Wine: Dueling Districts Conquer

For wine writers in western Oregon, this has been a very busy week; a very enlightening week that brought vast amounts of knowledge not previously experienced by this particular writer. The Dundee Hills Winegrowers Association (DHWA) invited us to a media event on May 9th. We were flattered and excited to be among the few journalists who received an invitation.

The timing could not have been more convenient because we had already been invited to a trade tasting of the Yamhill-Carlton District AVA on Monday, May 12. That event was held at Ten 01. If you have not had the pleasure of experiencing the awesome cuisine Jack Yoss and his crew prepares, get on in there – those folks can cook. I would even go on to say it’s some of the best food I’ve tasted in Portland in a long time. But let’s get back to the wine and highlighting the gracious hosting capabilities of both organizations.

Dundee Hills Satellite Photo
Dundee Hills Satellite Photo

Our outing in Dundee was an elaborate immersion into all aspects of their winemaking, viticulture applications (including some light hearted admission of some miss-applications), hospitality offerings, technological advancements, and of course the serious sustainability efforts being made by all the wineries from the DHWA. Our group gathered in Dundee where Cathy Martin from Argyle and Sheila Nicholas from Nicholas Communications met us before being whisked away to the Black Walnut Inn and Vineyard. Check out the website and believe the hype; the carriage rooms are especially luxurious and the views priceless. Chef Kris Utz prepares cuisine worth making this a destination of celebration.

Black Walnut Inn The Classic King Bed at Black Walnut Inn
Black Walnut Inn & Vineyard

Our next stop was one hill away at the Erath Winery where the Godfather Allen Holstien and Godmother Leigh Bartholomew of Dundee Hills viticulture were waiting to educate us with hands on knowledge. During the 40 minutes spent with Allen and Leigh I started to realize how very privileged I was to be here in this vineyard enjoying the beauty of the surroundings while hearing about how the wines from here had developed. Leigh fielded geological questions with ease and Allen could recall minute weather details from a decade ago like it was yesterday. It was apparent why the vines shepherded by these two produce some of the finest Pinot Noir produced anywhere in the world.

If I wasn’t impressed already, the next phase began when the winemakers’ caravan pulled up with Russell Gladhart, Jesse Lange, Jason Lett and Alex Sokol-Blosser, four of the best known winemakers in the Willamette Valley.

However, on this day, these gentlemen would not be acting as winemakers but instead chauffeurs and guides loading us into their personal vehicles for a tour of the Dundee Hills; more informative drivers for this area do not exist, take my word on that one. We wound our way around the picturesque hills in weather that could not have been better as we headed towards Stoller Winery for lunch.

Allen Holstien
Allen Holstien, Dundee Hills GodfatherLeigh Bartholomew
Leigh Bartholomew, Vineyard Manager, Archery Summit

Anthony Van Nice of The Four Graces spoke with us about their recent Salmon Safe Certification and Susan Sokol Blosser outlined the lengths her vineyard went through to be come LIVE certified organic. After lunch, we had the honor of touring the state of the art LEED certified facility that is the Stoller Winery.

With the day half over, our next segment of this immersion led us to the cellar of Domain Drouhin and introduction to the Bell family Arron and Ashley, these two had the enviable position of hosting the well organized and incredibly educational tasting of Pinot Noir flights from the 2005 and 2006 vintages, 22 wines in total. Kudos to Gary Horner who we did not have the pleasure of meeting but his efforts were enjoyed by all – he choose the wines. They were all outstanding and it was with grave remorse that I left the cellar while those wines remained. This tasting deserves an entire article devoted to telling the complete story and I will save that for later.

Argyle Tasting Room
To complete our tour nothing could have been as appropriate as the sparking wine reception at Argyle. Standing on the porch sipping some of Argyles best while rush hour traffic slowly slipped up and down Hwy 99, it was déjà vu, Argyle was the first Oregon winery I ever visited. If there was anything the DHWA could have done better I couldn’t think of it and when I can’t complain believe me, it was solid. As special as our treatment was, most of the

same things we experienced you could experience also through visiting the Dundee Hills and enjoying the world class wines they produce.

Part Two: Yamhill – Carlton District AVA Trade Tasting May 12 at Ten 01 Restaurant located in the Pearl. The two organizations have distinctive differences in their wines, growing areas and key players. Seventeen of the twenty wineries from Yamhill – Carlton District poured wines at this event that took place upstairs at Ten 01 otherwise known as the loft. The placement of tables was a little tight not leaving much room to move around but it worked and the flow managed to get everyone from winery to winery without too much inconvenience. The professional staff from Ten 01 moved in and out between attendees with grace and the food was delicious and easy to eat while balancing your wineglass.

The printed program produced for this event was one of the best I’ve ever seen. Set-up in alphabetical order, the program listed the wines being poured, case production amounts and wholesale bottle price. All the information a buyer would need leaving only the individual characteristics of the wines as a subject of discussion with the winemakers or the winery representative.

As long as I have mentioned the great food, I might as well talk about what was served. The first tray appeared while we were at registration, a crostini with stone ground mustard and a perfectly cooked slice of prime rib. The duck confit and steak tartare were also presented on a crostini and absolutely fabulous. My favorite had to be the toasted brioche rounds topped with lingonberry preserves and foie gras. The house-made salumi were top-notch and the selection of olives and cheeses were first class.

As we made our way around the room, it became apparent Carlton Yamhill District AVA can hold their own with any Pinot Noir produced anywhere. The Pinot Gris from Bishop Creek Cellars poured by Jeremy Saville was in a class by itself as were many of the other white wines and one very special sparkler. The wines from this tasting deserve an article all their own and I will save that for down the road.

1998 Oregon Pinot Noir Flight
1998 Oregon Pinot Noir Flight

The highlight was the private tasting of a flight of six 1998 Pinot Noirs. They were all showing well with at least a decade left in each of them. I must have done something right somewhere, sometime to be allowed to partake in the recent offerings that most assuredly could be described accurately as nectar of the gods. In the immortal words of Wayne and Garth (Wayne’s World) “We’re not worthy”.

Look forward to my upcoming posts where I describe the tasting notes from both of these two separate events in detail.

~Article originally published in


About the Author:

Marc has held almost every position in the food & wine industry and is committed to Celebrating Hospitality with Pride. In addition to being the co-founder and editor-at-large for Enobytes, Marc is a wine blogger contributor to (Wine Bytes) and writes the Wine Knowledge column in the print magazine About Face. The Contra Costa County Times, San Jose Mercury News, Tacoma Times Tribune and Washington Post have either interviewed or quoted Marc on his viniferous and culinary opinions. Marc has also appeared on Portland's "Vine Time" on News Radio 750 KXL and on California's Central Coast "From the Growing of the Grape to the Glass" on KUHL-AM 1410. He is also the author of A History of Pacific Northwest Cuisine: Mastodons to Molecular Gastronomy. While continuing to tenaciously search for what he may finally proclaim as his favorite wine Marc is relentless in his quest for the ultimate food and wine experience.

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