Willamette Valley is a fantastic place to find and drink great wine, but most wineries there don’t have the picturesque views that are common in other wine regions. Bethel Heights is the exception to that statement. Not only that, they have some of the highest-rated wines in the region and the tasting fee is unbelieveably good compared to the quality/quantity of wines you get to taste. And if that’s not enough to convince you, their wines have a ripeness that reminds you of the Russian River Valley in Sonoma. It was a fun change of pace to enjoy these wines after a long day of tasting. So even if you think the price point of the bottles are out of your desired range, I highly recommend visiting, especially if you have a camera.
This is actually my second time visiting Cristom. The first made such an impression on me, I signed up for a membership and will try to visit once a year. Looking back at my first post on the winery, I noticed that my pictures and wine reviews were lacking. So if you want to read up on the background of Cristom, read my previous post at HERE. In this post, you’ll find new pictures of the estate (they’ve expanded it a bit thanks to their continuing success) and my reviews of the latest vintage.
Bjornson may not be a winery you think of when you hear Eola Amity Hills, but it needs to be. The wines and wine ambassadors are capable of entertaining both wine novices and afficionados. This may be the winery my cousin and I enjoyed the most equally. For me, I was intrigued by the odd varietals (e.g. Gamay, Auxerrois) and the differing styles of Pinot why my cousin and her husband enjoyed the stories behind the wines and found appreciation for each by connecting them to the stories. Whichever side of the spectrum you fall on, I guarantee that you’ll find a good, educational time at Bjornson. And if you get Coach Barb as your wine ambassador, consider yourself lucky. She’s awesome.
When choosing wineries to enroll as a member, there are many factors to look at: the wine quality, prices, bottle minimums, membership benefits, etc. The most important factor for me is simple: do they treat you like family? If the answer is “yes”, everything else will work itself out. In the case of Siltstone Wines, this is almost literally true for me as the owners and I share the same family name. Even if we didn’t though, I would love this winery all the same. A family starting the winery from nothing, growing the grapes themselves, making the wines themselves, and sharing the wines themselves. It’s everything I want to do in the future. On top of everything, there is an energy and happiness that pervades the place - it makes you want to spend your afternoon there.
I strongly prefer tasting bottles at the winery rather than at in-town tasting rooms. Unfortunately, I was in a bit of a rush, so I gladly made an exception here because when I think of Oregon Chardonnay, I think of Evening Springs. If you’ve had a bottle of wine from Oregon (specifically around the Willamette Valley), chances are it was a Pinot Noir. There are several other varietals grown in the region, but none are known for being as good a fit with the terroir as Pinot Noir. However, once you taste the La Source here, you’ll be adding Chardonnay to that list. I would confidently put La Source in a blind tasting against the best that America has to offer and it’s not even their best bottling (Summum). I don’t care if you visit the tasting facility or not; just make sure to try these wines!
I’ll admit, when I heard of how King Family Vineyards got its start as a winery, I was hoping they wouldn’t be good. But after tasting their wines and visiting their winery, I must admit that they are among the elite in Virginia, both in terms of their wine quality and the quality of their facilities/staff. The wines were so good in fact that I left with a case… If your budget allows for wines in the $30-$40 range and you can make a weekend trip to the Charlottesville area, King Family needs to be on your itinerary. Just be prepared to taste wines that are almost Bordeaux-like in complexity, integration, and deliciousness.
The first review of a winery in my home state: Virginia. Although I’ve never visited Grace Estate nor had their wine until this weekend, I’m glad this happened to be my first review. There are two things I look for in wineries: (1) Is the wine quality on point? (2) Is it relatively off people’s radar? If the answers to both are “yes”, you’ll have at least one intrigued customer coming to visit you. Each one of the wines poured during the tasting at Grace Estate were unique, cerebral, and pretty good. Combined with a nicely designed tasting room that feels like home rather than a Napa spaceship, I had a really nice time visiting for a couple hours.
I love hearing stories about how people entered the wine industry, especially those that had to start scrappy, rather than spending millions they earned in their previous life to fast track their way. Maybe because if I’m ever going to have the opportunity myself, the path will look like the former, rather than the latter. Russell Bevan and Victoria De Crescenzo of Bevan Cellars are the watermark for this category. From enjoying blind tastings in the midwest to forming a wine lovers group in Minnesota, to trips and tastings in California with winemakers to risking it all and moving Napa on a dream. Everything about their story resonates with me (and hopefully some of my friends, haha). So it is only natural that I visit to taste their wines. And wow, what a brand and catalog of wines they have built…
Christopher Tynan is one of the hottest winemakers in Napa Valley right now. In addition to propelling wineries like Cliff Lede to centerstage in the wine world, he produces wines under his own label from sourced fruit that wine writers cannot stop gushing over (I think Jeb Dunnuck has given every one of his label’s wines 100pts each vintage). He and Tony Arcudi are the two newer winemakers I am closely following. So of course I had to take the opportunity to taste at Cliff Lede when I had the chance. I thought Shafer and Stags Leap Wine Cellars were the two kings of the AVA. But both of them better watch out because Cliff Lede is coming on very strong.
After my visit to Lokoya a couple years ago, I started following and tasting more of Chris Carpenter’s wines. I would put him right beside Tony Arcudi as one of the winemakers I would love to work for and learn from. I highly recommend you check out his podcast interview on “The Taste” with Doug Shafer to get a feel for his career and what’s shaped his style of winemaking. One night, I happened upon his Mt. Brave and La Jota Cabernets and decided that I needed to taste the rest of the portfolio. Luckily, each of the labels are all grouped under the Spire Collection brand and can be tasted together at their estate in Calistoga. I recommend you find bottles sooner rather than later as the prices seem to rise every year…