Welcome to Oregon Pinot Camp!

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“Welcome Camper to OPC 2017”

AKP TLAW- Leslie Britt Bench

I had been waiting eight years to hear those words. Each year, 270 wine professionals from around the world gather together in the Willamette Valley, by invitation only, for a four day event hosted by 50 of the top wineries in the Willamette Valley. This year, I was one camper in a group representing 41 states and 11 countries. Welcome to Oregon Pinot Camp!

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YUP! A whole camp dedicated just to Pinot Noir.

The day began at 7:15 AM at The Evergreen Aerospace Museum, where a breakfast of Pacific Northwest salmon, fresh blueberries, and strawberries were served alongside lavender honey, hazelnut butter and home baked goods. I ate my breakfast under the Spruce Goose and marveled at the vintage planes and the history they played here in the Pacific Northwest. After my coffee and honey, I was escorted into the auditorium where I was given the history of Oregon Pinot Noir by Jason Lett. His father, David Lett, pioneered both Pinot Noir and its white wine cousin, Pinot Gris- the two grapes that define Oregon wine today.  Rumor has it, the original vines were smuggled in by a handful of winemakers in a suitcase. You can look at Oregon’s 300-plus wineries and 17,400 acres of vines and trace it back to Lett. He is truly the guru who started the Oregon wine scene. Jason explained how the climate as well as the soil along the 45th Parallel created a unique “terroir” that gave Oregon wines the quality that legends are made of. He then gave an introduction of all 50 wineries and the winemakers in chronological order by vintage. The names rolled out like a wine history lesson…Sokol Blosser…Erath….Van Duzer…Droughin…there they were, right in front of me, the true Oregon trailblazers of the wine world.

I then got on my designated bus and was transported to Domaine Droughin, where I learned about the geology of the land and the different types of soil found in the area (fun fact- Jory soil, not just any dirt, is Oregon’s state soil). I was given two wines in the beginning and asked to describe the differences. AMAZING that the two were from vineyards planted just 10 feet from each other and they each had two completely different profiles. The dirt, by the way, is 10 million years old…give or take.

The rest of the day was spent in the vineyard, learning the different types of pruning methods, leaf management, grape cluster, and bud break schedules, all while tasting (and spitting) a series of wines with the winemakers who grew them. Did I mention it was 102 degrees out? I didn’t care. I was in wine geek heaven.

At one point I was invited to climb into a trench eight feet deep just so I could see the soil variation. I even licked a few rocks.

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That evening I was treated to the Valley’s finest sunset and a farm to table dinner fit for royalty. My dinner companions were Alex Sokol Blosser and the Food and Beverage Director from Walt Disney World.

Day two was winery day.

The morning session was a whirlwind of tasting panels- 56 wines before lunch! Pinot Noir Vintage variation, the multiple personalities of Pinot Noir, cool vintage vs warm vintage, hunting the great white. All moderated again by the winemakers themselves. Did you know that Oregon produces less wine than Pennsylvania?

We spent the afternoon discussing Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Riesling. To be honest, I am ready to ditch most of my California Chards and replace them with ROCO, Van Duzer, ST Innocent, Gran Moraine….You get the idea.

On the third day I traveled (along with the winemakers from Owen Roe, Torii Mor, and White Rose)  to Hood River (wind surfing capital of the world) for a Winemakers vs. Brew masters lunch pairing challenge, which a nice break from the classroom. The beer was Pfriem Family, a must have in the beer world, and only distributed in the state of Oregon. I highly recommend the Farmhouse Saison with the charcuterie and chocolate buttons. The wine makers won that pairing.

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Dinner on the final evening was set in the vineyard of Stoller Winery, complete with an open fire pit and salmon on a stick. This evening I was invited to sit at the table of the owners of Winderlea Winery, a completely biodynamic property. Conversation revolved around the seasons, the planting, and the organics of it all. I finished the evening with a series of library wines from a few “private stashes”, more fresh blueberries and of course, s’mores.

It was an experience I will never forget. So come on in, ask me about our newest Oregon selection, and take a Biodynamic Farm to Bottle tasting class in out garden. I’m a geek! I’ll tell you a story. I may even show you my rocks.

Submitted by Leslie Britt, Sommelier/Wine Guru