Wine Country

Preserve Your Tasting Journey With Awesome Wine Label Lifts

wine-gifts-wine-tasting-pocket-journal-franmara-sku2945-35Wine enthusiasts love the thrill of the chase. We search for that rare bottle of red or white delight, but once it’s enjoyed, the memory lingers quickly into the past. Don’t you wish there was a way to always keep a special piece of your tasting experience? Special retailers now offer an innovative product designed to bring out the scrapbooking guru—and wine lover—in all of us. Check out all there is to know about these incredible wine label lift accessories.

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How to Plan the Wine Vacation of a Lifetime

Couples who are passionate about wine find ways to celebrate their hobby every day of the year. But for those who are truly serious about their love of vino, collecting and sipping varieties from local vineyards isn’t enough.

If you want to expand your wine horizons and experience the world’s greatest reds and whites, plan the trip of a lifetime with a wine vacation. Here’s all you need to know to get your adventure off the ground.

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Wine Luggage for Airplane Travel

Okay, you are a devoted vinophile thwarted at every turn by air travel. Securing just a couple of bottles in your check-in luggage is an iffy undertaking that will eventually leave you asking yourself what goes best with my wine soaked socks, red or white? The NEW VinGarde Valise 02 will get your bottles to your final destination as packed

VinGarde Valise 02 – Wine Bag Air Travel

app_images-resizable-9cd914a0-09a6-4cea-b933-d94755953174-wine+travel+(4)The VinGarde Valise 02 is airport luggage for your valuable vino. Designed in the vein of high tech equipment baggage these sharp looking wine carriers have a virtually indestructible outer shell; at the same time customizable foam molds protectively cradle each bottle on the inside. Best of all, this securely locking carrier holds a case of 750 ml bottles and still weighs-in under 50 lbs. Read more »

Glass of Vinifera Anyone?

You may think a grape is just a grape, but all are definitely not created equal. When it comes to the glass of wine in your hand, whether red or white, it has most likely been produced from a species of grape called vitis vinifera. Native to the Mediterranean region, these grapes are now grown all over the world.



The first accounts of wine being made from grapes date back thousands of years to the Sumerians. By the time of the ancient Greeks, wine was a common beverage. Thanks to Greek trade all over the Mediterranean, wine soon spread.  The rise of the Romans saw grape-growing flourish in many parts of their empire, particularly Spain and Portugal.


Grape production eventually spread outside of Europe in much the same way. Spanish colonists discovered ideal climates in Argentina and Chile for vinifera grapes and in the 17th century it was Spanish missionaries who planted the first vineyards in California. England has never had a climate suitable for grape growing but by the late 19th century, grapes were thriving in several of its colonies including Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

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NC Wineries – Quality Wine & Great Tourist Destinations

Quality Wine and Great Tourist Destinations Can Be Found All Across The Old North State

Looking for a fun day trip? Why not visit one of the more than 100 wineries located across the state of North Carolina? No matter where you’re located in the state –or even if you’re in neighboring Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia or Tennessee- chances are you can find a NC winery within easy driving distance.

North Carolina Wine is Booming

In agriculture, North Carolina has long been thought of in terms of its most famous crop historically, tobacco. Now, in many of those fields that once grew the golden leaf you’ll find flourishing rows of grape vines. Those grapes, and the winemakers who use them, have helped turn North Carolina into one of the top-five states for wine tourism.

Grapes can now be found in every corner of the state. Native muscadine grapes, such as Scuppernong, thrive in the warmer climates and sandy soil of eastern North Carolina. Travel west toward the Piedmont and you’ll find wines made with the classic European vinifera varieties, such as Chardonnay and Merlot. Wines from hardy French-American hybrid grapes, like Chambourcin and Seyval Blanc, are common from the Piedmont to the mountains.

