Monday, April 16, 2012

Wandering the North Willamette Wine Trail

From Kelsey Ivey reporting on the North Willamette Vintners event the North Willamette Wine Trail on March 31st and April1st. (The North Willamette wineries contain some of the Valley's most known names as well as quite a few small operations.)

Even in sopping rain and flooded fields, nothing stopped tasters from hitting the trail to good wine. With doors wide open for two days – even through storming weather and high water – the wineries of the North Willamette Valley showcased their best bounty in an effort to warm those wandering wine fans. Hosted by the North Willamette Vintners, the weekend promoted each winery’s strengths and the areas easy accessibility for self-guided tasting tours. Bringing guests great wine, food pairings and hands-on educational activities, the 22 wineries along the trail rolled open their cellar doors for an unforgettable journey. I joined the festivities on Sunday to take a fun, full day excursion from my southern romping grounds in Eugene to see if these yankees to the north could treat my taste buds to a good time.

 Playing in the Garden of Grafting at Plum Hill Vineyards 
After picking up my wine tasting kit from Montinore Estate and a few quick tastes of their certified biodynamic wines, I made my way to the first winery of the day – Plum Hill Vineyards. A small, family owned winery located between pastoral plots, Plum Hill features limited production Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Rose, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, Muller-Thurgau and Schonburger. Serving samples in their homey tasting room and gift shop, Plum Hill warmly greeted us with their wines and family hospitality.

Paired with their wines, Plum Hill offered a grape root grafting station for visitors to learn the ins-and-outs of this precise process – and even graft their own grape rootstock to take home! After spotting the table with a few people hard at work, I was giddy as a school girl for this hands-on lesson.

Fitting a Concord grape rootstock with the bud of a French Pinot Noir stem, the event volunteer from Ballard Nursery, just down the gravel road, walked me through the steps of grafting. A process used to protect the vines from an aphid-like insect called Phylloxera, grafting unites the best properties from the two grape varietals – the strength and resilience of the Concord with the desired quality and flavor profile of the Pinot Noir. The pesky Phylloxera, which burrows and feeds off of the root of the vines beneath the soil surface, was first discovered in North American in the mid-1800s, according to the Northwest Berry & Grape Information Network.  Inadvertently introduced to France, the invasive species destroyed nearly two-thirds of vineyards in Europe. However, while Pinot Noir has no natural barrier to this creature, the Concord grape – a native variety of North America – is resistant and provides a solid base for the Pinot Noir vines to flourish.

As I left Plum Hill and securely buckled my new baby plant into the back seat, I hoped that if it could survive infesting attacks by creepy-crawlies and make it home in one piece, that maybe – just maybe; it would survive my black-thumb-of-death as well.

(Part 2 on Wednesday)


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