Whine or Wine?

November in the Pacific NW can be a lovely time – fall colors abound, the air smells of the fresh mulch of fallen leaves, and a mere hike around the neighborhood can be an adventure.

But it can also be wet. Soggy even. What can you do when it’s so gray and gloomy even the sky is crying?

Over the years, a tradition has evolved for my wife and me on Thanksgiving weekend. We’ll start by making the run from Portland to Seattle on turkey day, bringing along freshly made Pecan pie and dinner rolls to contribute my wife’s niece’s family feast. This grows into a three-day visit, feasting both on the main event and leftovers, visiting family and friends, doing the occasional excursion, and often doing a group attack on a jigsaw puzzle. It matters little what the weather is – short of an ice storm, the trip is on. On Saturday afternoon we head back.  We reserve Sunday for another tradition.

Wine touring.

This was one time when I wondered if it would be worth it. Driving both to and from Seattle was not quite the scenic interlude it often is, in fact there were times we could hardly see anything due to the pouring rain. After the pleasures of those two four-hour drives (thanks to traffic), interspersed with the occasional moments of “oh shit” as we passed semi-trucks throwing up braille inducing spray, another rainy drive through the countryside wasn’t high on my list. But it is a tradition, and something we look forward to as the year rolls toward fall.

Oregon has over 700 wineries. Wines in this region have become world famous, in particular the Pinot Noir variant. White wines also do well, but the heavier reds, such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot need warmer, dryer weather. So how do I pick just a few wineries for tasting?

Mostly proximity. The heart of Oregon wine country is SW of Portland in the Yamhill Valley area, and we’ll often pick a few at the north end, near Forest Grove, a town about 30 miles west of Portland. This year I wasn’t motivated to do research – I figured we’d just do the same wineries as we did last year.  We’d start by going to A Blossom Hill, then head up to David Hill, and finish at a favorite, Shafer.

So off we went. I set Google maps to A Blossom Hill and fired up the navigation function with the full expectation of a smooth arrival.

Fate laughed.

We got to Forest Grove without issue, but then I noticed the nav stopped updating. You’d think a cell signal would be safe within city limits, but no. How do we find the winery?

No ideas.  We opted for Plan B.  We still had hard copy directions from a wine tour a few years prior in the map box, much the same route only with Montinore Winery instead of Blossom Hill. Down the road we went, heading south, and what did we see on the way?

A sign for Blossom Hill. We joy in our hearts we made the turn, drove on a quarter mile and…

Road closed.

Beyond the barricades, where the road should be stood a small lake. It may have been my imagination, but on the far side I thought I saw a man with a long beard building a large boat, with an unusual line of animals queuing up, two by two.

I mentioned it’s been raining a lot lately, didn’t I?

Back to Plan B.  Montinore Winery. They have a nice tasting room, friendly people, and some good wines. Maybe a little TMI, I’m not sure I needed to see a map of the field a particular wine came from. They also threw in a free tasting coupon for another winery, Elk Cove, a place we hadn’t been before. After scoring a few bottles we figured it was worth a look.

Elk Cove, like Montinore turned out to have a lovely location. The wines were good, very good in fact, but also very pricey. And while tasting I noticed a pamphlet with a list of area wineries and saw one I’d been to years prior, always wanted to go back, but was never in the area – Kramer. The Elk Cove folks said, oh yeah, they’re our neighbors, about a quarter mile down the road.

Kramer’s the sort of Mom and Pop operation we like.  A good selection of wines, nice ambiance, been in the business for years.  The kids are in on it too, very much a family affair. We were happy to have finally made it back, and buy a few bottles.

But we still wanted to hit Shafer’s. It’s not so much the wines, although they’re good. It’s Miki Shafer that keeps us coming back. She’s the sort of throwback, friendly type who remembers everybody and calls them all Honey.  She’s free and easy with the tastes, and will give you a nice discount on the spot if she likes you.  We were a little worried though, as we’d already hit three wineries and it was starting to get late.

We pulled into their lot just before closing time, and with happy expectations walked through the door – prrrzzzzt!

Folks who are old enough to have played LP’s remember that awful sound and feeling when the turntable arm gets bumped and skitters across the vinyl, leaving scratch marks in its wake. That’s kind of what it felt like when, after walking through the door, no Miki, just a couple of young hipster dudes manning the tasting table.

It turns out Miki decided to retire, and sold the winery last March. The new owners were still selling out the Shafer inventory, and the desk dudes weren’t sure yet what the new label would be. But they were nice guys too. They gave us a good deal, and chatted me up on both wine and craft beer. We can only hope the new owners can keep up the traditions.

And in true hipster fashion, the fellow I talked to was bearded and wore a stocking cap, and given the popularity of the name these days, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was called Noah.


42 thoughts on “Whine or Wine?

