Friday, June 22, 2012

Casa Garcia's Fabulous Oregon Adventure, Part II: Willamette Valley Winery Day

This may be a food blog, but I'm starting out this post with a non-food you can truly appreciate the beauty of the place I'm going to tell you about today: Oregon's wine region in the Willamette Valley, located just south of Portland.

A beautiful view as seen from the tasting pavilion at White Rose Estate. Everywhere we looked, there were
farmhouses, barns, and even some grazing animals!

A map of the Willamette Valley wine region. We were mainly
in the area between Dundee and Carlton for our wine
Do I have your attention?!?!? The Willamette Valley has a reputation for its delicious and reasonably priced wines...especially pinot noir. We were told that the climate of the area is very similar to Burgundy, France, which is one factor that makes them well-suited for growing grapes. Good wine, lovely weather...and scenic views? Sounds like the PERFECT way to spend a vacation day to me! That’s exactly what Michael and I did for one day of our trip. There are more than 200 wineries in the area, so it was difficult to pick only a few to visit. Our first stop was Duck Pond on the recommendation of my brother. Once there, we asked their suggestions for a couple of other wineries that featured scenic views of the valley so we could snap pictures while we enjoyed more wine. That day, we visited three wineries, sampled about 15 different wines, saw some GORGEOUS scenery like the picture above, and enjoyed a fabulous casual post-winery meal.

Right off the bat, you need to know this: I’m not a wine expert...I grew up in a southern Baptist family, so we never had any alcohol in the house. I first learned to appreciate white wine as an adult, but I’ve developed an appreciation for full-bodied red wines over time. Our trip to Napa Valley in 2009 (pre-blogging days), was so much fun. We tasted several different wines, learned a lot, ate some amazing food, and enjoyed fresh air and lush landscapes! Since then, we’ve continued to educate ourselves about wine tasting and food pairings. In all honesty, I tend to go by what appeals to me...if I taste it and like it? I’ll buy a bottle. Is it bad to admit that sometimes I buy a bottle of wine just because I like the pretty label? But I digress...

Wine aging in oak barrels at Duck Pond Cellars.
Our first stop was Duck Pond Cellars in Dundee, south of Portland. This winery is easily accessible, located right off a major road. The grounds are lovely, and the tasting room has a very nice gourmet foods area. They have one tasting flight that is free, which we discovered isn’t that common. I misunderstood when I reserved our tasting online and thought it included a tour...which it didn’t. However, a lovely employee named Jackie poured us the first offering...and graciously offered to give us a quick tour of the facilities and tell us more about Oregon wines and the winemaking process. She was very nice and extremely knowledgeable. After our tour, we continued our tasting. We purchased a food plate that included three kinds of cheese, sliced baguette, fig jam, and Oregon hazelnuts. The food paired really nice with the wine...especially their lovely pinot noir, which was recently awarded 91 points at the 2012 Ultimate Wine Challenge. 

Of all the wines we sampled during our winery day, this Duck Pond 2009
pinot noir was our favorite. It was a nice balance: not too sweet, not too dry.
Notice the duck stopper on top? When wine is poured, it comes out of the
duck's bill. Too cute!
We enjoyed the pinot noir so much that we bought a bottle to take back to my brother-in-law and sister-in-law to thank them for their hospitality. The price was very reasonable: only $20. After our tasting, Jackie encouraged us to take our time and enjoy the rest of our goodies on their outdoor patio area.  

The yummy spread of gourmet treats that we munched on while we had our wine tasting: three kinds of cheese, Oregon
hazelnuts, fig jam, and sourdough baguette slices. The perfect accompaniment to the wine we sampled!
A gorgeous landscaped pond on the grounds of Duck ducks, but there were LOTS of fish!

It was 65 degrees and sunny, so it was nice to chill out and plan the rest of our day while we finished eating our goodies. We snapped a few pictures of the grounds and chatted about the wine. To me, the wines we tasted in Oregon are as good as any that we’ve had from California...and the prices are generally lower as well. Before we knew it, it was nearly it was time to head to the next winery. We asked for recommendations for wineries with nice views...and were told to check out White Rose and Anne Amie. Both were a quick drive from Dundee.

White Rose Estate is located on top of a hill in nearby Dayton...the views of the valley below from their tasting pavilion are indeed breathtaking. We had views of the vineyard, flowers, and even Mt. Hood in the distance! We sampled three of their award-winning pinot noir varieties, all of which were full-bodied and luscious. After our tasting, we spent about 30 minutes or so simply enjoying the beautiful scenery, peaceful breezes, and fresh air. With a view like this, it’s tempting to quit your job and become a full-time winery tourist...if only it would pay the bills!! It was getting a bit warmer by then...close to 80, but still very nice compared to the Texas heat! We were lucky to have beautiful weather during our trip...the warmest afternoon was in the low 80s, and only a couple of brief sprinkles. 

The vineyards at White Rose Estate...can you imagine going to work every single day with views like THIS?!?!?

Our final winery of the afternoon was Anne Amie, a short drive west, in Carlton. As an aside, our Garmin GPS and iPods were really great tag-alongs on our vacation kept us from getting lost, and the other provided us with some great tunes!! Anne Amie’s tasting room is on top of a hill, surrounded by lovely plants and decor. We were so taken with the view that we took a few minutes to snap some pictures before we went inside for our tasting...we even saw sheep and cows hanging out in the field across the way. Here's a few of my favorite pictures.

Rolling hills, lush foliage, and pretty flowers...just part of what we saw on our Willamette Valley winery adventure!
A shaded picnic area on the outdoor patio at Anne Amie...perfect for enjoying a glass of wine or a snack as you enjoy the beautiful views of the valley below.

Anne Amie's pinot noir was really nice -- lush, smooth, and easy to drink. That said, my favorite wine here was actually Anne, a sweet white dessert wine. It's a late-harvest wine similar in style to an ice wine. It was slightly thick and nicely sweet, without being cloying. Swoon...literally. After sampling all that wine and eating only the shared snack plate earlier that day, I was starting to feel a bit of a wine buzz by then. I told Michael that it was time to find a restaurant and eat some food. We consulted our Fodor’s travel book,  which recommended The Dundee Bistro. It also had good feedback on Yelp, so that’s where we headed. 

The dining room at The Dundee Bistro: colorful and
full of natural light.
What a lovely little gem, tucked away in tiny Dundee! They call their style of cooking bistronomy, which they describe as “Michelin-worthy food...inexpensive, inspired & casual.” That's the perfect description of the excellent food we had! The menu is upscale casual and really fantastic. Michael had a very tasty smoked pulled pork sandwich on ciabiatta with house-made pickles and ketchup. I had beer-battered Pacific Ling cod. Both meals included the restaurant’s famous truffle fries. Oh, my. They were fabulous...just enough truffle flavor to make your mouth water, but not enough to overpower. The garlic aioli on the side for dipping was amazing too. This was one of the highlight meals of a trip that included a lot of good food.

Afterward, we got back into our rental car...cranked up some good driving tunes on the iPod...and headed back toward our home base at my brother-in-law and sister-in-law's house in Hillsboro. We agreed that it was a memorable day...and a vacation memory we wouldn't ever forget!

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