Wine

Burgundy in Our Backyard: A Weekend in the Willamette Valley

“Pinot needs constant care and attention. You know? And in fact it can only grow in these really specific, little, tucked away corners of the world. And, and only the most patient and nurturing of growers can do it, really. Only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot's potential can then coax it into its fullest expression. Then, I mean, oh its flavors, they're just the most haunting and brilliant and thrilling and subtle and... ancient on the planet.”
-- Miles Raymond, Sideways, 2004

Pinot noir wine — you either love it or you just don’t. Because the grape requires such unique growing conditions and care, it isn’t a mainstay here in Washington State. But just 30 miles outside of Portland, OR, tucked into the rolling hills along Hwy 18, pinot noir is king. This is the Willamette Valley, a bucolic land of fields, trees, and gorgeous rows of cool-climate wine grapes. Here is Burgundy in our backyard. I simply love pinot noir.

The Willamette Valley American Viticultural Area (AVA) is comprised of seven unique sub-AVAs, and with only 48 hours to explore, I certainly couldn’t visit them all. But if you’re out touring about for a wine weekend, here are a few great spots I can personally recommend.

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If you want to try wine tasting in a tasting room environment, head into the towns like McMinnville, Carlton, or Dundee for quick sips a short walk from your hotel or right off the road. Downtown McMinnville truly is the metropolis of the valley with several notable tasting rooms open nearly every day. We opted to stay there in the historic Hotel Oregon, a McMennamins property that’s close to everything. Rooms are small, often with common bathrooms, but the Rooftop Bar and resident ghosts makeup in charm what the hotel lacks in modern amenities.

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The Eyrie Vineyards tasting room is here, offering classic pinot noir from the library going as far back as 1985. Founded by David Lett (or Papa Pinot, as he’s known here), The Eyrie and Lett pioneered the pinot movement in the valley: both pinot noir and pinot gris do very well in this unique climate.

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Insider Tip: You feel like trying wine but your date wants a cocktail? Pop over to Ransom Wine & Spirits in McMinnville where you can have both! Flights of wine include (surprise) pinot noir, but also a charming dry gewurztraminer. For the spirit-forward traveller, you can try a flight of five liquors ranging from Old Tom Gin to Rye Whisky. There’s even a cocktail option.

If you’re like me, you like to try the wine where it grows. Just eight miles outside of McMinnville are the Dundee Hills, carpeted with vineyards, lavender fields, and views to rival Tuscany. Here are the heavy hitters in the world of pinot: Archery Summit Winery with its beautiful natural wine caves and sweeping vistas, De Ponte Cellars known for classic Burgundian-style winemaking, and Domaine Drouhin, a family affair bringing the best in sustainable French winemaking to its Oregon-grown pinot noir and chardonnay wines.

All three estates are near enough to visit in a single afternoon and the staff will treat you like kings and queens, but especially if you call ahead for a reservation. As you’re driving through the hills, look for the blue and white “tourist attraction” road signs that lead you to the various wineries dotting the hillsides.

Insider Tip: Looking for something outside of pinot? Try the Melon de Bourgogne by De Ponte Cellars. This white grape is rarely found outside the Loire Valley, France, but makes for a delicious and refreshing glass of candied lemon sunshine on a warm summer afternoon. Take it with you out to the porch and enjoy, likely in the company of the cellar’s resident calico cat, Missy.  

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On our final day in the valley, before our pinot palettes were completely exhausted, my husband and I found ourselves back in the Dundee Hills at White Rose Estate Winery & Vineyard. Open seven days a week (but again, reservations recommended), this winery offers a truly “pinot geeky” sensory experience: The tasting room has no windows. Off odors like perfumes and food are discouraged. You are prompted to wash your palate with club soda before you even begin tasting the wines. Tasting Room Manager Dago Guillen takes each guest on a journey through the terroir of the vineyards and deep into the flavors in every enormous glass. He knows these wines by heart (his brother is the winemaker) and will expose the secrets to how each vintage is produced. This spot is not to be missed.