Wine has always been famous for having its specific growing areas. Everyone knows places like Bordeaux or Burgundy in France, or Rioja in Spain, primarily because of the quality wine produced there. On this side of the Atlantic, an American Viticultural Area (AVA) is a designated wine grape-growing region, which is distinguishable by geographic features and has boundaries defined by agencies of the federal government.

North Carolina has three such areas:

  • Haw River Valley AVA
  • Swan Creek AVA
  • Yadkin Valley AVA

The Yadkin Valley AVA, designated in 2003, is the state’s most well known and nearly 40 wineries operate within its boundaries. As the quantity and quality of wine produced in these regions grows (and it’s growing rapidly), it’s only a matter of time before they become even more well known outside of the state.

NC Wineries

The list on wineries in North Carolina is constant expanding but we thought we cover a few.

 Duplin Winery

Duplin, in Rose Hill, is the largest and oldest winery in the state. Founded in 1975, it is also the world’s leading producer of muscadine wine. Located just off I-40, it is an easy stop for vacationers heading to beaches in the southern part of the state. Most people think of muscadine wine as syrupy sweet but visit Duplin and you’ll be surprised. If you do like your wine sweet, you’ll find it but you’ll also find offerings that run the gamut from dry reds to sparkling whites to spiced Christmas wines. Tours and tasting are free and the winery bistro is a great place to grab lunch or a snack.

 Biltmore Estate Winery

Biltmore, in Asheville, needs little introduction. Thanks to its location on the grounds of the famous Biltmore Estate, the winery is the most visited in the entire United States, with more than one million visitors annually. The massive winery, which opened in 1985 in the old Biltmore Dairy facility, features 75 fermentation tanks and sells over 50,000 cases per year at that location alone. Due to the amount of wine produced, reportedly over 140,00 cases per year, the winery has to bring in grapes for other states but at least 15% are grown in North Carolina.

 Shelton Vineyards

Shelton Vineyards, located in the heart of the Yadkin Valley AVA, has quickly made a reputation for itself. When brothers Charlie and Ed Shelton decided growing grapes and opening a winery would be an ideal replacement for tobacco, they didn’t do it halfway. The Shelton estate now consists of around 400 acres (200 of them planted in grapes) with a 33,000 square foot winery. But it’s not just about the size facility and the beauty of the landscaped grounds; Shelton’s wines have won numerous medals in competitions up and down the East Coast.

 Childress Vineyards

Childress Vineyards, near Lexington, is the creation of NASCAR team owner Richard Childress. Putting the same passion into creating great wine he does into auto racing, Childress has created a true destination spot. Visit the 35,000 square foot winery and you could easily believe you’ve travel to a villa in Tuscany. Inside the stone and stucco building with its red tile roof you’ll find a fountain in the gran entry hall and a lavishly appointed tasting room. The accompanying bistro serves everything from Southern classics like shrimp and grits to flatbread pizzas with prosciutto.

*If you are a NC Winery and would like to be added to this list, please email a description of your winery to

Barrel Factory Tour & Tasting at Bourassa Vineyards, Napa Valley

Our highest recommendation goes out to Bourassa Vineyards of Napa Valley. Their impressive tasting room is exactly what I’d imagine a tasting to be.  It stands out with a posh and cozy atmosphere so inviting you’ll want to reschedule your entire day’s events. Wine maker Vic Bourassa has a huge part in this. His love and passion for wine as well as his desire to share this knowledge is both remarkable and welcoming. He also led us on a tour of Seguin Moreau Napa Cooperage, which is in walking distance from his tasting room. If you plan in advance, you can tour their facility and learn how wine barrels are made while observing the craftsmen at work!

Vic Bourassa planned a spectacular 2 part tour that included the creation of an oak wine barrel, a private wine tasting, sensory evaluation, and barrel tasting lesson in wine blending. Let’s start with what we learned at the cooperage.

