Written By Maia Parish - Tales of a Wine Mistress - March 13 2020
Is this the new “Little Napa”?
They call it the “Little Napa Valley,” I beg to differ.
Population is 34,617
I was in McMinnville, Oregon, for a conference. The 1st annual Assemblage Women in Wine Symposium was held over two days this January. We gathered under the watchful eye of founder Rachel Adams. Honestly, I’d never heard of this small country town.
The Willamette Valley, Oregon’s leading wine region, has two-thirds of the state’s wineries and vineyards and is home to nearly 600 wineries and 756 vineyards. McMinnville is eleven miles of territory with 14 downtown wineries ( nearby, Dundee, and Newburg, and Eugene wine regions). The region is known as one of the premier Pinot Noir producing areas in the world. The plot was founded by David and Diana Lett in 1965. The rumor is the newlyweds spent their honeymoon planting grapevines. What a true wine love story!
The Willamette Valley AVA includes Eugene, Dundee Hills, Yamhill, and the Cascades, to name a few. The region is fastly becoming known for is award-winning Pinot Noirs, Pinot Gris, and Chardonnays. I was first introduced to the area by way of Pinot Gris ( pee -noh-gree ). Pinot Grigio (pee-noh-gree-joe ) is the Italian name for Pinot Gris, a white mutation of the Pinot grape family. The grape shares its genetic fingerprint with Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, and several other varieties. Pinot Grigio is a light-bodied white wine produced in vast quantities, particularly in northern Italy. The wine can be described as dry with relatively high acidity. The characteristics are complemented by aromas of lemon, lime, green apple, and blossoms. Dominant flavors can include lemon, lime, tangerine, yellow apple, Asian pear, peach, guava, melon, nectarine, and green mango.
Known as the capital of Oregon’s Wine Country, McMinnville is a medium-small town, so everything is within walking distance. Since the designation, the city has become a significant tourist destination. You can see signs of growth and revitalization all over. During my visit, I observed lots of constructions and closed-off streets. Upon inquiry, I found out they are rewiring some old neighborhoods and fixing old roadways. Old buildings and New Builds are intermingled and peppered throughout the downtown area. It looks as if a fishing town and industrial farming community got an extreme makeover. The whole culture is captivating. You have commercial properties, next to residential, next to governmental. I found it all quite fascinating.
I had the opportunity to visit two wineries during my visit. Elizabeth Chambers and R. Stuart Winery have locations blocks away from my hotel. I stayed at a historically luxury lifestyle hotel called The Atticus. One of the best hotel experiences of my life. The hotel is enchanting. Draped in color-coordinated colors of matte navy blue, moss green, luxurious fabrics, and metallic accents. Everything about this hotel was considered carefully and executed with finesse and pure grace. I was beyond smitten and impressed with the level of quality service and intersectional community branding.
Partners Erin Stephenson & Brian Shea have genuinely taken the luxury hotel branding to a whole other level. The level of service was above and beyond. I am soooooo spoiled! I will continue my praise in an upcoming blog.
R, Stuart, and Company produce the sparkling wine served at the front desk, to all incoming guests. The Winemaker is Rob Stuart and his wife Diana Stuart,= and she is the Marketing, Hospitality, and Public Relations Director. The winery was founded in 2002. They produce approximately 16,000 cases per year. In addition to the tasting room, you can find the distribution winery a few blocks over. It is a fixture upon the landscape of Downtown McMinnville. The portfolio includes brands Big Fire Wines, the Love, Oregon wines, and our Reserve and specialty wines, which include blended and several Single Vineyard Pinot noirs, two sparkling wines, and two Port-style wines.
Karen was our Tasting specialist. She was lively with good energy. I noticed she greeted all regulars by name. The tasting room has two options for tasting flights. The Reserve Flight is $15 and features four of their Pinot Noirs. The Mixed Flight is more varied with the selection of wines. I choose the mixed flight option for $12 ( yes, folks ). There were two whites: the 2017 Love Chardonnay, the 2016 Big Fire Pinot Gris $18, and two reds: 2017 Vignette Pinot Noir $35 and the 2014 Deux Vert Tempranillo $40.
The 2016 Big Fire Pinot Gris $18 was very aromatic, with hints of stone fruit and citrus. The palate was crisp and bright with flavors of candied ginger, key lime pie, and ripen stoned fruit. Mood: Great summer wine with girlfriends, bath worthy, Grace and Frankie Netflix worthy, or eating with Thai food or Sushi.
The 2017 Vignette Red was memorable. I noticed I was the color first. It is an intense garnet, almost concentrated yet clear. The nose was powerful with black fruit and spice. The palate was a shock of concentrated blackberry, pernod, earth, and mushrooms. Can you say food-friendly? I’d love to pair this with a Coq Au Vin. The wine is 100 % Pinot Noir and high in alcohol. I’d consider this wine is a baby maker, a truth-teller, and a teeth stainer. I was very intrigued.
