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Oregon wineries show off in Sodo Park

by Scott Rice - SGN Contributing Writer

Willamette Valley
Wineries Association
Block Party
March 11
Sodo Park


I fell in love in the fall of 2005. Actually, it was more of a crush. The object of my affection was a bottle of the 2003 Belle Pente Willamette Valley Pinot noir. Though 2003 was hot and dry and in 2005 the bottle was young, the beauty of the wine shone through.

This is why I'm excited that the Willamette Valley Wineries Association (WVWA) is coming to Seattle March 11, 2010 for its first-ever consumer and trade tasting. The Willamette Valley Wineries Block Party in Sodo Park will feature over 50 Oregon wineries representing all viticulture areas (AVAs) of the Valley.

Back in 2005, I had recently moved to Seattle armed with just enough oenological knowledge to be dangerous, and I took a job hawking wine in a frou-frou grocery store. One of my colleagues was a huge Francophile. She, a bit begrudgingly, extended this passion to Willamette Valley wines made from the petulant French grape, Pinot noir.

I looked at the bottle and read aloud, "bell pent-ay." My colleague looked at me disdainfully before correcting me. "You say, 'bell pont.' It means beautiful slope in French."

She said it wistfully. She said it looking off over my shoulder as if imagining herself lying on a grassy slope of the Côte d'Or. We wine lovers are the romantic sort.

I had tried a little Oregon Pinot before, the ubiquitous Duck Pond and a couple of others. However, the Oregon folks, like their French counterparts, like to keep their best wine closer to home. It wasn't until I arrived here in the Pacific Northwest that my eyes were truly opened to the singular magic that is Willamette Valley Pinot noir.

She poured a couple of fingers into my glass. I swirled it around, holding the glass by the base, looking oenolific-terrific (I just made that term up). I stuffed my fat nose into the glass and drew a long, deep breath. Whoa. I didn't even have to taste the stuff to know it was something special. And thus began my crush on Oregon Pinot noir.

The Willamette Valley's prized Pinot noir will headline the event, but other cool-climate varietals such as Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Riesling will also be poured. "Guests will have the unique opportunity to pair wines with Oregon and Pacific Northwest food including Carlton Farm's pork, Willamette Valley Cheese Company cheeses, Grand Central Bakery's bread and Oregon hazelnuts followed by Stumptown coffee," says WVWA executive director Sue Horstmann.

The Wine Country Getaway raffle winner will win two nights' lodging at The Allison Inn and Spa, a $250 gift certificate to any of the Allison's premier services, and a behind-the-scenes tour of two Willamette Valley wineries (chosen by winner). A maximum of 2,000 tickets will be sold.

Get ready for some over-generalization: Oregon prides itself on its personal, handcrafted approach to making wine. They are second in the U.S. in number of wineries but fourth in overall volume of wine. Oregon producers are also on the cutting edge of sustainable viticulture techniques and many believe the dirt is more important than the winery in the making of a great wine.

The Willamette Valley is famous for dry summers and long cool falls, perfect for ripening the fussy Pinot noir grapes. The wines can be classically understated and elegant, wine you'd bet your fortune came straight from Burgundy, wine that requires a little time in the cellar. Oregon Pinot can also possess beguiling fruit with a lively zest that begs to be drunk young. Either way, the wine lover wins.

And I'm not alone in my infatuation. Along with hoards of wine lovers from the uninitiated to the experts who trek to the Willamette, a few internationally known winemakers have come to stay. Most notably Veronique Drouhin, from the old Burgundian family of winemakers, and Robert Parker, self-ordained wine god and owner of Beaux Frères. When folks like this jump on the boat, you know something is up.

For more information, visit the WVWA website at www.willamettewines.com.

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