  1. Oh boy, do I remember Thanksgiving in Seattle. The slosh is still in my ears even after all of this time. But it is glorious there. And friendly. Glad you had a good time with your wine tasting Ps it can’t have been that old man with the ark and the animals, he was here in gutenberg land, handing out coca cola as he went. pop, fizz, slosh.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Good for you to stick with tradition, even in the face of lousy weather! I’m sorry to hear that Miki has retired, but sadly, time marches on and sometimes leaves the best people behind. That winery might be worth a visit next year just to see what they’ve done with it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, we’ll check it out again, although we’re not sure what the label will be. They have well established vines so it should be good, hopefully they don’t get too pretentious.


  3. So fun, Dave! I love your sense of humour and the way it plays out (or is that “plys through”) in your writing! We toured through the Okanagan, one of our wine growing regions here in Canada a few years ago and loved it. It’s smazing that with all the good wines out there, we seek connection with people to cement our preference for a bottle….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I bet the Okanagan is a good place for reds, we like the reds coming out of central Washington a bit further south. The Willamette Valley summers are too cool for the heavier reds, although we do great with Pinot Noir and most whites. Glad you enjoyed the humor, thought the piece was a bit dull without a little tongue in cheek.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. There was one thing that stood out in my mind from that trip. For almost a century we’ve been trying to replicate European wines, using European varietals in North America. Recently there has been a push to grow the grapes that grow well in our unique conditions, and then experiment and learn to make fantastic wines from the blends that result.

        When we were in the tasting room for Road 13, a grand, semicircular room perched on the bench land above the patchwork of grape vines with spectacular views of the valley, we were talking to the owner about that very concept. Meanwhile, out the window, workers ripped out vine after vine after vine of traditionally popular vines from the earth. It was both sad, as you knew it would take a few years for whatever was replanted to produce wine and it was a waste of perfectly good plants…. and at the same time it was exciting. You had a relatively young owner with a slightly avant-garde winemaker, taking bold risks and turning things in a new direction.

        There was another winery called Culmina there that was heavy on experimentation too. Run by one of the retired owners of Jackson Triggs, he apparently retired for all of 6 months, moved to the Okanagan, and bought a parcel of land that was at a far higher elevation than anywhere else and began growing. Virgin land, it had never been farmed. He is experimenting with new varietals and seriously changing the growing practices there… planting vines and rows closer together to encourage deep root growth for the arid conditions, planting cover crops to do the same and to bring in beneficial insects, and because the rows are too close together for traditional machinery, picking by hand. He’s also experimenting with the shape of the tanks, going back to the Ronan times for inspiration. It’s fascinating stuff. And the wines from that particular winery are outstanding.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. It seems like more folks are trying to grow grapes in more conditions, I guess it’s natural they’d experiment a bit. Maybe some grapes are like some people: if you put them under duress they just grow more character.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. That sounds like a mood brightening way to spend a rainy day! We typically find ourselves in not-so-sunny Cleveland for Thanksgiving and our response to that is also wine, albeit the kind we carry into the house ourselves for a long weekend of dreary weather and the occasionally difficult relative!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Seems like I have pretty good luck with relatives. Of course that may be in part because I live so far away from most of them we’re on our best behavior when we do get together. Still, wine is better than whine…

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Rosemary

    I bought a box wine at David Hill’s several years ago and I still remember it. So good and so practical for the “single” drinker at home. Sounds like you didn’t make it there this year. Is there any purchase you made that was particularly memorable? I love Pinot Noir, especially from Oregon.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, we bought a lot of different things. We did get some Pinots, and we’re getting a taste for Tempranillos on the red side as well. There were a couple more upscale bottles than usual, hopefully they’ll end up being memorable.


  6. It sounds like you had a good time in the end after a bit of a shaky start. I’m intrigued by the idea of buying over a winery. It’d be hard work but I’ll bet it’d be rewarding too. Of course, I’d have to stop myself doing too much work on the testing and quality control side of things.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Dave – great post and little adventure for you. My mom and I did almost the same wine tasting trip you describe – stopping at Montinore, Elk Cove and Kramer. At that time Kramer was leasing space to a small winery called Thistle Wines. That got me all excited since I am so Thistle obsessed. The folks at Thistle Wines are wonderful and since then have purchased their own space and built a tasting room. But I appreciated that Kramer was willing to help this up and coming winery. I concur about Elk Cove – love their wines but so expensive. Their Pinot Gris was reasonably priced a couple of years ago but I have moved on to A to Z Pinot Gris.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I haven’t heard of Thistle. I have encountered tasting rooms serving other wineries wines on several occasions. I sometimes wonder if it’s strictly a business transaction, or friendly vintners helping out their buddies, or a bit of both. There does seem to be a bit of a brotherhood, at least for the smaller wineries.


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