Tag Archives: Oregon wines

A Taste for Organic Wines

Organic wines are a tricky matter. There are many rules and regulations the USDA issues to give a 100-percent organic label. It can be expensive and labor intensive, and you have to go through it each year. So many wineries choose to grow organic grapes or apply organic-farming practices instead of going for USDA approval. Wineries like Benzinger, King Estate, and Tres Sabores look to nature to fertilize and keep pests away at their vineyards. These methods are called sustainable or biodynamic farming. The resulting wines are cleaner for the environment and do not include pesticides or harmful chemicals that could damage the surrounding ecosystem.

These wineries choose not to be organic, not only because of the intense amount of red tape, but also because 100-percent USDA-approved organic wines cannot contain added sulfites. Sulfites, or sulfur dioxide, are food preservatives that keep the wine from spoiling or becoming oxidized. Every bottle sold in the United States must state whether or not sulfites are added to the wine. Since sulfites naturally occur in all wines, a wine may contain no more than 10 parts per million sulfites to be labeled non-sulfited wine. Frey, Badger Mountain, and Orleans Hill wineries all go through the trials and tests that the USDA puts forth to achieve the Certified Organic seal, including not adding sulfites. Orleans Hill’s Our Daily Red is Nino’s most popular 100-percent organic wine. It is a light-bodied, dry red that is only $8.99, so if you have been meaning to try a non-sulfited wine, this would be a good place to start.

While in California last spring we stopped by the Tres Sabores Rutherford vineyard for a tasting and tour. The vineyard has sheep that roam the vineyards and surrounding land to act as live lawnmowers and fertilizers. Guinea hens patrol the property for snails, insects, and other pests, keeping the grapes bug-free. Surrounding the vineyard there are Meyer lemon, olive, and pomegranate trees that keep the soil and air rich and diverse.

Oregon is a leader on the green winery scene. Not only do wineries like Sokol Blosser have solar panels, but they also use bluebirds as pest control. King Estate has its Raptor Program utilizing Hawks and Kestrels for rodent problems. These are great ways to keep toxins off the land, and by growing cover crops and trees near streams to slow runoff, help protect salmon, one of Oregon’s major commodities.

The organic vs. biodynamic vs. sustainable wine practices argument is long and concentrated. I hope I have demystified some of the major misconceptions about the difference between wines that are organic and wines that are made with organically grown grapes. Stop in and try a bottle this week to see whether you can taste the difference!

-Jennifer Laurie

A Big Fire Comes to Nino’s

What is your definition of home? Is it where you were born and raised? Is it where you fit in? Or is it a little of both?

Oregon winery

When Maria Stuart from Oregon’s R. Stuart Winery & Co. stopped in the other day, with her warm smile and glowing personality, I could tell she felt at home in her birthplace of Michigan.  But when she starts to talk about the winery she and her husband Rob built, or about the people of Oregon wine country, it’s obvious she belongs there too.  Maria and Rob have had a long love affair with wine, and between the two of them, have worked in every facet of the process.

maria stuart

Maria started out selling wine to Chicago restaurants, captivated by the passion of food and wine pairings at these Windy City eateries.  As a distributor, she made memorable and long-lived contacts with Oregon winemakers.  In 1990, she won a trip to the International Pinot Noir Celebration in McMinnville, Oregon.

It was on this fateful trip that she was introduced to winemaker Rob Stuart.

After a whirlwind romance, they were married in 1992, and by 1994, they were making a home for themselves back in the region where they first met.  As Rob worked for Oregon’s renowned Erath winery, Maria grew her connections, working mostly in PR and giving back to the event that changed her life by becoming the Executive Director of the IPNC for four years.


One of the connections that became steadfast involved the National Sales Director at Erath, Patricia Rogers.  Patricia has a passion for selling Oregon wines that Rob and Maria could not ignore, and when it became evident that Dick Erath would be selling his prized winery, the three knew it was the perfect time to venture out on their own.

Over 10 years later, Maria, Rob, Patricia and their bubbly fanatic partner Frank Blair have built a business known for producing top-quality wines for reasonable prices.


