to one of my favorite local wine events of the year: The 2011 Barrel Tour. This year’s line-up of fantastic wineries has got me thinking I may need to go on more than just one tour. Highly recommended and tons of fun, a Barrel Tour is an all-inclusive tour that gives wine lovers an inside look at the heart of the Willamette Valley wine country. Traveling on a luxury charter bus, meeting the winemakers, and tasting wine directly from a barrel are just of a few of the many reasons why I love these tours.

Entrance to Saginaw's 1905 red barn tasting room

Last year, a friend of mine and I chose a barrel tour that included Saginaw Vineyard, Iris Vineyards, King Estate Winery, and Territorial Vineyards & Wine Company.  We met mid-morning in the parking lot at Valley River Center, where 3 coaches were waiting to be filled with people that we quickly learned were not only from Oregon, but some of these wine lovers had come from as far as New Jersey and Florida-strictly for this particular barrel tour. After filling all three buses, our bus headed south towards Cottage Grove to Saginaw Vineyards while the other two buses headed to different wineries; therefore, our visits to the wineries would be limited to just one bus at a time. Limiting the amount of people at each stop allows for more time to be spent on sipping, mingling, and learning about the vineyards and wine-making process from the winemakers and owners.

View of the red barn at Saginaw Vineyards

Saginaw Vineyards tasting room is located inside a rustic yet beautiful turn-of-the-century red barn, and the owners paired each of their delicious wines with an appetizer made specifically for the wine being tasted. Just outside the barn, there was plenty of outdoor seating where everyone could enjoy their wine and take in the views of the serene countryside.

We sat with a Floridian couple and learned that they fly across the country each year to attend Oregon barrel tours. We all agreed that one of the nicest benefits of the South Willamette Valley Barrel Tours is that each of the wineries on the tour includes an educational component in addition to the sampling of their premium wines. The couple from Florida had gone on previous tours, and mentioned that Doug LaVelle of LaVelle Vineyards had actually taken them out into the vineyard to see and touch the vines and budding grapes.

Iris vineyards state-of-the-art winery

Our next stop was Iris Vineyards tasting room and winery located in Creswell. The general manager greeted each person as we stepped off the bus, and then lead us into their state of the art winery where we had samples of their future Pinot Noir, straight out of the barrel, and all of their delicious current and past releases.We learned that the new winery was designed for small lot, hands-on production of high quality wine, which was definitely showcased in the wines we were sampling. They had special barrel tour pricing, another reason why I love barrel tours, so we were able to stock up on some of their stellar Barrel-Free Chardonnay and cellar worthy Pinot Noir.

King Estate Winery sits hilltop above the vineyards

After Iris Vineyards, we headed for the largest winery in Oregon: King Estate. The wine enthusiasts on the bus ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’ as we approached the architecturally opulent buildings that house their winery, tasting room, and gourmet restaurant. Upon our arrival, King Estate’s gracious hosts poured wine into our glasses and then escorted us into their underground barrel room where the temperature is perfect for aging wine in oak barrels.

King Estate's underground barrel room

We were then led into the fermentation wings where large stainless steel tanks were lined meticulously along the walls, and finally into a large room to check out their cutting-edge crush pad. After the tour, we took some time on the patio to take in the unparalleled view of the vineyards that sprawl out along the hills and the valley floor. Each wine we tried was paired perfectly with a delectable treat prepared by King Estate’s executive chef, Michael Landsberg.

Loads of Lavendar in full bloom at King Estate Winery

The last stop on the tour was Territorial Vineyards & Wine Company, which is located in an urban setting within Eugene’s funky and thriving Whiteaker neighborhood. The sampling of their wines took place inside their 12,000 square foot modern and innovative winery. There was plenty of delicious food to pair with their outstanding wines, and outdoor seating provided a comfortable place to sit and relax with a glass of wine before traveling back to Valley River Center to end the tour. On the drive back, we gathered email addresses and phone numbers of some of the fellow wine lovers that had become our friends after meeting only hours before, and we’re really looking forward to seeing some of them again this year.

Territorial's Winery & Tasting room in the Whiteaker neighborhood

The three South Willamette Valley Barrel Tours offered for 2011 are:

  • June 4th– King Estate Winery, Saginaw Vineyard, Chateau Lorane, Iris Vineyard
  • June 18th– Benton-Lane Winery, Capitello Wines, Sweet Cheeks Winery, Shadow Mountain Vineyards
  • June 25th – Domaine Meriwether, Pfeiffer Vineyards, LaVelle Vineyards, High Pass Winery

Outdoor seating at Territorial Vineyards & Wine Co.

With such a great line-up for 2011, and such memorable experiences from 2010, I’ll be booking myself on more than just one tour. If you haven’t been out to our regions wineries before, the barrel tours are a great way to see the breathtaking countryside that surrounds us while sampling the bounties of food and wine that are grown and produced locally, in addition to making new friends. I’ve visited all the wineries of the South Willamette Valley, but these fun-filled barrel tours will continue to bring me back each year.

Tickets are currently on sale through the South Willamette Wineries Association’s website:  www.southwillamettewineries.com

You may also call  541-221-8592 to reserve your spot.



Julia – Writing about Eugene’s Wine Scene