Category Archives: 2017

The Harvest Hand Workout, or How I Learned to Love Pinot Noir

If you’ve been reading this blog as long as I have, you may remember a couple years back when we launched an amphibious assault on the Wineries of the Willamette Valley, and just didn’t enjoy it as much as the places we’d visited in the Columbia Gorge. At the time we thought that perhaps the Pinot Noir wasn’t for us, but on further discussion it wasn’t so much the liquids, but the high tasting fees (compared to the Columbia Gorge) and just the feeling that we weren’t as warmly received as we were in other wine regions.

Frequent readers will know by now that our research seems to indicate that wine is sold more on an emotional connection, than what is specifically in the bottle.

Did we not know how to enjoy Pinot Noir, or was the situation where it was presented less than what we’ve learned to expect?

So why bring this up now? Fall of 2017 cracked over our heads like an egg into a hot skillet. What do you do if you’re 48 and need a job? Hey, why not be a harvest hand?

Here we are in a quiet moment on the deck behind the Torii Mor teahouse:

Torii Mor harvest crew 2017

Can one be a harvest hand at 49? Well, it didn’t kill me. In fact, at the end of harvest I was so fit I could do pull-ups again.  The thing is, no one single task is too hard during Harvest, it’s the marathon aspect – 12 hours sorting grapes and you’re back at it again at 8am the next day and the next day and the next day and the next day and the next day.

That’s the hard part.  Standing up and doing every day, day after day until it’s done.  Here’s Steph doing a great job of Taking Care of Business:

Torii Mor 2017 Harvest season

Here’s the thing: making wine is mostly about cleaning things and moving heavy things around.  Endless respect to Jon for putting together a stellar crew.  Not one whiner, not one shirker, not one bum in the group.  If you needed something, by the time you turned around someone was handing the tool you needed almost before you asked.

Here’s Diane Nemarnik getting hands-on with Steph barreling down the wine she made with her grapes in the Torii Mor facility:

We also made wine for Dr. Mike. He’s a good guy, he had no qualms about getting his hands dirty helping us clean the equipment at the end of the day. However, he was a little confused. I don’t have a photo of this, but he generously brought some of his wine for the harvest crew to taste, and the guy with the good-paying day job asked, “So, what part of this is the best?” We looked at each other, and had to answer, “This part – the sitting down and tasting wine.” Why? Because there’s nothing fun about 12 hours of sorting grapes unless you’re touched in the head.

It’s just bloody hard work.  It’s rewarding, but it feels best when you stop.

Look, I’m going to tell you that  my favorite part of the work was throwing the punch-down stick over my shoulder and walking down to the cellar to work over the fermenters, feeling strong and vital and part of a thousands-something year old tradition of making wine.  Here’s what it looked like:

Hey, shall we flip some casks and steam the heck out of them? Of course!

Yes, I can run a forklift now.

Here’s a rare photo of Jon almost standing still.

As I mentioned before, making wine is mostly about cleaning things. I know, how romantic!

I was usually taking the photos, so here’s a rare one of your author proving that he wasn’t making this stuff up.

I hope I don’t have to tell you that this whip-thin set of grrlz did every physical thing us grunty/sweaty man-men did without complaint, if not straight out putting us to shame with their abilities.

Here’s a rare photo of our winemaker Jacques actually standing still. The rest of us had the easy jobs – just follow orders. The ultimate success of our efforts fell on his shoulders and he was one very busy man. Outside of the knowledge he carries around about turning grapes into something you might want to drink, I am still in awe of how he’d fill a five-gallon bucket full of bentonite and zip up an 80′ ladder with it like he was taking a sandwich to kindergarten.

Torii Mor

Here’s Jacque again, schooling us on how to take care of the casks.

Torii Mor

So, Pinot Noir? Yes, I’ve learned to love it. You have to watch out for it’s subtlety. Stand back and wait for it to come to you. It wasn’t easy, but I’ve had a chance to taste it at every step of the process and now I have that emotional connection spoken of at the start of this missive. Mayhaps you can have a journey half as rewarding as the one I’ve had.

This post wouldn’t be complete without this great portrait of Jeromy.

Torii Mor

Remy Wines Opens New Tasting Room at the Vineyard

Our friends at Remy Wines have recently opened a new tasting room on their vineyard west of Dundee.

Joyce – Remy Wines

Here’s Remy herself, winemaker and hostess-with-the-mostness!

Remy

Remy treated us and other members of her wine club to a pleasant tour of the vineyard.  (Yes, she’s wearing all black in 98 degree sun.  Some people, I tell ya…)

vineyard

The farmhouse / tasting room.

farmhouse

Relaxing in the back yard.

backyard

The warm, personable hospitality of Remy and her team keep us coming back.  Recommended!

wine

Seafood Sundays at Teutonic Wines

Teutonic Wines has been hosting Seafood Sunday – a different seafood, a different seafood dish every sunday through this summer.  A great way to get people like us to drop in!  We don’t usually take food photos, but we’ll make an exception this time around.  Seafood Sunday continues through the end of September.

