As part of my job as Head of Beverage and Wine Buyer for Tate I occassionally get treated to trips to discover new wines. Here’s what I got up to on my recent travels to Oregon, USA
American wine is dominated by California, both in terms of production and noise. From the ostentatious winery to what is in the bottle, Californian estates shout and flaunt their greatness. Yet it is far from the only state great wine is made in. Oregon, an hour an a half’s flight north from San Francisco, is one such place. I have tried their wines before, but very little make their way out of the US – let alone to the UK. Visiting the region was a special thrill for me as it specialises in the love of my vinous life, Pinot Noir. Growing great Pinot attracts a certain type of individual – quiet, thoughtful with an obstinate streak. When the pioneers of Oregon first took to the hills around Portland they were outsiders, viewed with a mixture of curiosity and bemusement – no one believed that their grapes would get ripe in the cool hills. Today the industry is flourishing with five hundred or so wineries focusing on Pinot but also working with a wide palette of other varieties such as Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Riesling. The industry today is still tiny and retains its feel of individualism and honesty.
I did many great things in eight days, but the most memorable was spending time with Jason Lett of Eyrie Vineyards. We first chatted late at night, over high class German Riesling and Japanese food at Antica Terra, who also make thrilling, unconventional wines. We talked about modern architecture and music. I am an expert on neither, but it is refreshing to come across people in the trade who don’t talk only about wine, plus I’ve never yet met a Riesling lover who is dull. The next day he took a group of us around his vineyard planted in 1966 by his father and some of the earliest vines in the region. We tasted Pinot Gris from this original planting, sheltering under solar panels as the rain lashed down. A beautiful wine of texture and fragrant quince. Equally intriguing was the label, painted by Jason it is and interpretation of the taste through art. I failed to take a picture (it was pouring), but you can see and learn more about it here on Jamie Goode’s excellent website. It is startling how accurately it conveys the sensation of drinking the wine, without a single word being written or spoken. It sums up Oregon rather well, no shouting.
My favourite wineries to look out for:
Keep an eye out for some of the wines mentioned appearing on our wine list soon!