Tag Archives: Oregon

Seven of Hearts is Your Lucky Card in Carlton

The simple storefront for the Seven of Hearts / Luminous Hills tasting room in Carlton.

In our admittedly limited experience in Oregon, most of the wineries have their tasting room at the winery. Seven of Hearts is different, with their tasting room in a store front in “downtown” Carlton. Carlton consists of maybe two stoplights and another few stop signs, so downtown might be stretching it just a bit.

Seven of Hearts / Luminous Hills tasting room shares space with Honest Chocolates.

Walking into the shop is interesting. It seems slightly unorganized inside, with a tasting bar, a desk, some displays and more stuff scattered about. But at the same time you’re taking in the visual, you’re getting the nose. You’re getting the smell of whatever they’ve been pouring that day, and you’re also getting a whiff of the chocolate that is not only being sold, but also being made, at the back of the shop. Byron Dooley is the proprietor of Seven of Hearts, and his wife is the proprietor Honest Chocolates. (That’s really sad: a relationship based on wine and chocolate. Whatever the sacrifices they’ve had to make, it’s working for them. Sarcasm, folks.)

Byron buys most of his grapes from various Willamette Valley vineyards, but a few years back he purchased a small vineyard, now called Luminous Hills, where he grows Pinot Noir and bottles it under his Luminous Hills label. The majority of his wines are sold under his Seven of Hearts label. Here’s a quick summary of what we tasted:

Byron’s style for Chardonnay is fairly understated. The 2014 Willamette Valley Chardonnay underwent no malolactic (ML) fermentation, but saw some new oak, while the 2014 Gran Moraine Vineyard Chardonnay had ML, but only neutral oak. We really liked the Gran Moraine; a few bottles of that came home with us.

His Pinot Noirs were also tended toward an understated style. It was interesting though that the 3 PNs we tasted from Seven of Hearts, all blends from various vineyards, were good, but not great. However, the 2014 Luminous Hill Pinot Noir was very good, one of the best we tasted on our trip, and a very good value.

He also makes a GSM (Grenache, Mouvedre, Syrah) blend, and a Bordeaux blend. We tasted both the 2014 GSM and the 2014 Tradition. We liked them both – the GSM especially was nicely balanced and would probably lay down for a few years, comparing nicely to a good California GSM – but we were in Oregon for the Pinot Noir, so neither of those made the cut to be brought home. The Tradition tasting is served with a bit of the Salted Currant Ganache from Honest Chocolates. Byron also makes a Pinot Noir port, and pairs it with Dark Chocolate Hazelnut Toffee Bark for tasting. I didn’t try the port, but the chocolate was delicious.

By the way, for all the feeling of clutter in the tasting room, Mackenzie and Eric provided us with a great tasting environment. Not rushing us, answering all our questions, even those we hadn’t yet asked. Very knowledgeable and nice.

We tried another of the chocolates from the back, and walked out with a dozen truffles for us, and more to take home as gifts. Quite good!

L’Chaim,

Larry

Elk Cove Vineyards: An Oregon Pioneer

Elk Cove Vineyards (ECV) crushed their first grapes in 1974, planted their first Pinot Noir vineyard in 1975, and now makes about 45,000 cases each year. Of that, about 1/3 is Pinot Noir, another third is Pinot Gris, and the rest is split between Reisling, Chardonnay and rosé of Pinot Noir. Their early start qualifies them as a pioneer in the Willamette Valley, while their quality, longevity and volume make them one of the current leaders.

The original vineyard at Elk Cove Vineyards was planted in 1975.


Elk Cove Vineyards

We weren’t sure what to expect with ECV. We turned a corner and came through a line of pine trees, and there were vineyards (their original 1975 vineyard) right there in front of us, and the winery down at the bottom of the hill. Beautiful. As we pulled up to the tasting room, we noticed the flower gardens, also beautiful. And the vineyards come up to the edge of the deck off the tasting room, so you feel like you’re in some sort of Eden-ic spot.

The vineyards come right up to the deck at the Elk Cove Vineyards tasting room.

Out of the car, and it’s obvious that they’ve just “finished” harvest. Finishing harvest has a different definition for winemakers and lay people. For us lay people, we think of finishing harvest in a literal sense, that all the grapes have been harvested. The winemaker and his/her team think of harvest as extending through to when they’ve got the last wine out of the fermentation tanks and into the barrels. While there’s still wine in tanks, the winemaking team has to be there every day, a few times each day, to make sure that the fermentation process is proceeding according to plan. When they get the last wine into barrels, the 2+ months of being at the winery every day is over; harvest is over for the winemaking team, and they can see their families again. One of the first tasks after finishing harvest is cleaning out the skins from the tanks, and from the smell that was the task they were getting on with that morning.

The tasting experience was also nice because of the person behind the bar. Joe worked for about 30 years at Intel (maybe the largest employer in Oregon) as a software engineer. Having retired a year ago, he’s now serving wine, and playing classic rock in the tasting room. Eagles, Heart, Pink Floyd, Van Morrison, … My high school and college sound track.

The La Boheme Vineyard at Elk Cove Vineyards was planted in 1985.

Well, I’m about 400 words and 5 photos into this blog and have yet to say anything about their wine. Lori got one tasting flight, and I got the other, so that we could maximize the number of wines we tasted. Looking back at my notes, we didn’t taste the Pinot Gris, and the Chardonnay and rosé we tasted left no memorable impression on me. The 2015 Estate Reisling, which is made off-dry with less than 1% residual sugar, was nice to taste.

