Happiness is the Chance to Visit Wineries Before IPNC--Looks Like My Friend Delaine Agrees
2016 brought my sixth opportunity to attend the International Pinot Noir Celebration in Oregon's Willamette Valley. At my first, I never would have imagined that I'd be back each of the next five years (with the application for 2017 already paid!). In fact, I kind of thought the people who went back and back to IPNC were a little unusual. And now I am one. Ah, well. It's a great time...a chance to celebrate wonderful wine and wonderful food--to celebrate life. And this year, it was also a chance to celebrate friendship as I had a good-size group of friends attend with me. Based on the picture above--and a hundred like it from throughout the week--I think they liked it! They were wonderful, and I'm grateful.
IPNC is always held on the beautiful campus of Linfield College on the last weekend in July--which historically has the year's best chance of great weather. That matters because many of the activities are planned outdoors (though there are indoor backups for most). Officially, it lasts from breakfast Friday morning through brunch Sunday...but most participants arrive earlier to take advantage of the opportunity to visit some of the great wineries and restaurants in the area and to attend one of the Pre-IPNC dinners on Thursday night. Some both come early and stay afterward, too--there are certainly enough wonderful wineries and restaurants to warrant that...I just don't know if I have quite that much stamina!
For us, a Monday arrival seems to work well, with departure the following Monday. Once upon a time, I used to pack in as many winery visits on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday as the clock would allow. It let me experience a lot of wineries--most of which were new to me--which was great, but it left me with my tongue hanging out. Then one day, a celestial voice (I think maybe it was my wife's) said: "Slow down! Smell the roses!" (and Portland is, after all, famous for roses). This year's pace was more relaxed. A tasting in the morning. Lunch at a good restaurant. A tasting in the afternoon. And then another great restaurant at night. Many of the tastings were with the winemakers. A couple were at old favorites, but most were with wineries that I hadn't visited before (in each of those cases, I might add "should have, but hadn't" as they're among the Valley's best). I think that approach of exploring makes sense--to go back to the same places every trip means you'd never discover the new gems that keep appearing. But some are special enough that it's important to go back and back. The relationship is as meaningful as the experience.
In that vein, Antica Terra was a great place to start. Winemaker Maggie Harrison mixes chances to taste her wines--Antica Terra and Lillian (Lillian are wines she makes with California grapes)--with a selection of wines from around the world that inspire her. Having done that tasting a number of times now, I think I understand what kind of wines inspire Maggie: wines with soul. Is there anything better you can say about a wine? It's a fabulous experience--great wines, delicious little nibbles...and, as always, Maggie was a treat.
On to Brooks. The relationship that had its initial seeds in the "name coincidence" has become important to me. I won't go into all that--if you don't know the story, there should be posts about it somewhere on here. But it was great to see Janie, Chris, Heather, Jess and the gang. The wines continue to be very good and the place is just lovely...relaxed and comfortable. Not surprising that people sometimes make a quick stop, intending to move on to other wineries, and end up spending the whole day. It's that kind of place and that kind of atmosphere. And it was nice of Janie to come to dinner with us.
There were four or five wineries that were new to me--all excellent (when I say new to me, one was the oldest winery in the Valley...so it's my fault I hadn't been there sooner). Two made a particular impression on me. ROCO is relatively new on the scene--but its owners/winemaker are not. Rollin Soles (RO) was a founding partner and the winemaker at Argyle--for several decades he made pinot, chardonnay and one of America's best sparkling wines there. His wife, Corby Soles (CO), was a founder and owner of Panther Creek with her then-husband, Ken Wright. At ROCO, they continue with chardonnay and pinot--excellent. And they're about to release their first sparkling wine: RSM. My sense...it may well become America's top bubble. It was really good (and that's a hard-core bubble-head saying so).
But the number one "new winery experience" for me was Brick House. Doug Tunnell hasn't been making wine quite as long as Rollin--or as Eyrie--but he's a veteran. And I've known that he was respected by insiders for quite a while. Not sure why I'd never been...I just hadn't. Big mistake. We tasted a chardonnay, a gamay and three pinots--all made with estate fruit. And the only problem the group had was figuring out which ones to order. I didn't walk into the building expecting to order either a chardonnay or a gamay--and I ended up ordering both (along with some pinot). The wines had a sense of life...maybe even, going back to the tasting with Maggie, a sense of soul.
Pretty special. More on IPNC 2016 to come.