Joyce demonstrates the BBQ combo

BBQ!

Here’s Joyce showing off the Ahi tuna

tuna!

Here’s Steve with the crab mac ‘n’ cheese

crab mac 'n' cheese!

Yes, we are lunching at a picnic table in the bed of a pickup truck with our feet cooling in a kiddie pool!

pickup

…and if it’s not Seafood Sunday, you can still order a frito pie!

frito pie

Skunk Brothers – Testing The Limits of What’s in a Name

Skunk Brothers in Stevenson, WA. Boy, doesn’t that name make you want to pour some of their liquids down your throat…? I can’t say that the name works for me, but I guess in terms of a name, it is memorable.

Before we get there let’s start with a nice photo. Here’s Joyce representing her inner Viking Shield Maiden. She’s being nice about it here. Don’t make her kick your ass.

Skunk

Follow the signs, Neo.

Ok, they are so new that they suffer the challenge new whiskey distilleries have. It takes a few years to have aged product to offer customers. Their real product is at least a year off. So it goes.

What you can carry away today are fine things made from unaged white lightening. Our fav was the Apple Pie which has a delightful apple flavor and avoids the syrupy sweet flavor we’ve had elsewhere.

Their tasting room is attractively appointed and a nice cool place after the summer sun.

It’s a family affair there at Skunk Brothers. That day Jamie Donoho was wo-manning the tasting room. She favored us with a quick tour of their shiny facility and took excellent care of us. Two thumbs up for the tasting experience.

While their building is classic dull modern light-industrial park, across the parking lot is the glory of the Columbia Gorge.

…and right there is where an international kiteboarding competition is held. While we watched kiteboarder after kiteboarder launched themselves 30 feet in the air right in front of us.

Wine Crüe

Well, Teutonic Wines is one of my personal favorite places to visit.  Well, it’s almost as close to my living room as my refrigerator is, and I enjoy the spirit of the place.  (and they have tasty drinkables.)

Here’s two pics from their last event:

wine

These fine folkes live so close to my place we’ve made plans to hang out at the Ship Ahoy.

If you know what that is, you are very Portland.

Lyle Wine Weekend 2017

Here’s the deal – Lyle, Washington, lovely place.  They got the local wineries together for a group event.  One $15 fee, you get a glass and a welcoming smile everywhere you go: http://www.wineriesoflyle.com/

Is the Columbia Gorge lovely?  Yes, yes indeed it is:

What mysteries await us?  Let’s just see…

Syncline.  An old favorite of ours.

See back there?  They’ve expanded their garden / picnic space.  Lovely, lovely place to visit.



Cor Cellars.  They have built a beautiful tasting room.  Spacious, airy, comfortable.  We like to focus  on what people are doing *right* vs. what people are doing wrong.  Some years ago we had a poor experience at Cor, this is the first time we’ve been back.  The location is absolutely lovely, but the people there aren’t doing more than  pouring juice in a glass.  Sorry gang, you’ve got some work to do on the experience.


Voted as Most Improved:
Domaine Pouillon

Our first visit some years ago was quite lovely.  Down by the barn, with all the wine making machinery, a giant wheel of cheese, goats, chickens…. very informal.  Like hanging out with the family. Lovely.  We really enjoyed it.

On our second visit, they’d built an official tasting room up the hill.  The experience was cold, like visiting a museum gift shop. We didn’t want to go back.

This visit, however, was a pleasant switcheroo.  What was different?  We think two things.  The physically layout of the room was more welcoming.  By having the tasting bar to the right on the way in seems to open up the room in a way that wasn’t true before.  Also, Joyce believes the people behind the wine were behind the bar, and showed a lot more heart.  It’s more than just a job, eh?



Memaloose.  Man, they have a lovely view of the Gorge.  Their wine was fine.  Go check it out.



And the big winner for the weekend is:
Tetrahedron

Here’s Darren Michaels holding court in his tasting room in Lyle.  Why was Tetrahedron the best experience of the weekend?  Why is it the only place we bought a bottle to take with?  I’ll tell you:  Enthusiasm.  These people are excited by what they’re doing.

Oh, and we got to talk about Dungeons and Dragons.  That’s always fun for Steve.

Lovely hand painted bottles.  You know you need a couple of these for your gift-giving needs:

Instead of nothing, or a bowl of Costco crackers, Tetrahedron stepped up and showed the other wineries how it’s done.  That’s right.  Six wines to sample, and six snack-o-miendos to pair with each one.  But not just any snack – well picked to compliment the flavors of the wine.  Note: only two of the other wineries on this weekend’s even bothered to have Costco crackers.  Tetrahedron went above and beyond.    If you’re only going to stop in one tasting room in Lyle, this is the one.

Now, if you’re a regular reader, you know that this blog is about the experience of visiting and not so much about the actual wines.  Why?  Well, we are blessed in that almost every place you visit has good wine, so for our blog we concentrate on the experience and how it affects our ultimate purchasing decisions.

