Thursday, May 24, 2012

Portland, Ho!

( Hand laid stone walkways at the Lan Su Chinese Garden in Portland, OR)

With a little under four months to go until the 2012 North American WineBloggers Conference (#WBC12) in Portland, Oregon I’ve only begun thinking about any expectations and my usual research into options for post-conference touring into wine country and beyond.

I’ve only been to Portland once and it was for all of about four hours. It was 2010 and my wife and I were on a post-WineMaker Magazine conference vacation to Seattle. The conference had been in Stevenson, WA and the trip to Seattle would take us through Portland so we planned a short side trip to take in a little of the city.

It was a cloudy, rainy day and while that wasn’t a positive facet of the jaunt, we made the best of it as we always do. We found a Sunday market and craft fair down the along the river and wandered through the stalls to get a sense of the place. With coffees in hand we powered our way through the business district which was justifiably quiet for a weekend day. What little of the city we saw was friendly, walkable and full of vendors offering all manner of food and drink that could keep gastro-explorers like us busy. Coming back has always been on the short list.

( Lan Su Chinese Garden )

The highlight of the trip was a visit to the Lan Su Chinese Garden. Nestled in between blocks of commercial buildings the Lan Su garden is an incredible oasis from the bustle of the city. The high walls ringing the garden and tea house remove visitors from most of the city, although the taller buildings on the adjoining streets are visible and the sounds of traffic do creep in. Margot and I spent the remainder of our time in Portland taking in the flowers and ornate decorations of the garden, finishing our visit with tea and dim sum. By the time we left we had properly transitioned to vacation mode (from conference mode which feels like work sometimes) and were sporting big smiles with the expectations of a few days in Seattle at the fore.

I got thinking about Portland and Oregon wine this week from #winechat, hosted by Frank Morgan and Tamara Belgard, that was focussed on Oregon wines as a bit of pre-gaming for #WBC12. There was a diverse selection of wines being tasted from broadly known names like Sokol Blosser, Willamette Valley Vineyards and Domaine Serene to many smaller labels, R. Stuart, WillaKenzie and Helioterra to name a couple, that I and others had and have yet to experience firsthand.

I went with the Domaine Serene 2007 Yamhill Cuvee Pinot Noir. My experience with Oregon Pinot (only a little mind you) is that it typically straddles two worlds. The presentation of the fruit is soundly New World, but it is often restrained from what people may be used to in say Sonoma or Santa Barbara Pinot. For the earthy component, which is typically fully accessible, it channels more of the Old World. Is this experience legitimate? Until I taste through a few more labels and sub-regions I can only say that I’ve had confirmation of this offered by a few folks with more exposure to the wines, so I think I’ve got a decent context.

The Serene Yamhill Cuvee fit my experience well. Ruby red with no hints of purple or youthful color. The nose on the wine is moderate and a blend of fruit and earth. Dark red cherries and raspberries were my immediate fruit notes. I then picked up graphite (minerality in a specific form I think), some spices and a bit of dry earth, leaves and maybe even some tobacco. The oak was there, but not abundant. This wine is very smooth with cleansing acidity. This is definitely a Pinot that will shine on the dinner table and as yet I haven’t considered how I might pair it to better understand its character.

Beyond Pinot Noir most of my Oregon wine experience is with Pinot Gris. I reviewed a few wines from the state in a trip report from the2010 vacation. I didn’t make it into OR wine country on that trip so I have no visual context for what it might look like from any other wine-making area I’ve been.

So my limited experience and desire to better understand what I think I know about Oregon wine sets up a few expectations for the upcoming trip to Portland and the Willamette Valley.
  • I need to taste many more wines, both Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris
  • I need to explore the other styles that are made there that aren't on my radar
  • I need to get a feel for the food and other local beverages including the beer and distilled spirits
  • I need to get out into wine country and learn more about the geography, soil, climate, grape growing methods and winemaking practices
  • And I need to have fun doing all of that so I will be sure to want to come back and delve even further

My wife and I have a couple extra days after the conference on the calendar and while we plan to hit wine country one of the days we are also hoping to go see the Oregon coast, visit the Rogue Brewery and go on a self-guided tour of Portland hitting some of the food and beverage hotspots like Distillery Row, Voodoo Donuts and the Urban Wine Trail.

Now that I’ve gotten started thinking about #WBC12 I have realized there is a healthy task list out in front of me. One of the first items is to put together my Twitter list of attendees so I can get to know some of the other folks who will be in town for the conference. I’m sure I will get plenty of recommendations from locals and folks with regional experience to fill in some of my “what to do” slots.

With this trip to look forward to getting through the circus at the office and the manual labor in the garden at home will be just that much easier. If you will be in Portland for #WBC12 I look forward to meeting you, seeing you again and spending some quality time getting to better know the wines or Oregon.




Sip with Me! said...

Hey Jason,

I'll be looking forward to catching up with you at #WBC12 and hearing all about your impressions of Oregon wine. Looks like you have some great outings on your agenda. You're in for a real treat!! If you need any suggestions on where to visit, feel free to reach out! My best to you, see you in a few months!


thedrunkencyclist said...

I, too, hope to make it to #WBC12, but I waited too long and am now on the waiting list. grrrr...