The next winery visit was all by chance. The same photographer for the Assemblage asked me if I was going on a wine tour. She wanted to take some pictures, and I needed new headshots, so cool. She arranged a private tasting the Elizabeth Chambers Winery. Her name is Carolyn Well-Kramer ofCWK Photography and specializes in the Oregon Wine Regions. If you in the area and need photos, check her out. Click on her link and check out some of her amazing pictures. You might even see yourstruly!
The winery was established in 2011 by the late winemakers’ namesake Elizabeth Chambers. Her children now run the winery. Under the ownership of her two daughters and son-in-law, co-presidents Julia Chambers Stiltner and Andrew Stiltner. The teal blue butterfly on the label is our tribute to their mother.
Linda McGrath and Drew Kurchtmen produced an elegant private tasting and paired the wine with a charcuterie board from local farms within McMinnville.
I am wine nerd at heart. Glassware is very important in the wine world, especially for Sommeliers. The correct stemware can bring out actual characteristics within the wine. We all have our favorites. My favorite is the German Riedel line. I have several (42) within my collection. I am OBSESSED. When I walked up the table, I was delighted to see a three glass flight tasting. Upon further investigation, I noticed the Pinot Noir Riedel glassware was the brand with the name of the winery ( nothing new), but the glass had a sweet little butterfly towards the back of the glass. I inquired about the placement, and Mr. Drew said, it is a visual to indicate the pouring line. No over pouring in this room. Now that’s dope!!
We tasted five selections: a Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, and three Pinot Noirs. The Chardonnay was the star amongst the white wine. I continue to be impressed by the Chardonnay’s coming out of the Willamette Valley. The wines are elegant and feminine. Think young and regal like Duchess Megan Markle. This nose was fresh with pear and yeasty undertones. I noticed whiffs of Brioche. The palate had flavors of ginger spice, slight apricot, and creme brulee. I promise I heard Anita Baker’s “Caught Up In The Rapture of Love!!” I was so thrilled. If you like white burgundy, or grow tired of bold Napa Chards, or want to explore other Chardonnays, then check the Willamette Valley.
The 2017 Hope Well Vineyard Chardonnay is a stunner. The color is golden straw and looks like a four C yellow cut diamond within the glass. The nose is complicated but aromatic. I detected notes of yellow apple, stone fruit, and candied ginger. The palate had abundant flavors of creme brulee, honeysuckle, and ginger with a flourish of balanced acidity. I see you, WILLAMETTE VALLEY.
I tried three out of the five Pinot Noirs within the portfolio. The Winemaker’s Cuvee is from the Temperance Hill Vineyard ( Eola-Amity Hills AVA ), the 2017 Durant Vineyard Pinot Noir (Dundee Hills AVA)and the 2017 Lazy River Vineyard Pinot Noir (Yamhill-Carlton AVA). We had a vertical tasting. What is a vertical tasting? A vertical tasting is when you taste different vintages of the same wine type from the same winery or different wine regions. This style enables you to get a full spectrum understanding of the winery and or the varietal. Drew is the lead of the Hospitality team. He walked me through the philosophy of the winery.
I fell in love with the 2017 Temperance Hill Vineyards Pinot Noir the moment I saw the color. It is mesmerizing. The wine is gorgeous with deep yet crystal bright garnet color almost scarlet. Like a jewel! She is ultra-feminine with notes of black cherries, black plum, and earth. The palate was rich and dense in my mouth. The black fruit is primarily coming through as silky black plum and prune. The secondary notes are all earthy spice. The plot of land is a 100-acre vineyard located in the Eola -Amity Hills in Northern Willamette Valley. I am still grinning about the experience!! The wine is very young and could lay down for another two years. She is food-friendly, and I’d pair her with a Duck Breast, Roasted Chicken, and or Even a Salmon Dish. Mood: Progressive Dinner, Fireplace worthy, Library friendly, CBS The Good Fight, Frasier, Good GOOD Girlfriends Wine.
I don’t know if McMinnville is the next Napa. Why don’t we just let McMinnville, be McMinnville! During the offseason, a plane ticket averages around $150 roundtrip ( from Denver) via Southwest ( 2 bags free ) and is about a 30 minutes drive from Portland. You need to rent a car. The town does not have reliable Uber or Lyft services.
I look forward to many visits to this region. McMinnville, you have captured my heart. See you soon!
Maia Parish is a certified sommelier, wine judge, and entrepreneur. She lives in Denver and is an opinionated foodie, mother to Ms. Ross, and lover of all things Marvel | Star Wars | Star Trek!! Food and wine are my soulmates.