Seguin Moreau Napa Cooperage Tour

The barrel-making process starts at the stave mills in France and Missouri where the oak trees are cut into staves then crafted into barrels, they age wine for about 2 and half years.  After this, the wineries have no use for them. It’s popular for craftsman to purchase the previously used barrels and remodel them into functional barrel furniture.  We learned one interesting fact about French law — oak trees cannot be cut down until they are 120 years old.

Oak is so important to the production of wine. It adds complexity and reduces tannins. It can turn wine from mediocre to excellent and superb wines into a double-gold award winners!  Just like wine making, barrel-making involves several steps that can affect the quality of the barrel. It’s an art where the cooper must skillfully select oak of the tightest grain, cut the logs into staves, store them for aging/drying for 2-3 years then sort through them for quality.   The selected pieces are cut according to size, shaped, and finished by hand.  It’s a painstaking process that requires a master craftsman – a cooper.


Seguin Moreau allows you to get a close up encounter of the barrel-making process where they make about 100 barrels a day from American and French Oak. The tour started with a cooper alternating the narrow and wide staves inside a metal mounting hoop. Then he heated the barrel over open flames from the floor. The heat draws out the water in the staves, allowing him to bend the staves without snapping. Once the staves are tightened into the shape of a barrel the toasting begins. Vic explained that the open flames are fueled from scrap pieces of oak – to maintain aromatic consistency.


The toasting process can take about 20 minutes. The different intensities of toasting affects the taste and aroma of the wine. Wineries send custom orders for the toasting they prefer for their vintages. Vic said he uses medium plus toast levels which allows for complex aromas of vanilla, hazelnut, coffee, spice and round flavors.  The barrel factory gives winemakers the option to toast the barrel head. Bourassa Vineyards toasts the heads of their barrels to reduce oak lactone and dusty wood characters.

After the toasting and before the barrel cools down, the placement of hoops is completed by a large machine. Then a light on the floor shines inside the barrel where the cooper looks for quality issues like blisters, as well as, the widest stave. The widest stave is used for the bung hole. Next, they test the barrel for leaks with two gallons of pressurized hot water. If it passes, the barrel is placed in the sanding machine.

The master cooper, Douglas Rennie, took time out of his day to chat with us and showed us the signature of the copper. He pointed out on the barrel he was working on a little N. This meant the barrel was made in Napa. It had the number 22 (the barrel number), said American Oak and was labeled with the factory’s name.  He explained to us that the American oak barrels are heavier than their French counterparts. In addition, he discussed the different sizes of the barrels and the differences between Bordeaux and Burgundy styled barrels. A Burgundy barrel can hold 60 gallons of wine while a Bordeaux barrel has the capacity of 59 gallons. The Burgundy barrel is slightly shorter and wider compared to the Bordeaux style.


Wine Tasting at Bourassa Vineyards

Tasting Room Open Daily from 10:00 – 4:30 By Appointment Only

Sensory Evaluation

We started the tour with a sensory evaluation. Vic focused our attention to the wine’s appearance, aroma, and flavor. After checking the cork, Vic poured the wine and instructed us to review it for crystals. If crystals are present in wine, it’s recommended to decant it prior to drinking. Next, he had us hold the glass into the light and review the color of the wine. It should be clear. Next, tilt the glass and get your nose as close as possible to the wine then take a deep sniff of the wine. Then taste real fast after a swish, and take another and bring the wine back in your mouth.


Barrel Tasting & Barrel Blending


What a wonderful experience where you get to construct your own custom Bordeaux blend in your glass. For our barrel blending we used Vic’s Cab Franc, Cab Sauvignon and Merlot.  We had a blast playing amateur winemakers with Vic; though I think it’s best I stick with my day job.

