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.
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.
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…
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.