Insider Tip: Looking for the perfect gift for the non-drinker in your life? Pop over to Red Ridge Farm, home to Oregon’s Olive Mill. The grounds alone are very pretty, but you can also taste several olive oils ranging from mild to peppery, as well as unique infused vinegars. Candles, soaps, and pretty terrarium plants are all available to purchase as well.

What I really love about pinot noir is that a perfectly balanced bottle can, and should, sit in a cellar for many years to come. When I do someday open them, these precious and pretty wines will provide several opportunities to revisit my Willamette weekend for years to come. Salud!

Amy L. Dickson is a communications professional, freelance writer, and contributor to Rain or Shine Guides. She’s currently training at the NW Wine Academy for her Level 1 sommelier certification. Follow her at @amyldickson75

Seattle Hidden Gems: Fat Cork

Photo courtesy of Fat Cork

Photo courtesy of Fat Cork

With Valentine’s Day upon us, a bottle of Champagne seems like a fine way to mark the occasion. However, at Fat Cork, a small underground Seattle warehouse dedicated entirely to grower Champagne, the full staff strives to Celebrate Everyday. As they put it, sometimes the act of opening the bottle IS the celebration.

When I say Fat Cork is underground, I literally mean it: housed in the basement of a nondescript grey building triangled between three streets in lower Queen Anne, I had to circle the building to find the way in. Look for the tiny door plaque and button code “13” to get buzzed in, then head downstairs.

Photo by Amy L. Dickson

Photo by Amy L. Dickson

Founded by husband and wife team, Bryan Maletis and Abigail Richardson, Fat Cork’s mission is to change the perception of Champagne as an exorbitant delicacy to an exciting option for celebrating everyday moments. The organization does this by providing the nascent, hungry market of North American bubbly drinkers access to grower Champagnes.

“Even though we are hard to find in our small Seattle cave, we are breaking down the barriers of Champagne,” Bryan explained. “We go find the best growers in Champagne and bring them directly to our customers in a fun and approachable way. We want people to find us and find reasons to celebrate everyday.”

What are grower Champagnes? These are sparkling wines created by the growers and their families from their own vineyard grapes. The personalities and styles of the winemakers and vineyards are highlighted in the resulting cuvées. According to Wine Folly, less than 5% of the Champagne imported into the US is grower Champagne. And remember, only Champagne from the Champagne region in France can be truly labelled Champagne.

Photo courtesy of Fat Cork

Photo courtesy of Fat Cork

Fat Cork is both a shop to purchase Champagne, but also offers a club with multiple entry points to join: Each shipment is customized to the drinker based on tastes, feedback, and previous orders. Fat Cork represents 13 growers back in France and serves as the sole US importer for these labels so if you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind gift, these wines are it.

Every Fat Cork club shipment is a gorgeous gift in its own right, carefully labeled with bespoke tasting notes and Pacific Northwest accompaniments like Ballard mustard or hazelnuts from Oregon. To date, the slow, steady Fine Champagne (FC) club’s growth is largely attributed to word-of-mouth referrals, but the team hopes to increase membership by nearly 30% this year by attracting attention in major US cities like New York and LA.

Photo courtesy of Fat Cork

Photo courtesy of Fat Cork

While exploring the facility, cave, and warehouse my guide Tori popped open a bottle of Hervy Quenardel Cuvée Brut Prestige Grand Cru. Aromatic and citrusy on the nose, this mouthful of silky pearls was both coating and refreshing, leaving me with a crisp dryness on the palate. A classic example of the power and beauty of traditional Champagne and one I’ll not be able to find anywhere else in America.

Fat Cork also offers select curated services to design your Champagne menu for special events, including weddings. For club members headed to France, Bryan and team will connect travelers with the actual growers so they can visit the vineyards and houses where their Champagne is made.

