Oregon Wineries: from the journals of Sommelier Wayne Walker

When people refer to AVA’s (American Viticultural Area) in Oregon, they usually think of two designations: Willamette and Walla Walla. But the Wine-Jedi would say, “There is another.” It is designated as Southern Oregon and is comprised of Umpqua Valley, Red Hills Douglas County, Rogue Valley and Applegate Valley.

The modern era of grape growing in Oregon began in the Umpqua Valley just North of Roseburg in 1961 with the first planting of commercial vines. The complex topography of this area is marked by the convergence of three different mountain ranges. Where there’s mountains, there’s valleys and where there’s valleys at this latitude with Oregon’s potential for rich soil and greenhouse effect; there’s wine! It is identified as having 2,001,430 acres. A good deal of the agricultural part of this is vineyards.

I headed South about 65 miles today to have a look and was very impressed by the size and development of the vineyards in this area. Rather than stop at 3 or 4 wineries, I decided to
let GPS take me on a tour. She decided we didn’t have to get too far off the I-5 South. It was a very comfortable, scenic drive through the mountain ranges and valleys all draped in their cloaks of vines. Some vineyards are as large as in the Willamette, but for the most part, terroir-driven artisanal wines are predominant.

Of course, I couldn’t go by every tasting room so I chose to stop at a winery called Abacela, which is an almost-obsolete verb meaning “to plant vines” in three Iberian based languages, Spanish, Portugese and Galician. My reasoning was to taste the Iberian wines they were growing: Albarino, Garnacha, Tempranillo and Port. I thought they would be the best way to test the stories I’d heard about the warmer micro climates in the South.

The winery and the vineyard are very impressive. Preparations were being made via nets for the
soon-to-be-arriving bird migrations, in particular the droves of Cedar Waxwings that come down from Canada and fill up on vineyard grapes on their way to the Baja Peninsula. In evidence were the rows of grapes covered with nets, one of the many deterrents used to save the harvest. Last year, Abacela served up 1/3 of its crop to the migrants.

As for the wines, they all had the aroma profiles you would expect of the same varietals grown in the Signature countries. They were all quite young and needed a bit more bottle aging. The Tempranillo was a good drink but lacked the texture of its Spanish twin and a Dolcetto that was made onsite showed some good promise but was a bit woody. The Albarino however was a winner with nice light body, great acidity, and lemon, pineapple, wild flowers, and honeysuckle all present and accounted for both on the nose and on the palate. I could hear the echo of Pacific white fish coming up the valley as I tried to capture it’s fleeting finish.

Abacela boasts three different terroirs on their property: cool North Slopes where they grow Albarino, warm bench lands where they grow Tempranillo and hot South facing slopes where they grow Port (I assume that would be Touriga Nacional or Xarel-ho).

There is a great deal of difference between the heat needed for Port as compared to Albarino and since the Reds were good I think it shows the vineyards amazing micro climate diversity. I also tasted a Syrah that was quite good with a lot of potential to be part of a full-bodied red blend.

A return Northward with a brief respite for a coffee and a 6 inch Sub delivers me to Rancho Rustic for my last night in Oregon. Got some packing to do as I leave for my return to Seattle tomorrow and some King Size overnight comfort at Holiday Inn. Off to scale the Space Needle, but more importantly, to experience the Pike Sreet market, one of the best seafood markets in America. With that will come the occasional glass from Washington Vines. Then back to Victoria on the Ferry and to Vancouver on another Ferry to tell my friend Hugh how the Ducks played.

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