Vic reinforced what we learned earlier about the importance of oak through a unique demonstration. He had a piece of oak tied to a rope soaking inside a barrel of Syrah 2010. He pulled a sample from this barrel and another barrel of the same wine with no oak on a rope. We tasted and confirmed unanimously that the wine with the oak staves on a rope soaking inside the barrel tasted better.
Afterwards we settled in the tasting room to enjoy a private tasting.  Here’s a list of some of the stand-outs:

Tasting Included:

2009 Cab Franc

2009 Cab Sauvignon

2010 Syrah

2009 Chardonnay

2007 Cabernet Franc

2007 Harmony 3

2006 Symphony 3 Cabernet Sauvignon


All of Bourassa Vineyards wines are so easy and enjoyable to drink. They are all well balanced, amazing wines with great mouth feels. The Cab Franc 2007, aged for 36 months in French barrels, was one of our favorites which Vic pointed out is a huge hit in the tasting room.

We finished up the tour with the story of how Bourassa Vineyards began. We were surprised to hear how young the winery is given the spectacular wines. He started making wine from home as a hobby and shared a bottle with dinner guest Robert Mondavi. Given Robert Maondavi’s reaction and encouragement, Vic turned his hobby into a new profession.

This was an unbelievable tour and tasting experience. Thank you Vic for a wonderful time!


Wine Tasting in Sonoma, Tour 1

With over 250 wineries and 13 appellations in Sonoma County, planning a wine tasting tour can be overwhelming.  Sonoma is diverse with varietals including Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and Syrah.

Alexander Valley Wine Tasting

Alexander Valley Wineries, Healdsburg

With so many varietals and appellations here are a few suggestions for planning a Sonoma tasting tour.  Choose an appellation, select a favorite varietal or two and focus on those wineries.  You can also hire a professional guide as well.  For our short trip, we were interested in tasting some as many different options as we could.  Here’s a glimpse of some of Sonoma County’s wineries.

An interesting fact of this area is that it was once covered by sea, but the coastal hills resulted from tectonic shifts, pushing the sea out and creating thousands of acres of rich soils for grape growing.

Alexander Valley Vineyards

We had to visit the winery that was voted Sonoma’s Best Winery from the 2011 San Francsico Baylist competition and they did not disappoint.  Be sure to make time for them on the weekend and take a cave tour.

Tasting List Includes:

2010 Gewurz

2009 Estate Chardonnay

2009 Reserve Chardonnay

2006 Estate Viognier

2009 Temptation Zin

2008 Sin Zin

2006 Alexander School Reserve Zinfandel

2007 Redemption Zin

2008 Estate Cabernet Franc

2005 Cyrus

From the whites we really enjoyed the Gewurz and the Estate Chardonnay.  The Gewurz is actually a Mendocino County wine.  It was a pleasant surprise to get a taste from this region where we’ve heard so many great reviews.  If you like flavors of pear, apple and grapefruit this light taste is ideal for poolside.  Their Estate Chardonnay is well balanced with creaminess and toasted oak and displays flavors of pear, apple and citrus, as well.  The Viognier has a highly aromatic nose, displaying a hefty fruit finish.

Adam joined me on this tasting trip and we really enjoyed the Redemption Zin.  He noticed the viscosity and elegance of Dry Creek Valley Zin instantly.  I was surprised at the spice finish of this Zin.  Apparently this is common of Dry Alexander Valley VineyardsCreek Zins.   This well-priced wine can easily fill up your wine carrier.  If you fancy notes of smokiness in your wines, then try their 2008 Estate Cabernet Franc.  This medium bodied wine is accompanied by black currant, black cherry, chocolate and plum —  another well priced and award winning wine.  A bottle of their flagship wine the 2005 Cyrus was open, so we were fortunate to try it.  Each year it’s made with different percentages of a blend.  It has lots of layers created by aging for 2 years in French oak and 8 months in the bottle.

Thanks Scott for an extensive tour of Alexander Valley Vineyards delicious wines!

