“On the road again… Just can’t wait ’til I get on the road again…” Oh, wait. I’m back! More or less just back from Oregon Pinot Camp 2011, a select, annual, trade, invite-only conference out in the Willamette Valley. That’s (said) Willamette, damn it! and about an hour south of Portland, Oregon, where (arguably) the country’s finest Pinot Noir wines are made.
The goal of the conference? To bring together about 250 representatives of the restaurant and retail wine biz to learn more about the area and why great Pinot Noir is made there. They also (smartly) provide a great opportunity to explore “The Great American Whites”, Oregon style, which may go more routinely overlooked, simply because Pinot Noir is the young region’s claim to fame. I last visited the region in 2005 and was thrilled to have the ‘excuse’ to go back and delve in further to this great wine producing region.
My personal adventure began a bit further south of the Willamette – 5+ hours south, though still in Oregon – at Foris Vineyards. Foris invited me and 11 others from across the country to come in advance of Camp and explore what southern Oregon wine country has to offer. I’ve worked with Foris’ wines in the past (and in particular their Muscat frizzante) and was happy to have the chance to meet the owners, Ted and his wife Terri, winemaker Bryan and his sidekick Steve and the rest of the gang. They are salt of the earth people, with tremendous vision; I was lucky to start my trip with them and whet my whistle and appetite for Rogue Valley wines!
The next morning we were up bright and early to travel to Camp. We enjoyed a late “lunch” on Willamette Chardonnay and Crab, hosted at Argyle and further attended by folks like Chahalem, Ponzi, and Domaine Drouhin Oregon. What a way to begin! Soon enough we were checked in to our hotel and being shuttled (in yellow school buses) to the opening “games”. All 50 participating OPC 2011 wineries – an elite bunch – offered two wines to introduce campers to their latest releases while we ‘snacked’ on incredibly fresh and satisfying local fare. (This general theme happily presented itself throughout the trip.)
The next two days were a whirlwind of tasting, sharing, comparing and learning – each ending with a large-format tasting reception and dinner (dancing optional). I tromped through soil pits at Penner Ash, discovered the “multiple personalities of Pinot Noir” at Domain Drouhin Oregon with winemaker-led, blind tasting workshops that delved into questions of vintage variation and the range of styles that exist, learned more about biodynamics/organics, and farming for quality at Elk Cove and enjoyed a panel discussion about Oregon whites at Torii Mor.Camp was interactive bliss.
Long, love story short my affair with Oregon wines will continue. And in the coming months in particular, it will continue with Anne Amie (best in show, best QPR) specifically, but also as I seek out and enjoy the area’s 2010 whites that are coming to market now. They are spectacular, consistently delicious, vibrant, edgy, expressive wines – from Riesling to Pinot Blanc to Pinot Gris (Chard still hasn’t quite won me over wholeheartedly, though Chehalem is a strong exception). These whites will certainly tide me over this summer and early fall as the immature 2009 Pinot Noirs enter the market; these wines are NOT yet at their best and will continue to evolve into the best versions of themselves in the years to come. I encourage you to wait with me – and enjoy as many 2007s as you can find in the meantime. Like good Burgundy, these wines will be worth the wait!
A big thanks to all of the OPC organizers and the many attendees, new friends, who made the experience so memorable.