Heart of Willamette Valley 4th Annual Barrel Tour: Feb. 15


On Saturday, February 15, the Heart of Willamette Winery Association is hosting its 4th Annual Barrel Tour.

Sit back and relax on a guided bus tour and taste great wines from the Heart of the Willamette Valley.  This year, six wineries will be showing off their wines paired with the winery’s favorite appetizers.  Learn from the winemakers how the nectar of the gods is made.

Brigadoon in snow
Brigadoon’s tasting room looking very cozy covered in snow | Brigadoon Facebook page

Participating wineries include:
Spindrift Cellars, Airlie, Benton-Lane, Brigadoon, Emerson Vineyards & 3 Fools.

Take advantage of this excellent offer by stopping at any Heart of Willamette winery to purchase passes or buy them on line at

Winery Tour passes are $75 per person which includes a souvenir wine glass, bag of local snack items, and transportation.

Saturday, February 15, 2014
Check in at 9:45 AM

Benton County Fairgrounds
110 SW 53rd
Corvallis, OR 97333

The tour includes visits to 6 local wineries at 5 locations.  Each winery will serve 3 wine selections paired with the winery’s favorite appetizers.  Guided tour transportation from Corvallis will be by charter bus and will highlight the area and vineyards.

History in the Making at Rodeo Steakhouse and Grill


 –Julia Crowley, EDN

Several of Oregon’s most well known wineries are located in or near the small town of Junction City: Benton-Lane Winery, home to some of the top 100 Wines of the World, Pfeiffer Vineyards, whose Pinot Noir was served at President Obama’s Inauguration Dinner, Broadley Vineyards, who have been producing award winning wine for 25 years, RainSong Vineyards, High Pass Winery and Walnut Ridge Vineyards are just a few of the many notable wineries.

Although I’ve spent many hours driving the winding country roads that surround Junction City to visit these wineries, I’ve never spent much time in the actual city. Until recently, I’ve always headed back to Eugene for lunch or dinner to end a day of wine touring. After spending some time with friends at Benton-Lane Winery’s Thanksgiving Weekend Open House, we decided to have lunch in Junction City at the Rodeo Steakhouse and Grill.

As we walked up the steps to the entrance of the restaurant, we heard a train barreling down the tracks just a few feet away from the restaurant, and its closeness caught the attention of us all. We instantly realized that the red caboose sitting outside of the restaurant had significance: the Rodeo Steakhouse and Grill was, at one time, a train depot.

We were greeted as soon as we walked in the door and the host seated us at a comfortable booth in the main dining room. The long, thin, rectangular shape of the building resembled the shape of most train depots, and the kitchen was on one end, while a full-service bar was at the other. A suspended miniature railroad track that hung from the ceiling ran through the restaurant, into the entry, past the bar and then back into the restaurant with a small electric train that chugs along the tracks.

I took a quick glance at the drink menu, and was happy to see that Benton-Lane’s delicious Pinot Noir was one of the excellent selections of wine, so when the waitress came to our table to take our drink orders, I already knew what I wanted. My friends ordered what the waitress suggested: the house-made margarita. The margaritas were, according to my friends, the best they’ve ever had. Served in a salt-rimmed Mason jar with fresh muddled oranges, limes and lemons, the waitress called it a “scratch ‘rita” because the ingredients had been made from scratch, with the addition of triple sec and tequila. We put in our food orders, everyone ordering something different, along with the potato skins appetizer to share.

I was curious about the history of the once train depot, so the owner of Rodeo Steakhouse, Jennifer Rosales, joined us as we sipped our drinks to tell us a bit of what she knows.

“In the mid 1800s the thriving town of Lancaster lay on the river between Harrisburg and what would become Junction City,” said Rosales. “It was thriving because of its location on the Willamette River, which allowed for transport of products to Portland. In the flood of 1861, Lancaster was literally swept away, so Harrisburg became the ‘go to’ place for farmers and timber companies to have their products transported via the river.”

Rosales continued to explain that there was no suitable land left in Harrisburg for the expansion of the railway system, so the flat land that was just south of Harrisburg was perfect for building a roundhouse, depot and housing that was needed for railroad workers.This flat area was named Junction City in hopes that it would become the major railroad junction and division point from southern to northern Oregon. Although the actual major railroad junction was soon built in Eugene, Junction City still became a thriving place to work and live. In 1872, Junction City became incorporated, and the city grew over the years with the addition of schools, churches, saloons, mills, warehouses and even an opera house. As more and more logs were brought in from nearby lumber camps, the railway that was built to become a major junction did become a major asset for the lumber industry.

