Getting Back to Wine Country

I think we’ve all been craving a sense of normalcy in some way lately. The past few months have brought to light a lot of things for me, including the “normal” things I want to get back to and the “normal” things I definitely don’t want to get back to.

I’m sure it doesn’t surprise anyone that spending time in Oregon wine country tops my “things I want to get back to” list. It may sound silly to some, but wine tasting really is one of my favorite things to do. Wine country is my happy place, but it’s not only about the wine – it’s the people, the history, the terroir, and the opportunity to forget, even for just a few minutes, about everything that’s happening in the world to be immersed in a sensory experience alongside friends.

I’m sure you can imagine my elation when it was announced that tasting rooms in Willamette Valley would be opening back up after two and half months. On Memorial Day, I had the opportunity for a couple wonderful tasting experiences, thanks to AJ of Oregon Vino Country for setting up group tastings with local friends from our Zoom wine meet ups. I couldn’t possibly resist telling you about these two wineries! The experiences were different, but there is a common theme: family. I’m a sucker for small, family run businesses, especially when it comes to wine, and each of the wineries below have a unique story to tell when it comes to family and wine.

Mad Violets

Kelly (winemaker) and Stirling (winegrower) have truly created something special with Mad Violets. Named after their daughters, Madeleine and Violet, Mad Violets focuses on small-batch, minimal intervention winemaking to allow the each vintage to come to life in it’s own way.

Their “Tiny Taster” tasting room in the midst of the Buttonfield Estate Vineyard within the Chehalem Mountain AVA is quite possibly the cutest little tasting room I’ve ever seen. It was an incredible welcome back to wine country, and it really did feel like we were being welcomed by old friends although we had never actually met in person. In true Oregon fashion, it was pouring rain on the day of our visit but we stayed dry under the covered patio while enjoying an incredible tasting line up, inclusive of wine made from estate fruit as well as fruit from other growers in the valley.

Here’s a quick look at what we tasted:

  • 2016 Pétillant Natural (AKA Pét Nat)
  • 2015 Chehalem Mountains Pinot Gris
  • 2016 McMinnville AVA Chardonnay
  • 2013 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
  • 2015 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
  • 2015 Mantis Reserve Pinot Noir
  • 2016 Dundee Hills Riesling
  • 2015 Dessert Riesling

I haven’t had much of the 2013 vintage and it’s usually not one that I would gravitate towards, but I could not resist the Mad Violets 2013 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir! There was something unique about it that caused me to take an extra moment to savor and think. I revisited it again at the end of the tasting and came home with two bottles: one to open up sooner rather than later and one to hold onto for at least a few years to see how it changes over time.

If you’re not familiar with the 2013 vintage in Willamette Valley, let me tell you a bit about it. It was a doozy. The vintage began with an earlier than usual bud break, followed by a warm, dry summer. It was shaping up to be an awesome vintage with hints of an easy harvest, until the remnants of a Pacific typhoon hit Oregon during the last week of September, resulting in the second-wettest September in Northwest Oregon on record. Most growers in the region still had Pinot Noir grapes on the vine waiting to be harvested when the torrential rain hit.

Although many grapes did survive the storm, it’s what happened afterwards that really complicated things. The vines absorbed too much water, causing the grapes to swell and split on the vine, often rotting before they could be harvested. In some cases, wild yeast were able to take hold of the split fruit and begin fermentation inside the grape on the vine. Some winemakers took advantage of the jumpstart on fermentation and still made wine from the fruit, if it was good enough to be made into wine once picked.

And then there was the mildew. Nobody likes mildew, and it’s especially not good when it comes to wine grapes. After the rain, mildew arrived quickly and more or less all at once, leaving many vineyards scrambling to pick fruit before it set in. Between the rain, rot, and mildew, many vineyards lost a lot of fruit, yielding smaller production for the vintage.

Each vineyard has a slightly different story as to how things went down that year, so it’s always fun to ask about the 2013 vintage and hear the stories!

Anyhow, I digress – back to the wine tasting!

Ridgecrest Wines

You know you’re about to have an unforgettable wine tasting experience when you get lost trying to find the tasting room, and that’s exactly what happened on our way to Ridgecrest Wines. What we didn’t realize at the time is that we were not looking for a traditional tasting room, but something that I certainly have not come across in all my wine tasting adventures.

Our journey to find the “tasting room” led us to an unmarked “road” down the middle of Ridgecrest Vineyard, with vineyard operations going in full swing and a tractor crisscrossing our path between the rows of vines. After a brief jaunt through the vineyard, wondering if we were in the right place, we were greeted by our host, Jon. We were all surprised and delighted to see our tasting room on the edge of the hill waiting for us: a yurt. A yurt full of wine. My rustic Oregon wine tasting dreams had come true!

Ridgecrest Vineyard was the first vineyard on Ribbon Ridge, purchased in 1980 and planted by Harry Peterson-Nedry and his family. It was a family effort to get the vineyard going, with Harry’s wife, Judy, and young kids, Wynne and Ian, pitching in.

Fast forward to today, where Harry and Wynne have come together for a special father-daughter project at Ridgecrest Vineyard. That’s right – Wynne is now making wine from the very vineyard where she grew up, alongside her dad. “A dad, a daughter, and a hill”, as they call it. How cool is that? Now please excuse me while I call my Dad to get our father-daughter project up and running.

Knowing a bit about Harry and Wynne’s history in wine, I had high hopes for our tasting at Ridgecrest. Let me tell ya, I was most definitely not let down. Jon took us through a marvelous line up, peppered with stories, wine facts, and lots of laughs.

Here’s what we tasted:

  • 2019 Ridgecrest Estate Grüner Veltliner (I don’t think I’ve tried this varietal before, so this was a fun one! Find out more about it here).
  • 2017 RR Riesling
  • 2019 Ridgecrest Estate Pinot Noir Rosé
  • 2018 Ridgecrest Pinot Noir
  • 2017 RR Pinot Noir
  • 2008 RR Pinot Noir

You read that last one right – 2008! It’s rare to see library wines on a tasting lineup, especially on a first visit for non-members. I’ve only had the opportunity to taste a 2008 Oregon Pinot on one other occasion, so this was pretty special. I ended up taking a bottle of it home with me and I’ll be saving it for a special occasion, of course (but not for too long, it’s 100% ready to enjoy)!

I can’t tell you how amazing it was to get back out to wine country. I’ve had a few more tasting experiences since Memorial Day that I can’t wait to tell you all about! I hope you are all doing well and staying safe, happy, and healthy. 🙂

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