Winter might be the best time to go wine tasting in the Willamette Valley. During cellar season cozy tasting rooms invite us indoors and bring winemakers to the table. It’s prime time to discover the charm of Willamette Valley wineries — especially if you give yourself two days to explore.
I love road trips. I love getting in my car, turning on music (loudly), singing and anticipating my first destination. When I arrived in Newberg and made my turn into L’Angolo Estate, a striking modern tasting room that sits back from the European-like rows of grapes, I felt like I was home. There’s a romance and immutable style upon approaching the tasting room. The vibe is relaxed but cool. After I’m greeted with a taste of bubbly — you know to awaken the palate, much like a restaurant — I know immediately these guys are all about hospitality and experience.
L’Angolo is known primarily for its estate-grown pinot noir and chardonnay, using Biodynamic practices and farming organically. You can literally taste the finesse and nuance in their wines at first blush. But as you walk around the grounds, sit in the mid-century modern furniture and gaze at the amazing views from the floor to ceiling windows the wine opens up to create a moment. The beauty of L’Angolo is how balanced their pinot is — how the fruit that hits your palate up front melts beautifully on the tongue into an earthy finish. This is drinking wine for any occasion and when paired with a charcuterie or a simple bowl of pasta it functions as the perfect companion. This is a must stop (and stay awhile) for any wine tour or trip to the Willamette Valley.
Youngberg Hill Vineyards & Inn
The road up to Youngberg Hill Vineyards & Inn is as dramatic as it is charming. This charm extends beyond the Inn itself in its story and winemaking. The wines at Youngberg are named after the daughters of owner and winemaker Wayne Bailey; Natasha Pinot Noir, Jordan Pinot Noir and Aspen Chardonnay.
The 29-year-old vineyard sits atop the McMinnville foothills, surveying the Eola-Amity and Coast mountain ranges. Youngberg’s traditional and inviting wines are best enjoyed among the unparalleled views. The comfort of the scenic vineyard extends to the Inn, which if you’re lucky enough, you can spend the night at one of nine luxury guest rooms as I did.
The next morning, I enjoyed a lovely breakfast and conversation with Youngberg Hill owner and winemaker Wayne Bailey, named one of Wine’s Most Inspiring People of 2018 by Wine Industry Advisor. He explained what the Willamette Valley means as a community for winemakers and as contributors to the restaurant world. Bailey’s warmth and gentle spirit is reflected in their subtle and fruit-driven wines. While Youngberg specializes in pinot noir, chardonnay, pinot gris and pinot blanc, I had the opportunity to try a very special syrah that was reminiscent of a cherry cola laced with lush summer berries.
Bethel Heights Vineyard
It is clear that Bethel Heights Vineyard the wines being poured here come from experienced and deft hands — after all they’ve been making wine since the 1970’s.
These wines are silky. These wines finish with such balance and smoothness it was hard to pick a favorite. What stood out to me was the buttery and fatty finish of single vineyard 2015 Justice Pinot Noir. I tasted through a single-block designated pinot noir from the West Block and an almost plush and velvety pinot in the Casteel (which happens to be the last name of family), considered the “best of the hills.” Barrel-aged, barrel-fermented in French oak, two chardonnays could easily rival the French wines I associate with more complex chardonnays —wines you want to enjoy with a cheese plate, a seared piece of foie gras or a decadent custard.
The tasting room was recently remodeled, making it feel like you are in the living room of a family friend, basking in the hillsides and remarkable valley views. As I wandered outside of the tasting room, the hallway of previous vintages and a elegant private room caught my eye. Bethel Heights is luxurious and the wines truly reflect this in an approachable and comforting way.
Left Coast Estate
The vineyard of Left Coast Estate, lined in old-growth white oak forest and vines intermingling with truffle-inoculated hazelnut trees, fruit trees and a variation of elevations, encompasses almost an environment in and of its own.
As you enter the tasting room you are immediately greeted with a wood-fired pizza oven. Left Coast is powered primarily through solar energy, and after a four-wheeled-buggy guided tour with the owner, it was clear there is a deep connection between land, vine and the elements.
I sampled a white pinot noir that surprised me in its acidity and citrus notes — something not expected in the “traditional” pinot noir in my repertoire. My other tasting was of their pinot meunier. Most noted for being one of the three main grapes used in the production of champagne, meunier as a wine has the body and richness that makes it easy to pair with food.
The laid-back approach of the tasting room and the clear connection with the eco-system around the winery speaks to the wines and their transparency.