Rainsong

History in the Making at Rodeo Steakhouse and Grill

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 –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.

Which Winery Will Wine Down Your Memorial Weekend?

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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! www.benton-lane.com

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 www.brigadoonwineco.com

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. www.chateaulorane.com

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

Capitello Wines will be featured at Domaine Meriwether! www.capitellowines.com

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

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

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. www.lavellevineyards.com

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. www.nobleestatevineyard.com

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.  www.pfeiffervineyards.com

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. www.rainsongvineyard.com

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 www.saginawvineyard.com

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.  www.sarverwinery.com

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 www.sweetcheekswinery.com

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. www.territorialvineyards.com

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

Bottle or Barrel? You decide at RainSong Vineyard

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Bottle or Barrel? You decide at RainSong Vineyard
by Julia Crowley for EDN

So I’ve completed the first mission of my 2011 new year’s resolution of experiencing the unique offerings of each of the South Willamette Valley’s wineries. I started with RainSong Vineyard. RainSong Vineyard & Winery is tucked into the foothills of Oregon’s coastal range just northwest of Eugene in the small town of Cheshire. I’ve heard about RainSong’s unique barrel bottling program and I’ve tasted their signature sparkling wine; in fact, I’ve kept the bottle over the years because it was signed and numbered by owner and winemaker, Mike Fix . So, when Mike recently contacted me about coming out to the winery to watch the disgorging of sparkling wine, I didn’t hesitate for a second about heading his way.  The disgorging of sparkling wine, also known as Methode Champenoise, is the 200 year old process used to remove the sediment from the wine bottle after refermentation, and it’s also what transforms wine into finished sparkling wine.

After a quick 30-minute drive though the rolling hills that outline Eugene, I approached the large wine barrel sign at the bottom of RainSongs driveway, so I headed up the hill and parked next to an old rustic barn. Once inside, the walls of the barn were lined with oak and stainless steel wine barrels along with boxes of wine stacked from floor to ceiling.  There was a small tasting area and a half wall lined with eclectically labeled bottles that separated the main room from a working area, where I noticed a young couple, sporting safety goggles and rubber gloves and looking very much like science lab students. The wine racks in the center of the room were lined with label-less bottles, stored neck down. I greeted Mike and he introduced me to the two young ‘scientists’, Allie and Marcus.

Allie, Mike’s daughter, was holding a home-made mallet and chipping away at some dry ice while Marcus, Allie’s fiancé, stood by with one of the label-less bottles. Allie and Marcus both recently graduated from the University of Oregon’s Biology program, and they now do all the lab work at RainSong along with assisting in the winemaking process.  I noticed the bottle that Marcus was holding had a crown cap top instead of a cork.

Marcus showed me that all the bottles stored on the racks had these crown cap tops, and that these would soon be removed as part of the disgorging process and would later be replaced with corks. While Marcus and Allie prepared for the disgorging process, I followed Mike over to one of the stainless steel barrels, and watched as he used a wine thief to “steal” a sample of sparkling wine base out of the barrel for me to try.

This sparkling wine was, in fact, not sparkling at all-it had not gone through the refermentation process yet.  This was a 2010 chardonnay based sparkling wine; bright, slightly acidic with strong citrus notes. The grapes are from a California based chardonnay clone known as Martini, and the Martini clone struggles to get ripe in Oregon; therefore, the grapes remain longer on the vine. This lengthy time on the vine creates a more mature grape, giving it time to develop exceptional character that’s perfect for a chardonnay based sparkling wine. Once the grapes are picked, they are whole berry pressed, so there’s no crush and no de-stemming of the grapes. The juice is then put into stainless steel barrels for fermentation. After fermenting in the stainless steel barrels, the wine is bottled with yeast and sugar, then capped with the bottle top and stored, neck down, for about a year.

When this secondary fermentation period is over, the yeast and sediment have settled in the neck of the bottle and are now ready to be removed or “disgorged”. So, Marcus gave the bottle he was holding to Allie, and she stuck the bottle, top down, into the dry ice bath for about 2-3 minutes which Allie had created from crushed dry ice and isopropyl alcohol. Once the sediment in the neck of the bottle was frozen, she popped the crown cap, ran the bottle under warm water for a few seconds, and then slid the bottle under a propped up bucket just in time to catch the flying sediment. Marcus then took the bottle and used a home-made ‘corker’ to insert a large champagne cork into the bottle, twist on a wire cage, and done! Sparkling wine: ready for a label and consumption. Much to my dismay, a couple of the bottles tipped over during this process, so we had the tough job of consuming what was left. Let me just say this, they didn’t need to twist my arm to get the job done.

While my glass was full, and I was enjoying every sip of my freshly disgorged sparkling wine, I had a chance to ask Mike about their much talked about Barrel Bottling Program.  In the mid 90’s, the Fix family would invite friends to come and bottle the leftover barrels of wine to take home with them.

These fun parties led to the idea of the barrel bottling program, which has become so popular that 90% of RainSongs wine is now sold directly to the consumer through this program. This unique program allows an individual or a group to purchase and bottle an entire barrel of RainSong’s wine. They can choose either Estate grown wine or other Pacific Northwest wines at or below wholesale prices. A full barrel must be purchased, which comes out to be about 25 cases of wine, with 12 bottles of wine in each case.

The person or group who purchases the barrel can pick a date for the bottling party that takes place at the winery, and RainSong provides assistance with the bottling process and all the needed supplies. Bottling takes about an hour, and the wine comes with a simple label that meets government standards. Most people create their own labels through label making companies, and I saw many of these creations on the eclectically labeled bottles that were lined up on top of the half wall. Anniversaries, weddings, birthdays, company logos…you name it, there were labels with it. Mike encourages everyone to bring a picnic lunch to enjoy after the bottling party along with a wine tasting of RainSong wines.

Before departing, Mike pointed out his 6 acres of Pinot Noir, 1 acre of Chardonnay, and two acres of Pinot Meunier and said, “It’s the perfect little sparkling wine vineyard”. I nodded in total agreement. He then handed me a bottle of sparkling wine to take home that looked  a lot like the one I had kept over the years, except this one was signed by one of RainSongs next generation of winemakers, “Allie Fix 115 of 590”.

Visit www.rainsongvineyard.com

RainSong Vineyard

92989 Templeton Rd

Cheshire, OR 97419

541.998.1786

Julia – Writing about Eugene’s Wine Scene