Tasting in the Willamette

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Mary and I just returned from the Oregon Coast after a Lancaster family reunion. We broke away from our time with family to go and visit a couple of our favorite producers in the Willamette Valley, a premier wine region that I am mildly embarrassed to admit we have never visited. It was our kind of tasting, too. We visited only three locations, two for one winery and one for another. It was an off-day Friday on an off-weekend with no big special events going on.

I will fill our readers in on our thoughts of the individual wines we were honored to try in a subsequent column, but want to talk about some of the clearly identifiable trends we saw in the area. Just like we found in Napa last spring, the trend is clearly toward more intimate tasting experiences. At both Domaine Serene and the North Valley and Mineral Springs Ranch locations of Soter Vineyards, gone are the days of folks standing at tasting counters while tasting room staff roam up and down the bar, dispensing the next wine in their daily flight.

At all three properties, we barely made it out of our car before being greeted by our host carrying a glass of dry rosé. So in addition to the trend toward more personal attention, the dry rosé movement is in full force in the Willamette. Both of the non-sparkling “pinks” we tried were fabulous, reinforcing our sense that this category still has room to grow despite the already robust sales and acceptance this summer.

Our sense was that this first class private treatment was not just due to our industry ties. At all three properties we saw tables set and ready for the day’s visitors, all set with Riedel stemware and many folks ready to sit down with their guests to take them through the lineup. All three of the staff members we worked with were well-trained, articulate, and knowledgeable about the wines we were tasting and the winery’s history and business model. The wineries and their owners had clearly made an investment in their staff that is admirable and — I’m guessing — pays off in the guest experience and sales.

Another trend that was clear to us was the inclusion of library selections. In all three visits we were treated to older vintages and wines that were separate from their daily offerings. Again, we did not think this was because of our industry ties, as the wines were included in preprinted tasting notes. It worked: knowing we would not have access to these gems through our normal distribution channels, everyone in our group bought some. The wines were more “spendy” to be sure, but as sales person from a high end Napa winery once said to us, “You can’t expect someone to buy a Ferrari without first driving it.” He was right — having the opportunity to try these wines resulted in a purchase that likely would not have happened otherwise.

We chose the wineries because we have long history with them both, having carried their products since we opened the shop nine years ago. In the case of Tony Soter, owner winemaker at Soter, the history goes back even further to his first project Etude in Napa, which he sold some years ago. We knew we were in for a treat.

While both tastings were intimate, peaceful, and personally handled to meet our tastes and timetable, the one at the Mineral Springs Ranch facility of Soter was even more exceptional. This 240-acre former cattle ranch that Tony purchased after selling Etude is bucolic. The tasting was held on the shady patio and was accompanied by their “provisions,” a small plate masterpiece crafted by their chef Alex Daley, who, as a side note, is a talented young chef to keep your eyes on. Our “tour guide” for the wines Reuben was, like all we met, very knowledgeable, articulate, and ready to accommodate every request.

We look forward to reviewing the wines next week. The next time you are headed to Oregon, pick an off-day on an off-weekend and go to see our friends at Domaine Serene and Soter. You won’t be disappointed in any way. Enjoy as we did the personally-hosted and peaceful tasting experiences that we are so happy to tell you continue to be a rising trend. We hope it continues.

If there is a topic you would like to read about or if you have questions on wine, you can email George@thedinnerpartyshop.com, or make suggestions by contacting the Healthy Community section at the Coeur d’Alene Press.

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George Balling is co-owner (with his wife Mary Lancaster) of the dinner party, a wine and table top décor shop located by Costco in Coeur d’Alene. George worked as a judge in many wine competitions, and his articles are published around the country. You can learn more about the dinner party at www.thedinnerpartyshop.com. Be sure and check out our weekly blog at www.thedinnerpartyshop.com/home/blog-2 You can get all of these articles as well as other great wine tips by friending us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/#!/dinnerpartyshop.

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