Rosales said she isn’t sure when the train depot finally closed, but the building went into disrepair for some time, until its current owner bought it and brought it back to life. Seven years ago, in December, the building was transformed into Rodeo Steakhouse and Grill, and to celebrate seven years of prosperous business in this 1800s-era train depot, Rosales is offering daily specials for the entire month of December.

When our potato skin appetizer arrived, none of us spoke for the first 5 minutes as we devoured these piled high, fully loaded sinfully delicious skins. Mounds of melted cheese, bacon bits and scallions were loaded inside the perfectly roasted crunchy skins of baking potatoes — truly scrumptious and a great way to start off an all-American meal. Perfectly timed, the arrival of our main courses came right as we finished the potato skins, and I couldn’t wait to try my 100 percent Black Angus Beef Wrangler Burger and Sweet Potato Fries. Grilled exactly the way I like it, medium rare, this juicy burger was topped with crispy onion rings and was especially tasty with the side of crunchy hand-cut sweet potato fries.

Other dishes that arrived at the table were the ribs, Chicken Caesar Wrap with a side of Prime Rib Chili, and the Philly Cheese Steak. The ribs, which were cooked over an open flame, looked so delicious that I had to try a bite. Without a doubt, these are the best ribs I’ve ever had. They were truly fall-off-the-bone tender, and the homemade barbecue sauce was the unequaled perfection of sweet and spicy.

Seeing that we were clearly impressed with our meals, the waitress gathered our completely empty plates and offered us some dessert. Without any room left, we sadly had to turn down what I bet would have been a decadent dish. Before we departed for our short drive back to Eugene, we watched from our booth as a train chugged by just feet from where we sat, and I thought about the rich American history of the once vibrant train depot. Thankfully, a part of history has been preserved and transformed into a successful restaurant for all to enjoy its historical essence.

495 Holly Street
Junction City, 97448

Celebrate seven years of delicious food, local ownership and a little American history at Rodeo Steakhouse and Grill with anniversary specials happening everyday in the month of December. Their facebook page is updated daily, click here.

Harvesting the Perfect Pinot at Benton-Lane


Julia Crowley, EDN

Decorative Fall colored vines grace the entrance to Benton-Lane

As I drove out to Oregon’s beautiful wine country just northwest of Junction City to visit Benton-Lane Winery Oct. 21, good timing just happened to be on my side.

Benton-Lane’s first day of the 2011 harvest had started just hours before my arrival, and I was lucky enough to catch up with Steve Girard, owner of Benton-Lane, as he was hauling in a large bin of freshly picked Pinot Noir grapes. After his forklift successfully lifted a large bin of grapes up to the destemmer machine, Steve jumped off the forklift and headed my way with a grin that reflected his excitement and happiness about the harvest finally arriving.

“This is a challenging harvest, and it’s the second challenging harvest we’ve had recently, we had one last year as well,” Girard said. He explained that the challenges are due to the fact that the season began late, so there was late bud break followed with a late bloom. The result of a late season is larger clusters, and the larger clusters are not as easy to ripen up as the smaller clusters are.

“The good news is that the forecast is cooperative,” Girard said. “our fruit is spanking clean (meaning there is no botrytis or fruit rot), and the even better news is that the birds aren’t bothering us as much as they did last year.”

larger than average clusters of Pinot Noir

In 2010, yields were much lower than usual because of an unexplained phenomenon of an infestation of grape-devouring birds. As if it were straight out of Alfred Hitchcock’s legendary horror film “The Birds”, flocks of starlings, jays, and robins swooped down on the clusters that hadn’t ripened enough for picking. The result was devastating to smaller production wineries because their yields were taken down, in some cases, by more than half of what they would usually harvest.

The only explanation that was merely an assumption by vineyard owners was that the indulging birds homed in on their grapes because of the late season; therefore, many vintners this year were wondering if the late season would again bring the feasting flocks back to their vineyards. Thankfully, the birds have, for the most part, left the majority of the grapes alone.