It was my honor to attend the Zing! Seminar at their winery in McMinnville during Oregon Pinot Camp this past June, so it makes sense for me to invite her to my home at Nino’s!  On Saturday October 20th , Maria will offer a free sampling and bottle signing of her wines at our Troy location. She will pour the Big Fire Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris from 1 to 4 PM.  Being an avid cook, she’s brought with her some seasonal recipes that are sure to wow.  Come and congratulate this Michigander on over 10 years of success with R. Stuart Winery & Co.



  • Jennifer Laurie

You Down With OPC? Part 2

Famous for French Burgundy, the Drouhin family found a home, and great success, in the Dundee Hills of Oregon. This has only reinforced the idea that Oregon is more like the French hillsides of Burgundy than its hotter American sister to the south, California.


At the family’s vineyard, we discussed rootstocks, trellis systems, crop yields and clone choices. Over all, we learned that the best vines for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay for Oregon’s climate and topography were those from France like Pommard and Dijon. In fact, Oregon Chardonnay is growing in popularity since many of the vineyard managers have ripped up the California clone vines (specifically clone 108) to replace them with Dijon, making for elegant, long-lived Chardonnays that are reminiscent of Chablis.

Canopy Management

Though she must have been eight months pregnant, Van Duzer’s Vineyard Manager Rebecca Sweet couldn’t stop herself from pruning the vines at Domaine Drouhin.

I found canopy management to be interesting since the vineyard managers were so passionate about the choice of each shoot for the next vintage’s crop. You didn’t want the strongest and most vigorous shoot. Instead, you wanted to trellis one that would produce a balanced amount of grapes and leaves to, in the end, make for more elegant wines.

Hunting for the Great White

Though we were there specifically to increase our knowledge of Oregon Pinot Noir, one of my favorite seminars was “Hunting for the Great White.” The three leading white varietal grapes are Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, and Riesling–in that order. Oregon’s white wines account for 27 percent of the plantings and 38 percent of case sales. I have always been a fan of Oregon Pinot Gris since it is such a food-friendly wine. It is as easy to sell as it is to drink! Ripe notes of peach and honeysuckle, followed by bright and lively acidity? How can you go wrong? Can you find the 1995 Argyle?

1995 Argyle

But one of the most eye-opening parts was to taste the 1995 Argyle Reserve Chardonnay that was still youthful! The acidity of Oregon wines is key. Mind you, I am not saying that these wines are overly acidic and need time. Instead, I am saying that these wine makers have a good grasp of balancing fruit and acidity for wines that can be consumed fresh or mature.

Multiple Personalities

The multiple personalities of the Pinot Noir seminar rounded out our educational portion. During this, we were able to taste through many different Pinot Noirs from multiple vineyard sites and vintages, to test whether there is a consistent “Oregon Pinot Noir element” to each wine. With a winemaker at each table, we were able to pick their brains and pull from each other’s experiences to come up with conclusions. The famed salmon bake at Stoller Vineyards was our final chance to commune with the people of the Oregon wine country and each other.


Choose Your Own Adventure Day

Thankfully, our “Choose your own adventure” day didn’t start until 11 a.m. Though I could have gone for a helicopter ride or gone whitewater rafting, I thought a study in food and wine pairing would suit me best. About 30 of us gathered at the R. Stuart Winery, where we were walked through the Zing program. Co-owner of R. Stuart Winery, Patricia Rodgers Ridgeway, has developed this food-science-based program to highlight the potential of wine and food pairing.


We focused on six different wine elements and eight food elements. The wine elements were acidity, viscosity, fruit, sugar, alcohol and tannin. The food elements were salt, oxalic acid or bitter; acidity; umami; fat; sugar; spice; and protein. The hardest part of all was not to account for smell. My entire career, the major component to wine tasting has been smell, but with pairing, it’s more tactile. When the food and wine elements are combined in your mouth, what is the experience? Also, what is the overriding element in the food? Yes, you may be having a salad with chicken (protein) and tomatoes (umami), but is the dressing sweet like tropical poppy seed or fatty like buttermilk ranch? This is why when I am asked what goes with a certain protein, like salmon, I always ask how it will be prepared. Only then can I make an educated pairing.

An Exhilarating Experience

My experience in Oregon was eye opening and exhilarating! The people of Oregon wine country are warm, generous and fiercely passionate about not only winemaking but also sustainable and organic farming. Though they believe the Pinot Noir from Oregon is world class, they remain humble, trying new techniques and listening to one another when problems, like phylloxera, arise. I am excited to bring in some of the over 500 wines that I was able to try during my trip.