On to the Pinot Noirs. We tasted

2014 Willametter Valley Pinot Noir: Cuvée (blend) made from grapes from all six of their vineyards.

2014 Mount Richmond Vineyard Pinot Noir: This vineyard is near Yamhill, and this was Lori’s favorite.

2014 Clay Court Vineyard Pinot Noir: Their smallest vineyard, volcanic soil, Parrett Mountain area, and home to the ECV founders. My favorite.

2014 La Bohème Vineyard Pinot Noir. This vineyard was planted in 1985 on the other side of the winery from the original vineyard.

2014 Windhill Vineyard Pinot Noir: Not our style.

2014 Goodrich Vineyard Pinot Noir: Their newest vineyard.

All together – the setting, the tasting room atmosphere, the quality of wines – this was a great wine tasting experience.

L’Chaim,

Larry

Brigadoon: A Magical Oregon Winery

On our last day of wine tasting in Oregon, we ventured south of Corvalis. Though this is 75 miles south of McMinnville and our previous two days of wineries, this is still the Willamette Valley. After going to one of the larger, well known wineries, we visited Brigadoon as the last winery on our trip.

Brigadoon tasting room.

You might know of the musical Brigadoon, with the basic set up that Brigadoon is a magical spot that appears in the Scottish Highlands for one day out of every 100 years. The winery Brigadoon is, fortunately, there every day of the year. It’s a small winery; only about 1,000 cases per year of the three Pinots (Gris, Blanc, Noir) plus Reisling. The Pinot Blanc was interesting and different than the others we tasted on this trip, as it was done with no malolactic (ML) fermentation. It was good, best we had in Oregon, although I still am not a huge fan of this varietal.

Their Pinot Noir was quite good, and at $23 per bottle, the best value we found on our trip. Just when I thought I had bought all the wine I was going to for the trip, here was one I couldn’t pass up. So I had some shipped direct to the house. (The other wine purchased on the trip came home with me, as Alaska Airlines, and maybe some of the others, will let you check one case of wine at no charge flying out of Portland Airport.)

The picnic area at Brigadoon.

Some other interesting points about Brigadoon. It’s kid-friendly, with some toys in the small tasting room to help keep the little ones occupied while you’re enjoying the wine. They’ve got a nice picnic table there, which we took advantage of, having brought sandwiches. (We also bought a bottle there to have with our lunch.) They have a nice, friendly dog, Gracie, at Brigadoon. At least friendly to humans; not sure about other dogs.

It probably says something about our priorities that the dog is mentioned before the people. Chris Shown, proprietor and vineyard manager, was behind the bar when we were there. He grew up in Napa Valley, but moved to the Willamette Valley for his own vineyards and winery. In addition to talking about his wine, he’s still a fan of the SF Giants, and as the season had just ended for the Giants that was as much a topic as the wine.

Root vines at Brigadoon.

Also, they grow root stock there, not just their own grapes. You are probably aware that most grape vines start with a relatively generic root stock, with the actual wine grape varietal grafted onto the root stock about one year after planting. Brigadoon works with nurseries in Oregon as a root stock provider, and so you see a few fields of untrained, untrellissed vines there, which was an interesting sight.

This was a great tasting experience, and I hope to get back there (or at least keep buying their wines).

L’Chaim,

Larry

Torii Mor Winery

Lori and I recently spent a week going from Seattle to McMinnville (Oregon’s Willamette Valley) to Corvalis (wineries, breweries, and a California v Oregon State football game that did not end in the Cal Bears favor). Torii Mor was the first winery we visited. A great way to start.

The architecture of the winery and tasting room, and even the landscape architecture, has a slightly Asian feel. This might be the place to discover the zen of Pinot Noir. It’s a very calm place, but that belies the intensity of the effort going into the wines. There’s a lot going on beneath the surface.

We started with their whites, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc. The Pinot Gris had really nice nose, more substantial body than we’re used to seeing in a Pinot Gris, and nicely balanced flavors. It reminded us a bit of a good Sauvignon Blanc, with enough acids to work well with a range of foods. Pinot Blanc is a mutation of Pinot Noir, except now a green grape (white wine). This really didn’t do anything for me, but in fairness to Torii Mor, we didn’t taste even one Pinot Blanc in Oregon that we were at all interested in taking home.

On to the Pinot Noirs. I’ve had Oregon Willamette Valley Pinot Noirs in the past, and enjoyed them, but with living in California I’ve been drinking Pinots from the Russian River Valley, Carneros region, Santa Lucia Highlands (Monterey) and Santa Ynez Valley (Santa Barbara) for the last 20 or more years, with hardly a bottle of any other Pinot (Burgandy, Oregon, New Zealand) thrown in. This was my first visit to the area, and my first time ever really focusing on Oregon Pinot Noir. The climate there, a bit cooler than in California, leads to Pinot Noir grapes with less sugar at full ripeness and therefore less alcohol. Lighter body seems also a regular characteristic, as does less bold fruit flavors. Yet these characteristics do not diminish from the quality of the wine, it just makes them different, and interesting. And when they’re well made, very enjoyable.

With Torii Mor, we found a range of Pinot Noirs, depending on which vineyards from which AVAs they were sourcing the grapes. One of our favorites was the 2014 Yamhill Carlton Select Pinot Noir, which surprised us with the complexity of the wine with such a light body. We brought a bottle of that home with us, and opened it our first night back, tasting it against an Armida 2014 Gap’s Crown Vineyard (Sonoma Coast) Pinot Noir. They were both easily identifiable as Pinot Noir from the flavors, but completely different wines, both excellent.

By the way, Torii Mor has a couple of winery cats that hang out around the tasting room. And if Eddie is behind the tasting room bar, you’ll get a nice description of the wines and vineyards, without him telling you what you’re going to taste in advance.

I don’t know when we’ll get back to the Willamette Valley, but I’m already looking forward to the next trip.

L’Chaim,

Larry