Simply curious? Fat Cork has an open public tasting the last Saturday of every month where you can sample some of the most unique, limited production Champagnes on the planet. What are you waiting for? Salud!

Amy L. Dickson is a communications professional, freelance writer, and contributor to Rain or Shine Guides. She’s currently training at the NW Wine Academy for her Level 1 sommelier certification. Follow her at @amyldickson75

Photo by Amy L. Dickson

Photo by Amy L. Dickson

Photo by Amy L. Dickson

Photo by Amy L. Dickson

Photo courtesy of Fat Cork

Photo courtesy of Fat Cork

5 Things To Check Out In Snoqualmie, WA

Snoqualmie. The first town name that visitors have to learn to pronounce correctly, right up there with Issaquah and Tulalip. All our neighboring towns have something in common besides their unique Native American names, they also all have great attractions to draw you out of the bustling city. Snoqualmie is our favorite, simply because it has such a variety of things to experience for people of all ages. It is a great town to take family visiting from out of town, head to for a date night, or simply a day with friends. 

1. Check out Snoqualmie Falls - Alright, we have to get the most obvious out of the way first. It's worth the hype (unless we are having a dry season and then it's just like any other waterfall). It's a free attraction, which is always a plus, and the viewing deck is accessible (bring on the strollers and wheelchairs). It has a great review of the history, and you can also hike down to the base of the falls for some really spectacular views to compliment the ones from the viewing deck.

Insider Tip: Go hungry and grab lunch after at Salish Lodge's bar, The Attic. It is right next to the falls so you can just pop in after. The views are kind of awesome. 

The real deal: a steam engine train

The real deal: a steam engine train

2. Visit the Northwest Railway Museum and Ride the Train - This one isn't for everyone. The steam engine is a cool piece of history, and since it is old and authentic, it goes very slowly and the trip is not through a particularly stunning part of the country side. That being said, if you aren't too cool for school, ride the train! It's fun and you get to experience a piece of history in a real way. In addition to the train, you can visit the museum at the train depot. It's small, but if you are interested in the history of the area or love trains, stop in.

Sugary crack.  Photo via mrslemontea Instagram

Sugary crack. Photo via mrslemontea Instagram

3.  Grab some ice cream at Snoqualmie Falls Candy Factory - if it's a hot day or you have kids in the group this a great place to stop in for a snack. They have candy, popcorn, and a good selection of ice cream to give you a little (or big) sugar kick. There is a chalkboard wall for kids to enjoy and seating outside for soaking up some sun. 

Sigillo Cellars has a cute atmosphere and great staff! 

Sigillo Cellars has a cute atmosphere and great staff! 

4. Enjoy a wine tasting at Sigillo Cellars - This tasting room is easy to locate and convenient to get to and has friendly service and delicious Washington wine. You can stop in for a short visit or long, depending on what you want. We personally recommend spending some time here (are you surprised? We loves the wine). You can sample all the wine (and then some), have some food, and enjoy the live music they have on most weekends! In the summer the outdoor patio with views of Mount Si make for a perfect night. 

See, that's what we are talking about!  Photo via Nyonyoge Instagram

See, that's what we are talking about! Photo via Nyonyoge Instagram

5. Try not to lose all your money at Snoqualmie Casino - It's new and shiny and you can gamble. I don't really think we have to add many more details here except maybe an additional disclaimer to be careful gambling, you are not Rainman and never, ever will be. 

Sidenote: Are we the only people who associate this place with very overplayed tagline? "Seattle's Closest Casino!" Why is that the selling point? Are people who gamble frequently also lazy and do not like to drive? Is it because you will stay here until the buttcrack of dawn and want to drive home quickly to pass out in your piles of money? If you want us to come to your casino tell us about your awesome fountains and sparkly decor, also the buffet.. draw us in with crab legs!

Ok, sorry. Rant over. Other than the sub-par casino tagline, Snoqualmie is a fantastic place to visit! Let us know if you have other favorites in town in the comments below.