Monday, April 29, 2013

Rex Hill and Me

Par for the course, the start to our road trip was later than we'd hoped but then can you expect anything but a delayed onset when you don't finish packing the night before? Luckily, we weren't hit with a long wait at the border and we actually found ourselves driving over the Portland bridges by early afternoon.

Thinking we'd likely stop for a bit in Portland on the way home, we just kept on driving to try and fit in a couple tastings in the Willamette Valley. I know very little about Oregon wines and wineries but I certainly had my interest tweaked last summer at the 2012 Wine Bloggers Conference in Portland. I considered myself lucky enough to be part of the bus that enjoyed a tour, tasting and dinner in the vineyard at Rex Hill as a conference side trip. Being thoroughly impressed at that time, I figured Rex Hill would be an appropriate place to start this time around.

Our schedule was limited to a quick sidle up to the bar in Rex Hill's gracious tasting room - and it quickly became clear that Boo and I were going to be sorely tested on this trip. Firstly, we brought the Miata for the trip. I mean who wouldn't for a summer road trip? Top down on winding coastal roads is a no brainer - even if trunk space was going to present a major challenge. But, on top of little space for wine purchases, Canadian Customs only allows each of us to bring back two - that's TWO, as in one, two, not two dozen - bottles of wine.

We could have easily gone over our limit at Rex Hill alone. We limited ourselves to a couple of single vineyard Pinots though and took off for Raptor Ridge, one of the other wineries I had a favourable impression of at WBC12.

Raptor Ridge is named for the many raptors that make their homes in the vineyard - red-tailed hawks, kestrels, sharp-shinned hawks and owls. The vineyard is located on a ridge of the Chehalem Mountains  and the tasting room offered a superb view of the surrounding area. A small producer, each vintage consists of only around 7,500 cases; however, in addition to Oregon's celebrated Pinot Noir, Raptor Ridge also interestingly produces a Grüner Veltliner and a Tempranillo.

Our afternoon had flown by and it was time to make our way to McMinville, our resting spot for Day One.

While trying to locate the historically handsome Hotel Oregon, we happened to drive past Dobbes Family Estate. With Boo's last name being "Dobbs" (without the "e"), we had to make a pit stop - even if there was only about 15 minutes until closing time. Despite our late arrival, we were treated to an extensive tasting flight of single vineyard and cuvée Pinots, as well as some Syrah and a fortified, port-styled wine that we needed to buy regardless of our Custom's limitations.

Throughout our wine tastings, we checked with our hosts for their top recommendations for wineries and restaurants when visitors are faced with restrictive time frames. One of those suggestions was to head off to the back room of Nick's restaurant, which just happened to be around the corner from our hotel.

We also discovered a possible saving grace for our wine purchase and storage problems - Bring Your Own wine. By taking advantage of as many BYO restaurants as possible on this trip, we were going to be able to be a little more appreciative with our wine purchases.

1297.  2009 Rex Hill - Shea Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley - Oregon)

I don't generally reach for a Pinot when dining on Italian fare, but they certainly drink lighter Chianti and Valpolicella by the gallon in Italy. So, I didn't think we'd be losing out on our Shea Vineyard Pinot. One thing we quickly learned is that there seems to be a lot of correlation between the Shea Vineyard and fine Oregon Pinot Noir. All three of the wineries we visited today offer a Shea Vineyard Pinot. We were advised that Shea is perhaps the state's best-known vineyard site and that wineries line up to buy the fruit produced by Dick and Deidre Shea. Fewer than a couple of dozen wineries are fortunate enough to get the coveted fruit.

Even those wineries that do get their hands on Shea fruit don't necessarily get a lot of it. The 2009 vintage was a big one in the Willamette but Rex Hill was only able to make 247 cases of Shea Pinot Noir.

Seeing as how special our bottle was, I was a little concerned that we were drinking it too soon. I'd normally like to lay bottles of this pedigree down for at least a couple of years, but I think it's fair to say that it was drinking beautifully. Lush and fruit forward, it was a big Pinot but it was a great match to our meatballs, pizza and lasagna. Starting off with this Rex Hill was a real treat. Indeed, if every bottle we tried on this trip were this tasty, it was going to be one enjoyable trip.

If only.

It had been a long first day though and we wanted to try and hit another couple wineries in the morning before heading out to the coast. As such, we reluctantly passed on the Hotel Oregon's rooftop bar and their McMenamin's home brews.

And this was only Day One.

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