Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Final Thoughts—Willamette Valley

            Spring has finally arrived in the Black Hills.  The snow showers have turned to rain.  Green grasses are sprouting on the hillsides.  The sun is rising earlier and setting later.  The most beautiful season in the place I call home is here to stay…at least until fall.

            This arrival has me thinking less about my earlier travels to other picturesque spots and more about the short trips I get to make around the gorgeous area where I live.  However, a few final thoughts of Oregon keep swirling in my mind.  The newly-green slopes here have me reminiscing one last time about the Willamette Valley—some pretty great memories to have!

            Penner-Ash recently made the news after it sold to wine giant Jackson Family Wines.  (Though this isn’t a blog about Jackson Family, I will say that company has great taste!  It keeps snatching up some of my favorite producers.)  However, Penner-Ash had already made the headlines with me as a winery I could not wait to visit.  The trip there proved to be as good—maybe even better—than I expected.

            Wonderful wines, fabulous vistas, and friendly staff members all helped to make this worthy of memories.  The view of the gravity flow facility from the tasting deck is incredibly interesting.  The outdoor area is so inviting.  Additionally, the view is so breathtakingly amazing, there is nothing better than sitting with a glass outdoors…which is exactly what we did.

            Another northern Willamette Valley producer still bringing a smile to my face is Domaine Drouhin of Oregon—fondly called DDO by the locals.  Also with panoramas that delight the eye, DDO is unique in many ways.  First, the Drouhin Family—long-time producers in the Burgundy region of France—sought out Oregon as the next great place to grow pinot noir.

            They have not been disappointed by the region, nor has the region been disappointed by this stellar producer.  The tour here is incredibly informative, taking in both the outside grounds of nearby vineyards and all levels of the gravity-flow facility.  Options to taste include the Willamette Valley wines, but opportunities are also given to sip some Burgundian wines the Drouhins produce.  A great way to compare the concept of terroir in wine.

            Moving further south in the Willamette Valley, King Estate Winery has become one of the best known Oregon producers, based first off the amount of wine produced there.  But please don’t think that a large quantity of wine means poor quality.  This is just untrue.  King Estate makes great wines at great prices…and then does other top-shelf and single-vineyard options incredibly well, too.

            These wines all start in the organic vineyards, the largest in the United States and one of the largest in the world.  The drive up to the stately tasting room steers patrons through charming vineyards, made even more so when the sheep are seen grazing.  A bit of advice is to go hungry.  After sipping these wines, experience the tasty bites at the King Estate restaurant, so delicious all around.

            All trips must come to an end—as does my writing about these trips.  This one is no exception.  But like all good travels, I will end on a high note, like the fun had at Sweet Cheeks Winery.  Though it becomes repetitive to say the view was beautiful, I repeat it because it’s true—there really are few bad sights in the Willamette.  Sweet Cheeks sits on a hillside and has a large, charming patio overlooking the valley floor.  Often offering live entertainment on evenings and weekends, this is an enjoyable place to hang out. 

            Many still wine options are available, but a wine must be chosen to pair with this festive setting, so order a bottle of the sparkling, get multiple glasses, and enjoy time with friends.  This is the spot screaming for joyous smiles and raucous laughter.  It is what wine is all about:  bringing people together to enjoy moments and memories.  Sweet Cheeks is the perfect place.

            Though this is my final “official” writing about the beautiful Willamette Valley, my recollections of this fabulous trip have gotten me through two months of Mother Nature evilly teasing me with the thought of spring…only to have her rip those warm thoughts away to be replaced by snow. 

            But spring is finally here—to stay—in my beautiful Black Hills home.  Thank you Oregon, thank you Willamette Valley, for helping me get here, for being my much-too-short substitute for spring.  I can’t wait to return.  However, for now, I can enjoy my own backyard.