Here are some of the standouts (Don’t worry! I won’t tease you with the ones you can’t get!):

  • Four Graces Pinot Blanc, Willamette Valley, 2011 $19.99 – Green apple, lychee and peach spring from the glass. Apple follows on the palate, with a grapefruit-like tartness to the finish.
  • Domaine Drouhin Arthur Chardonnay, 2010 $29.99 – As stated above, this French family knows its Chardonnay. The 2010 was a long, cool vintage that leads to lively acidity. The 2010 Arthur has citrus and floral notes on the nose, with a creamy mouth feel.–a real knockout!
  • Patton Valley Pinot Noir Rose, Willamette Valley, 2011 $18.99 – This rose is not only reminiscent of Provance Rose in color but also in flavor. Pink grapefruit, rose petals, and fresh strawberries–it’s dry on the finish, but the mouth-watering acidity leaves you wanting more!
  • Apolloni L Cuvee Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, 2009 $19.99 – Lovely nose of black flowers and herbs–on the palate the warmth of the 2009 vintage brings on loads of lush black fruits, with a soft, toasty vanilla finish. This wine is as pretty as Laurine Apolloni, for whom it was named!
  • Erath Estate Selection Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, 2009 $33.99 – Loads of baked cherry pie and spice on the nose, with a ripe, juicy plum and raspberry on the palate. Long, lovely finish with a terrific balance of French oak and lingering acidity. A very pretty expression of Oregon Pinot Noir.

Alfredo Apolloni and I at Stoller Vineyards

When the 2010s come in, be sure to snatch them up because they are going to be in short supply, and they are incredible! Special thanks to the Apolloni family for sponsoring me on this amazing journey!

You Down With OPC? Part 1

When I got the call from Laura Gordon of Apolloni Vineyards that they were throwing my name into the hat of potential Oregon Pinot Camp Campers, I got hopeful but tried to stay humble. Only 270 of the world’s most important retailers, restaurateurs, and geeky wine snooty pants get to go each year. Then the package came, congratulating me. I had no idea what a whirlwind I was in for!

Willamette Valley Oregon vineyards

Saturday Evening

“Camp” didn’t technically start until Sunday morning, but there was a reception at the beautiful Sokol Blosser estate Saturday evening. There, we were greeted by siblings and Co-Presidents of Sokol Blosser, Alison and Alex Sokol Blosser. This is when it really hits me how different Oregon is from California. Yes, I’ve met winemakers whose parents started their wineries and still have a hand in the winemaking. However, Oregon is so young, only about 45 years old, that the winemakers and founders I am meeting are the men and women who literally made Oregon wines what they are today.

Sunday Morning

The next morning, we boarded our bus and were off to the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinville for breakfast and orientation. We were welcomed by second-generation winemaker and OPC President, Jesse Lange of Lange Estates, and treated to a history of Oregon Pinot Noir by David Adelshime (that’s pronounced Adels-Hime) and Maria Ponzi. The entire time we were there, the atmosphere was casual with an air of relevance–have fun, but remember why you are here.

The Down and Dirty

The real down and dirty learning started in the vineyards at Bethel Heights. They were not only picturesque but also educational, as they are among the few Willamette Valley Vineyards that have two different soil types on it: volcanic and marine sedimentary. They dug out 6-foot pits to show the structure of the soils, and we were able to walk down into them, feeling the disparity of each level. Volcanic (or basalts), marine sedimentary, and wind-blown loess are not the only types of soils found in Willamette, but they are the most predominant.

We trekked back into the winery, where we able to blind taste through six different wines from the three soil types. The volcanic soil wines were fruity and lush, with soft tannins. Marine sedimentary wines were structured and robust, with black fruit flavors and earth tones. Finally, the wind-blown loess wines had notes of exotic spices, floral character and medium acidity. Each blind tasting we attended had two different vintages of each wine to show how the weather can manipulate each soil type. We found that the soil types were consistent in each case, even in dramatically different vintages, such as 2009 (very warm) and 2010 (long and cool.)

Stay tuned for Part 2 of the OPC!