An Unforgettable Tasting at Evening Land Vineyards

Taste classic Oregon pinot noir and chardonnay among historic vines in the Eola-Amity Hills.
May 1, 2024

Want to get a real understanding of what makes Oregon wine so special? Get out into the vineyard. Where grapes are grown has a profound impact on the wine they make, and there are few better ways to experience that than booking a tasting at Evening Land Vineyards about 12 miles north of Salem in the Willamette Valley.

Named after a garden in Homer’s Odyssey, Evening Land makes some of the most celebrated and award-winning wines in Oregon. Part of what makes these all-estate wines so special is where the grapes are grown: Seven Springs Vineyard, a historic vineyard famous for making outstanding wines, that is now owned by Evening Land and hosts one of its two special tasting experiences (the other is at the winery in Salem).

In 2024, Evening Land launched a private, sommelier-led tasting experience that brings visitors to the heart of the vineyard for a longer, more detailed and more intimate tasting than a regular tasting room experience. Eager to taste its acclaimed wines for myself, I booked a reservation online, hopped in the car with my husband, and cruised down to the rolling, vine-clad flanks of the Eola-Amity Hills just north of Salem for a truly memorable tasting.

Walk Among Historic Vines

When my husband and I arrived, we were greeted in the driveway by Kevin Goldsmith Jr., Estate Hospitality Manager, with glasses of 2017 Evening Land Blanc de Noirs (a sparkling white wine made from pinot noir) in hand. Instead of heading inside to the tasting room, Goldsmith suggested we take a quick walk first to get our bearings. We ambled up the gravel road, stopping at a picnic table overlooking steep slopes of neat vines.

As we sipped, Goldsmith told us a bit about the history of the vineyard, which was first planted in 1982 and 1983 in the early days of the Oregon wine industry. It garnered a reputation for excellence right away. Many of Oregon’s best winemakers sought its expressive fruit, and the wines it made helped to develop Oregon’s international reputation.

The first vines at Seven Springs were pinot noir, the variety Oregon is most famous for, but chardonnay was also planted here early on. Evening Land was visionary in seeing the potential for chardonnay in the Eola-Amity Hills, and became pioneers for chardonnay in the region. It’s now one of the state’s signature grapes. 

Experience the Impact of Place

As we enjoyed our wine, Goldsmith gave us an impromptu geography lesson, pointing out the five Cascade peaks we could see on the horizon: Rainier, St. Helens, Adams, Hood and Jefferson. From our perch at the overlook, we could feel the famously brisk winds of the Van Duzer Corridor, a low point in the Coast Range through which chilled ocean air pours into the Willamette Valley. That cools down the grapes, letting them ripen fully while still retaining acid, and thickens their skins — all translating to more flavor and color in the wines. 

While we admired the blanc de noir’s gorgeous flinty, citrusy aromatics, he pointed up the hill to show us the corner of the vineyard where the grapes were grown. Because it’s shaded by tall evergreens on one side, it has a cooler microclimate that makes the grapes perfect for a refreshing sparkling style.

Taste Site-Specific Pinot Noir and Chardonnay

From there we returned to Evening Land Vineyards’ cozy tasting room, located inside the converted garage of the home where the original vineyard founder once lived. Warmed by a crackling wood fire and clad in knotty pine, the space exemplifies that uniquely Oregonian combination of refinement and rusticity. “I want to meet people where they are,” says Goldsmith, “whether they’re in the wine industry or brand-new to wine.”

Goldsmith laid out two glasses in front of each of us and, to my surprise, began the seated portion of our tasting with pinot noirs rather than chardonnay. “That’s how they taste in Burgundy,” he explained. “The acids in the chardonnay can make the reds feel soft. We’re not making Burgundy(-style wines), but we’re trying to think like them.”

I’m struck by how even minor changes in the site’s landscape make a big difference in the wines. One pinot noir is rich and opulent while another is soft and subtle. “You’re really tasting the difference of just 150 feet,” said Goldsmith. It’s a vivid illustration of the incredible power of place when it comes to Oregon wine.   

If You Go

Reservations for Evening Land’s private, sommelier-led experience are essential. You can book online or call the winery to schedule. The intimate tasting room can accommodate up to six people, but larger groups may be able to arrange a tasting outside when it’s not raining. Each 90-minute experience includes tastes of six to eight wines, including current vintage and library wines — and a tasting is the only way to purchase many of Evening Lands’ older vintages. 

About The
Author

Margarett Waterbury
Margarett Waterbury is a lifelong Northwesterner who writes about food, drinks, travel and agriculture for local and national press. She lives in a 90-year-old bungalow in Southeast Portland and enjoys high-octane coffee, low-ABV beers and walking long distances.

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