Regardless of the challenges that Benton-Lane has faced, Girard and his crew consistently produce award-winning wines year after year. In fact, Girard said 2010 was a better season for them than the highly regarded 2008 vintage was.

According to Wine Spectator, Oregon’s 2008 vintages were, “The best that Oregon has ever produced.” In 2006, Benton-Lane was recognized by Wine Spectator as having two of the “Top 100 Wines of the World”.

Their 2004 vintage Pinot Noir and 2005 vintage Pinot Gris were both on the list, and Girard had just recently found out that his 2010 Pinot Gris is on the list of the Top 100 Wines of the World for 2011. Wine Spectator won’t be revealing their Top 100 for 2011 until Nov. 14, so I felt pretty lucky to have received this privileged information before the rest of the worlds wine enthusiasts.

One of the reasons why his Pinot Gris has been chosen numerous times for this prestigious award is that they ferment their Gris for six weeks which results in a very floral wine.

“If you make Pinot Gris, you can ferment it in three days, run it through a filter, bottle it and sell it in a month from when the fruit comes down,” Girard said.

Benton-Lane ferments their Gris for six weeks, and they control the temperature of the ferment, so instead of seeing big bubbles like in a cauldron, they get their’s to percolate little tiny bubbles just once in a while.

Steve Girard, owner of Benton-Lane Winery

“The yeast are there, they’re alive, but they’re just barely working, and when that happens, you get this release from the Pinot Gris of these floral notes, and that’s what Pinot Gris is all about, the floral characters,” Girard explained. The longer fermentation process results in outstanding Pinot Gris that doesn’t go unnoticed.

There are two good reasons for the attention that Benton-Lane receives for their stellar wines, and one of them is their unique location that Girard considers to be very special.

In the early 80’s, Girard was a winemaker in California and yearned to make exceptional Pinot Noir. Knowing that California’s warmer weather causes Pinot to build up sugar in the grape faster than it builds up the flavor, Girard looked towards Oregon because of its cooler climate. He knew that the climate and soil in Oregon was ideal for growing Pinot grapes, so he began to do extensive research on premier Pinot locations.

Girard started researching Oregon’s climate data and studying soil maps, weather maps, sun maps and wind maps along with days of sunlight and degree days, which was information he found in the library. This was, of course, before the days and convenience of surfing the World Wide Web. After intense research, he concluded that the ideal location for him would be from about eight miles north of where Benton-Lane now sits and about eight miles south of it, in between Eugene and Corvallis along the western foothills.

Steve shares a sample of ripened Pinot Noir grapes

“The weather data showed that it’s warmer in this area, and more benevolent weather with less wind and less storms,” Girard said. He believes now that the reason for the better weather is because Prairie Mountain, that’s due west of the Benton-Lane property, protects that area and actually drives the storms around the property. There are many times that Girard has stood at the top of the vineyard and seen rain in Eugene and rain in Albany while the sun was beaming down on Benton-Lane.

One hundred years ago, the Benton-Lane property was a sheep ranch appropriately named Sunnymount Ranch, and luckily for Girard, the Sunnymount Ranch was for sale when he was looking for the perfect Pinot property.

Girard noted that the second reason why Benton-Lane wines have been categorized in the Top 100 Wines of the World more than any other winery in Oregon is because of the dedication and diligence of his crew. He’s a firm believer in the 80/20 rule.

“For any endeavor, you’ll get 80 percent of the quality with 20 percent of the effort and that last 20 percent of the quality is 80 percent of the effort,” Girard said.

Girard has managed to achieve that last 20 percent of the quality by hiring people who are fanatic about what they do. Not only does their ideal location allow them to produce fruit that is more complete, but he also has employees that have a true passion for wine while displaying the utmost pride in what they do.

freshly harvested Pinot Noir

Benton-Lane makes all of the Pinot sisters: Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir and Pinot Chardonnay, which used to be the real name of Chardonnay. All four varieties have the same parentage. they all grow beautifully in the Willamette Valley, and Girard believes that Oregon is growing and producing some of the best Chardonnay in the world.

I’ve had the Benton-Lane Chardonnay, and I believe that they’ve set the bar very high for future vintages of this wine. With that said, I admit I never knew Chardonnay was related to Pinot until my conversation with Girard.

