When David and I were living in San Francisco, back in our double-income-no-kids days, we used to love going wine tasting with some of our more sophisticated friends. We especially loved going to the Russian River Valley, where we fell in love with big, jammy, California syrahs (which I have lost my taste for, becoming the Oregon-pinot-loving type).
Since moving to Portland, we haven't had much opportunity to go wine tasting, since dragging a child around wineries seems a bad idea (although I have seen people doing it!). This weekend, however, we had a chance to get away for a few hours and so we headed to the Willamette Valley, to sample the wares!
Our first stop was the quite large King Estate. Their wines are readily available at restaurants here and we'd heard the grounds were beautiful. They are one of the more commercial wineries in the area, and their wines were just what one might expect — predictable. We found them adequate, but generally unimpressive. They were also the only winery of the three we visited that charged for tastes ($5 per person). King Estate also has a large restaurant, where we had lunch. It was grey and chilly, but we chose to sit on the large patio and enjoy the view, which was lovely. On a sunny day it'd be a great place for lunch, but it's telling that we opted not to have a glass of wine with our meal.
Our second stop was Chateau Lorane, a much smaller, family-run winery, situated in a lovely wooded area adjacent to a river. Along the road to their property we crossed paths with a fox (which I thought was a big cat) and a rather large deer. The setting here was beautiful — more rustic and more natural than King. The wine, unfortunately, was unremarkable. They did have an unusually good (for a local) port and some unique meads (honey wine). We bought 2 bottles of their apricot mead (on sale for $10 for two .375 bottles) to have as a dessert wine sometime this summer.
Our last stop was Sweet Cheeks, which we had been told was the best of the three. Again, the setting was gorgeous. To me, this was the perfect winery to bring a picnic on a warm day. The wines here were not amazing, but they were certainly fine. They had a rosé which had a remarkable nose and flavor, but was too sweet for our tastes. Their dry riesling was very dry, and their other wines were both palatable and reasonable in price. That said, we didn't feel compelled to buy anything.
Honestly, just being able to have a grown-up day together, regardless of the wines themselves, was what made the day. I'm almost glad we didn't find anything we felt like we had to buy! We were able to spend a day, taste the wines, and have a great time for very little expense. Given that I've still got a closet full of California syrahs, I'd say it's a good thing indeed!