McMinnville Oregon is the home of some of United States most iconic Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris.
What does Howard Hughes, UFOs and famous vineyards and wines have in common? McMinnville Oregon. This quaint town just 1 ½ hours from Portland is the unlikely home of Howard Hughes’s giant airplane “The Spruce Goose”, a historic UFO encounter and surrounded by vineyards and wineries for miles.
The newly opened luxury lifestyle hotel Atticus located in downtown McMinnville makes an unmitigated “base of operations” when visiting the area. Not far from the Atticus you will find Elizabeth Chambers Cellar. This small, locally owned winery specializes in Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley. It was founded in 2011 by the late Liz Chambers, a 3rd generation pioneer winemaker with over 20 years in the Willamette Valley. Winemaker Drew Voit has recently taken over the reins and continues the tradition of spectacular Pinot Noir from the best vineyards in the area all known for their elegant color and on the nose and in the glass earthy, with delicate cherry notes and a silky supple texture. “We have an entirely new team in here and we want to make some of the finest Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs in the Valley,” said Voit. They also produce outstanding small batch, Pinot Gris. Dating back to the Middle Ages in Burgundy, France, the Pinot Gris grape is genetically related to Pinot Noir. It only makes sense that Willamette Valley growers turn to Pinot Gris as their white wine of choice.
Behind many wines there is a story and a family. Maysara Winery is no different. Originally from Persia, in 1997, Moe and Flora Momtazi bought 496 acres of abandoned wheat farm just south of their home in McMinnville and never looked back. In the vineyard, they farm biodynamically which includes planning and planting by a calendar along with biodynamic composting. In the winery, only native yeast found on the grape skins initiate primary fermentation. The winery produces world-classPinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Riesling and of course Pinot Noir. Their highly rated Mitra Pinot Noir named after an ancient Persian deity of friendship and oaths appears to be blessed by the gods with its sophisticated complexity circling a core of sweet, ripe berries. This small-lot wine is a hand-selected four-barrel blend from their estate Momtazi Vineyard and not to be missed.
Exploring a new AVA can be full of adventure as you meet the people, learn the history of the region and taste through the wines with people who have made them for generations. Yamhill Valley Vineyards is the oldest winery in the McMinnville AVA with their first vintage being in 1983. Young winemaker Ariel Eberle is producing award winning Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay and Riesling. Her 2014 Pinot Noir Reserve recently won “Judges’ Selection Oregonian Red, Gold.” – TEXSOM International WIne Awards, 2017. Yamhill is part of Oregon wine history and worth a visit.
Wine making team of Amy Wesselman and David Autrey founded Westrey Wine company in 1993. This legendary team are founders and were at vthe ery fore front of the birth of the AVA. Spending time with Amy and David we learned of their focus on crafting elegant Pinot Noir wines and Burgundian-style Chardonnay and Pinot Gris. “I believe in Oregon Chardonnay and you have to sometimes push a little bit on extremes to find that kernel of greatness,” said David. “We strive to bring out the length, richness and balance in our reserve wines.” Keeping true to form, in 1993 they produced only 400 cases. Today they limit the production to 4,000 to 6,000 cases enabling them to pay close attention to their passion of producing high quality small batch wines. Their 2014 Cuvée 22 Dundee Hills Pinot Noir shines on the palate with raspberry and truffle notes augmented with rich balanced texture. It was only the second time they made an old vine Pinot Noir cuvee and celebrates Amy’s 25th vintage making wine in Oregon.
Winemaker David Ulbricht has only been producing wines for just a few years. His Schone Tal Cellars, pronounced “Sch.u.na.tahl”: meaning beautiful valley pays tribute to his German heritage. David and his family moved to Willamette Valley and quickly found how important wine and food are in the area. His first vintage was in 2014 and quickly became noticed for his boutique, high quality wines. Recently, this new kid on the block was recognized by wine critic Josh Raynolds, who awarded then 2014 Meredith Mitchell Pinot Noir a 92 rating and the 2015 Meredith Mitchell Pinot Noir a 92 rating, in Vinous magazine in January of 2018.
In downtown McMinnville you will find another legendary husband and wife team that have been making wines since 1994. Rob and Maria Stuart started R.Stuart & Company in 2002 after making wines for other people for decades. Rob has a degree in biochemistry and started his winemaking journey on the bottling line at Hans Kornell in Napa, California. After many years he moved to McMinnville and went to work. Maria started her wine career in Chicago selling to restaurants and began befriending the wines of Oregon and their makers. She is also the author of “The Life and Times of a Pinot Mom” a blog about food, life and the wine. If looking for world class pinot noir is your life’s passion, you can find them here.
The Big Fire Pinot Noir can be considered your everyday Pinot Noir. It is easy, approachable and ideal for drinking with the current vintage. The Autograph Pinot Noir is their benchmark wine that is handpicked from the area’s best vineyards and its quality shows on the nose and in the glass. “You have to have a vision on where you want to go to and then move incrementally towards that complexity year after year,” said Stuart. Every vintage they make five or six wines that are vineyard designated, made in small quantities, unfined and unfiltered. These wines are worth seeking out to smell, sip and enjoy anytime.
McMinnville is fascinating in many ways. From the legendary founders to the upstart wine makers. Men and women young and older they all share a passion for wine and their AVA. This AVA is special and worth many visits to truly experience all it has to offer.