In this case, on top of the tasting room experience, Tetrahedron threw us for a loop with their wine.  Not only did Joyce enjoy their white wines, she even bought a bottle of white wine for later.  That never happens.  Joyce is not interested in white wines.  It’s not that white wines are bad, it’s just that they are mostly boring on the tongue. Tetrahedron’s whites are built with a more herbaceous quality.  We aren’t going to go into flavor detail here, like the old “notes of tobacco and broken dreams over BBQ and the souls of forgotten swamp children’s coffee” kinds of things you might hear elsewhere.  Probably the closest thing I can compare their three whites is to a cocktail of a regular white wine plus a bit of a European liquor.

Result?  Yummy!  Go get some for yourself.  You know you want to!

…and now some bonus shots of our heroes in action:

 

 

 

Heritage Distilling

When in Gig Harbor, WA why not stop in and visit Heritage Distilling?

It’s a lovely place, this Gig Harbor:

water

If you look close, you’ll see a giant monster volcano decorating the sky and waiting to turn us snotty northwest types into volcanic ash or disaster refugees…

water

Should you need to settle your nerves, here’s Kelton, your friendly tasting room guide.

awesome

Then there’s this guy:

Welcome to the Pacific NorthWest.  We do things maybe a little different. In this case, you can get a growler of booze.  A GROWLER OF BOOZE.  Up here in the Portland area, growler stations for filling bottles to-go has gotten quite popular for our fine craft brews.  This is the first time I’ve seen it for spirits.

Joyce is fond of the brown spirits, so here’s a close-up of our tasting.  Overall we rate their offering as “dang fine” though it’s clear their offering will improve as they have more time to age their product.  They sell a wide variety of flavored vodkas.  We’re not fond of those – what’s the point of something that tastes like nothing, except this bit tastes like blueberries?  Whoop-de-do, can I just have some blueberries?  However, from a business perspective a distillery has to sell something today while they wait for their aged product to be ready for market.  The way to enjoy vodka is to go here: http://kachkapdx.com/

Anyhoo – their gin products are also worthy of attention.  Check out their “soft gin”.  You heard it here first!

yes

I generally like to post positive product reviews, but sometimes I’m forced to warn the reader.  In this case, their Brown Sugar Bourbon – http://heritagedistilling.com/product-tag/bsb-brown-sugar-bourbon/ is something they are pushing on customers.  I’ve even seen TV commercials for it.

Ok, maybe you’ll like it, in which case please enjoy.  However, if you’re interested in one spirit over another, you can save yourself the time and money by just buying a bunch of this: http://www.quakeroats.com/products/hot-cereals/instant-oatmeal/maple-and-brown-sugar.aspx cuz, that’s what it tastes like.  And if you include it in your tasting flight, don’t drink it last because the cloying sweet maple flavor will follow you for a long time.

Also, be sure to double-check your receipt before making your way out.  They charged us incorrectly and we didn’t notice until later.  I’m sure they would have fixed it had we been willing to drag my malfunctioning hip back to their location to discuss.

Nehalem Bay Winery

Here we are at the Nehalem Bay Winery.

The best part about this place is the building.  It’s a quaint Bavarian-style structure originally built as a creamery around 1907.

winery

The staff was friendly, though harried.  I’m afraid the wine itself was a letdown.  Most of the places we go, the wine is fine.  If we’re not fond of it, it’s because it’s just not the style we find most pleasing.  Here I’m afraid we just didn’t find the wine to be very good.  In fact, I’m trying to be nice here.  A couple of them I found to be downright unpleasant.  However, maybe you’ll like their product better, so go check ‘m out.

They have a wide variety of fruit wines. Cranberry, plum, apple, blackberry, concord grape, peach…  Probably best off as an ingredient in something else, but definitely not dull.

We scooted back to Nehalem Bay State Park.

Shafer Vineyard Cellars

Well the photo on their web site is so much better than our attempts you’ll just have to go look at it here: http://www.shafervineyards.com/

Just west of Forest Grove Shafer Vineyards is worth the trip just for the view itself. Something we noticed right away is they’ve been doing the do since 1978 and you can see it in the size of the vines they’ve got growing out of the ground there.

…and they are friendly. Here’s myself and Ryan, our man behind the bottles:

Shafer puts an unusual twist on the winery tasting room experience by also having an extensive collection of Christmas decorations available for sale … nearly every possible item the mind can conceive is available as a Christmas tree ornament, including St. Louis. You might as, “why, god, why?” And I would have to agree with you. However, there it is. Once you’ve figured out how to stay away from the Christmas stuff, you’ll find they have some very nice picnic tables just begging you to stay awhile and enjoy yourself, and I think you should!

The big winner in today’s wine lineup is clear, and it’s a white! (Frequent readers will know we’re more tickled by phat reds generally) Their 2014 Müller-Thurgau has an unusual and very pleasant flavor. Well, we like it at least, and maybe you will too.

wine