I followed Girard out to the vineyard, and we tasted the Pinot Noir right off the vine. Divinely sweet, he explained that the brix (the sugars) had reached their optimal level in just the last week alone. Along with being beautifully ripened and optimally sweetened, today was the perfect day to begin harvesting the grapes for their First Class Pinot Noir and their Pinot Gris.

Steve inspects a cluster of Pinot Gris

The harvested grapes go into large labeled bins that get hauled to Benton-Lane’s state of the art crush pad. I noticed the Pinot Noir grapes were sorted by hand to remove leaves and immature clusters while they rode on a conveyer belt. The belt led them to a machine that diligently removed whole berries from their stems and the stems came out of one chute while the whole berries were dropped out of another chute.

The berries were directly dropped into a large white bin that is called a pot. Then the Pinot Noir grapes ferment in these 1 1/4 ton open top pots while the skins, pulp and seeds float to the top. Those are then “punched down” by hand to acquire optimum extraction of flavor and color of the skins, and once a pot passes the fermentation inspection, the juice goes into barrels.

The First Class Pinot Noir has its own barrel room with a specially designed system that allows the wine in the barrels to be stirred without getting air into the barrel. This system holds each barrel on a set of wheels, so the juice gets stirred by rotating the barrel, it’s pure ingenuity.

Stainless Steel Fermenting Tanks

The freshly harvested Pinot Gris whole grape clusters were loaded into a press, stems and all. The presser forced the juice from the grapes, and the juice dripped down into a large tray which ensured minimal contact with the skins because they have a bitter compound that can effect the quality of the wine. The stems, skins and seeds were released into a different tray.

Girard noted that nothing gets wasted at Benton-Lane.

Everything is put into a compost pile and is worked back into the soil on the property. The juice from the tray then gets gently sucked through a hose into one of their temperature controlled stainless steel fermenting tanks. The temperature is kept at a very cool level so the fresh flavors and aromas of the fruit are maintained.

Pinot Gris cluster - another award winning vintage?

To add complexity and depth to the finished product, a small portion of the fruit is barrel fermented. Only a little is used so it doesn’t overpower the fresh fruit flavors. Their highly regarded 2010 Pinot Gris is a crisp refreshing wine with apple blossom and lime aromas, melon, peach and apple flavors on the palate, and a smooth lingering finish. Well deserving of the award from Wine Spectator as one of the Top 100 wines in 2011, and a 93-point rating from Wine & Spirits.

The Benton-Lane Winery

The 2011 harvest has been challenging for sure, but the excitement in Girard’s voice and the smile on his face translated good news, and I have no doubt that the 2011 vintage from Benton-Lane will be nothing short of spectacular. Girard and his crew work hard at growing, maintaining, harvesting and producing wines from the Pinot varietal, they are what I like to call, “Pinot Perfectionists”.

Benton-Lane’s beautiful tasting room is open daily from March up to Christmas from 11 am to 5 pm. In January and February, they are open Monday through Friday from 11 am to 5 pm.

The winery’s address is:
23924 Territorial Highway
Monroe, OR 97456

Which Winery Will Wine Down Your Memorial Weekend?



Benton-Lane Winery

Memorial Day Weekend Winery Open Houses
May 28th, 29th, & 30th

Blue skies and warm days are on their way, and local wineries will be swinging their doors open for one of the South Willamette Valley’s highly anticipated and most celebrated 3 day wine events: Memorial Day Weekend Winery Open Houses. It’s the official kick-off to the summer season at the wineries; featuring, special releases, barrel tastings, live music, artisan treats and an endless flow of their locally, hand crafted wine- from Pinot Noir and Petit Syrah to Huxelrebe and Sweet Rosé. Each winery entices us to head their way for a number of reasons, so here’s a list of what they’ll be indulging us with this 2011 Memorial Day Weekend:

Benton-Lane Winery: Open Saturday, Sunday and Monday from 11a-5p. $10 admission includes logo glass and gourmet tapas. Live music with Jerome Monaco Saturday and Sunday- 12:30-4:30p. Gourmet Pizza Tapas on Monday. Also hosting the new Ebony Wines-grown in Oregon’s rockiest vineyards!

