Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Honeymoon: Patricia Green Cellars and Ayres Vineyard

Wednesday May 1, Ribbon Ridge AVA OR

Wednesday marked our second of three days tasting in the Willamette Valley and we did something very unusual for us: we arranged for a local driver and a tour of the valley. This is unusual because I really dislike canned tours for the same reason I hate tasting at a lot of wineries: the tour guide is working by rote just like the pourer bot is reciting a canned script. Nauseating.

We found Jack Cranley, self-employed owner of Backroads Wine Tours, on the Internet and after reading through his reviews, I sent him an exploratory email, in part to judge his responsiveness and in part to judge our level of compatibility. Very shortly I had a response from him. Not only a response, but one that made it clear that he not only read and understood my email, but one that indicated that he was a kindred spirit in seeking out small producers of extraordinarily high quality makers of Burgundian-influenced Pinot Noir. I went with my gut and my gut said Jack was the right guy. Boy was I ever right!

Patricia Green Cellars

Jack picked us up at the B&B around 10:30 and off we went in his minivan with the dual automatic sliding doors, definitely a pimped out soccer-mobile ;). I had no idea where we were headed and wanted to be surprised so Jack only told us about the next winery as we were on route to it. Of all the wineries in the Willamette Valley, the one that I most wanted to visit was Patricia Green Cellars. Imagine my surprise as we pulled up to a stop sign just having passed hundreds of glorious California Poppies on the side of the road and Jack announced that we would be stopping first at Patty Green!

It turns out that Jack decided to show us around the Ribbon Ridge AVA, the smallest of the Willamette sub-appellations and many would argue, the best. As we turned off North Valley Road (right next to Beaux Frères), I loved the fact that there isn't any sign out front of Patricia Green Cellars indicating it's a winery (keeps the tourists away) and that there is no multimillion-dollar tasting room. What it says to me is that they are all about the wine as am I.

As we exited the minivan, we met the four-footed greeting committee, Chompers, a Corgi cross Border Collie who barked and barked, the whole while his tail wagging in big circles, a real tough guy. An unnamed black lab mix woofed somewhat half-heartedly from up near the house, but clearly wasn't interested in people. Inside the spartan and utilitarian winery building, Chompers would clearly prove that he and winemaker Jim Anderson are best buddies.

Patty was just rolling out as we arrived and so we were left in the ultra-capable hands of her friend and business partner Jim Anderson. By Jim's own word, he mostly deals with the wines and Patty mostly deals with the vines.

High Tech Décor!
We tasted on a makeshift table standing on the concrete slab floor in the utilitarian winery in front of a ratty burner atop a propane tank to provide a bit of warmth: it hit 34 degrees overnight where we were and there were a lot of people seriously worried about frost. I could see where several people had hastily mowed in an attempt to let the cold air slide off the hillsides and I heard tell of one winery owner who brought in a helicopter that morning to mix up the air, much to the delight of his neighbors.

We started with Sauvignon Blanc 2011, the first and only SB that we would taste in Oregon and it was credible with enough acid to make it pleasing. Of course, the acidity should be good in the very cool 2011 vintage. Then it was on to the current 2011 Pinots: Estate Old Vine, Bonshaw, Anklebreaker Block, Balcombe, Balcombe Block 1B, Durant, Marine Sedimentary, and Volcanic. This was really a fantastic tasting that helped me come to grips with two of the predominant soil types in the valley: marine sedimentary (Ribbon Ridge) and volcanic (Dundee Hills).

You Are Jealous of This Line-Up. You Are!
After this, we tasted two library wines, 2002 Quail Hill and 2001 Four Winds, delicious wines that are all the better for having a decade of bottle age. We had a case of the Quail Hill shipped home: it was that delicious!

And finally just before we left to move on, Jim asked rather enthusiastically, "Do you want to taste some muscat?" How could we say no? And so we finished with barrel sample of a dry Muscat Ottonel 2012 that will make a fun patio wine for sure.

Ayres Vineyard

Ann Did
From Patricia Green Cellars on the west side of the AVA, our next stop was up on top of Ribbon Ridge on the south end of the AVA at Ayres Vineyard. Their tag line "We grow it. We make it. We live it. We love it." was almost palpable as soon as we were greeted with a warm smile by Brad McLeroy, winemaker extraordinaire who cut his teeth at Domaine Drouhin Oregon in the nearby Dundee Hills.

Brad is enthusiastically proud of his wines and loves where he lives and grows wine. And he should be. He lives in one of the world's great wine appellations and he makes some of the best wines in that appellation.

We started our tasting at a nice bar off to the left side of the underground winery, with barrels stacked around us. This so reminds me of utilitarian tasting tables crammed into corners of wineries in France and Germany. The gigabuck tasting room is an American thing and nothing says "this is about the wine" to me more than absence of a tasting room.

Brad McLeroy

Too Cute!
We started with the 2011 Pinot Blanc which is utterly delicious and high acid, 2011 being the coolest vintage on record in Oregon. When we started talking about how good the wine was, Brad started talking about how well the Pinot Blanc aged and then suddenly raced off to the back and emerged bearing a bottle of 2005 Pinot Blanc. Tasting that wine was a serious OMG moment for me. I asked Brad if he would sell me a case of the wine, but when he checked, he has but four remaining bottles. He did however give us the open bottle, which we lovingly sipped at happy hour later that afternoon out on our balcony. This wine, of all the wines we tasted in the Pinot Noir capital of the US, a white wine, would prove to be the best wine of our trip.

Best Wine of our Trip
We went on to taste four bottlings of Pinot Noir, all estate fruit, and about the third bottle, a house and terroir style emerged: funky nose and a blueberry core wrapped in baking spices. These wines were unlike wines we had elsewhere and while each wine was distinct from the others, the family resemblance was there; this was certainly the best expression of unique terroir and house style that we tasted. These wines would prove to be my favorite group of the trip and Ribbon Ridge has now clearly supplanted Yamhill-Carlton as my favorite of the Willamette sub-appellations.

After tasting the bottled wines, Brad eagerly clambered up on the barrel stacks to steal us some 2012 barrel samples. Already it is evident that this is going to be a fantastic vintage.

Lavender Trailing Down 7 Feet from Above!

As much as we would have liked to have stayed and enjoyed the scenery at Ayres, Jack reminded us that it was getting long in our day (now after 1pm) and we still needed to grab some lunch, so we reluctantly shook hands with Brad and set off down Lewis Rogers Road and the very north end of Ribbon Ridge.

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