Brigadoon Wine Company: Open Saturday, Sunday and Monday 11a-4p. Enjoy a Pinot-Picnic in the Park. Bring a lunch, chairs or a blanket & sample the Shown families 3 delicious Pinot’s while relaxing in a beautiful park-like setting at the Brigadoon Wine Co. property. FREE admission

Chateau Lorane's Lake Louise

Chateau Lorane: Open Saturday, Sunday and Monday 11:30a-5:30p. $10 admission includes logo glass (free under 21). Taste over 20 different wines, live music, art festival, delicious food available for purchase provided by Flavors Catering. All this on the shores of the beautiful Lake Louise! Rain or Shine.

Domaine Meriwether: Open Saturday, Sunday and Monday 11a-4p. $10 fee for 4 tastes of wine and a plate of food. Live music

Capitello Wines will be featured at Domaine Meriwether!

Iris Vineyards: Open Saturday, Sunday, Monday 11a-5p. Free wine tasting all 3 days! 25% discount on case purchases, including mixed cases.

King Estate: Open Saturday, Sunday and Monday. New releases & restaurant open daily for lunch and dinner.

The deck at LaVelle Vineyards

LaVelle Vineyards: Open Saturday, Sunday and Monday, enjoy live performances by the 5 piece band-‘Concrete Loveseat’ on Sunday and Monday. Delectable food will be catered by Field to Table.

Noble Estate Vineyard & Winery: Open Saturday, Sunday and Monday 12-5p, live acoustic music Saturday & Sunday. $5 tasting fee which includes 6 wines- fee waived with a bottle purchase.

Pfeiffer Winery: Open Wednesday – Monday 11a-5p, offering Italian Chocolates & appetizer’s with wine tasting. Private Pinot Clinics will be held in the Grotto every 90 minutes. Owners Robin and Danuta Pfeiffer will be your guides with barrel tasting of their 2010 Pinot Noir Futures and official release of the highly anticipated 2008 Blue Dot Pinot Noir Reserve. Bring a picnic lunch and enjoy their water garden falls and streams.

RainSong Vineyard: Open Saturday, Sunday and Monday 12-5p. Featuring new releases, 20% case discounts, complimentary hors d’oeuvres, and barrel tasting! Admission is FREE.

The tasting room red barn at Saginaw Vineyard

Saginaw Vineyard: Open Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday 11a-5p, but open late Friday for live music with Timothy Patrick 6p-9p

Silvan Ridge Winery: Open Saturday, Sunday and Monday 12-6p wine tasting, live music, sales on wine; Sat. 2-5p “The Valley Boys” Live; Sun. 2-5p “Just Say Yes” Live; Mon. 2-5p “Apropos” Live. FREE admission

Sarver Winery: Open Saturday, Sunday, Monday 12-8p, complimentary tastings paired with cheese and chocolate.

Sweet Cheeks Winery: Open Saturday, Sunday, Monday from 12-6p, Live Music by “Taste”, food available for purchase, wine specials, and an art festival. New vintages of Rosy Cheeks and Riesling will be available & admission is free

Territorial Vineyards & Wine Company: Friday 6-9p live music; Saturday 3-9p live music starts at 6p; Sunday 3-7p; $7 tasting fee for flight of 7 wines. Light snacks.

Opine Cellars wines will also be available to sample at Territorial.

We are truly blessed to be in the midst of these unparalleled wineries of the South Willamette Valley. Thanks to the efforts and hard work of all the people involved in meticulously planning these fun-filled Memorial Day Weekend events, there will be loads of fun to be had by all.

But, know this: Before I blow off the dust from my flip flops and sun-glasses, and unpack the boxes that have housed my favorite t-shirts and shorts for the last 8 months, I’ll take a moment to remember those who have fallen in battle fulfilling their obligation to the great country in which I live. The freedoms that I enjoy everyday are protected and ensured by men and women who have put their lives on the line to protect my country and what it stands for.  After a moment of silence and heartfelt gratitude so deserving of our military, I’ll be ready to swirl, sip, and savor all that our stellar local wineries have to offer, and I will raise a glass to our American heroes.

Cheers to my Dad, my hero: Lt. Col. Maurice H. Leiser, 1954 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point. Dedicated to God, his beloved family, and the United States Army–he is forever in my heart. 1931-2009.

Julia – Writing about Eugene’s Wine Scene