Seghesio Vineyards

Seghesio Vineyards Wine Tour, Sonoma

The Seghesio family started planting grapes as far back as 1895.  This is the first winery I’ve visited that used to be in the bulk wine industry.  This means they would crush grapes in bulk production for other wine makers before the bottling process.  It wasn’t until 1983 that they decided to bottle their first bottle under their family label.

Tony our host for wine tasting and the barrel tour, was a wealth of knowledge on the family’s history, the cave and their diverse wines.  Their one-of-a-kind barrel room has several redwood storage tanks.  We also learned that the large tanks were cut in half in order to fit in the barrel room.  So, the photo here shows them at half their original size.  Reclaimed lumber from the redwood tanks was used in the construction of the ceiling and doors in the barrel room.  Tony explained how redwood is a neutral wood that was used to store the crush grapes before they are pumped to tanks on trains for market.

Seghesio Family Vineyards encompasses 300 acres of grapevines covering parts of Alexander, Dry Creek and Russian River valleys.

Tasting List Includes:Redwood Wine Storage Tanks

2010 Pinot Grigio

2010 Arneis

2009 Costiera Pinot Noir

2009 Old Vine Carignane

2008 Cortina Zinfandel

2009 Rockpile Zinfandel

2009 Home Ranch Zinfandel

2007 Home Ranch Petite Sirah

2008 Omaggio

2005 Dionigia

Of these, we particularly enjoyed the Costiera Pinot Noir (which is only sold in their tasting room).  This wine exhibits rich flavors of dark cherry and vanilla.  It was a treat to try their Arneis wine which is made from a Northern Italian grape.  Arneis translates to “little rascal,” due to the viticultural challenges it presents in the vineyard.    They currently have 8 acres of this grape which produces a pleasant wine with flavors of pear & melon.

Diognigia "Wine Goddess"The Rockpile Zinfandel was fantastic as well with its aromas of spice and flavors of red fruit.  It was interesting to learn that the grapes for this wine are grown 1,200′ above Dry Creek Valley in a very rocky area that is hot and dry due to its elevation.  The 2007 Home Ranch Petite Sirah is another rich wine that has a chewy mouth feel.  The Omaggio was great as well!

I love the name and taste of their dessert wine.  And the Vintage 2005 Dionigia translates to, “Wine Goddess” in Italian.   This Petite Syrah, Cabernet and Zinfandel blended dessert wine is also worth mentioning.

Share your passion for wine and remember your wine tasting trip with Wine Maps.

Temecula Valley Balloon and Wine Festival 2011

It’s almost that time of year again for the spectacular Temecula Valley Balloon and Wine Festival at the Lake Skinner Recreational Area in Winchester, CA.   Last year’s festival was so much fun that we are giving those folks our most sincere endorsement.

Temecula Valley Balloon and Wine Festival

The excitement begins before you even enter the festival as you approach the area.  You’ll see the sky lined with colorful tiny balloons floating in the distance.  As you get closer to them they loom larger and become enormous hot air balloons.  You can even fly in one if you dare.  That’s not all the excitement at the Temecula festival.  You’ll be entertained with live music, freestyle Motocross, educational booths on balloon flight, and plenty of shopping of fine art, wine furniture and wine accessories.

The best part of the festival is the local wines.  You can get a glimpse of some of the wines of Temecula during a pleasant walk of the balloon covered grounds.  There are many peaceful areas to spread a picnic blanket, kick back and enjoy the buzz and art over head.

Last year’s line up for wine tasting included:

  • Thornton Winery
  • Wiens Family Cellars
  • Callaway Vineyard & Winery
  • Santa Maria Cellars
  • Temecula Hills Winery
  • The Collective Valley Winery
  • Churon Winery
  • Cougar Vineyard & Winery
  • Foot Path Winery
  • Lorimar Winery and Vineyards
  • Twin Oaks
  • Wilson Creek Winery
  • Lumiere Winery & Vineyards
  • Van Roekel Vineyards and Winery
  • Masia de Yabar
  • Maurice Car’rie Vineyard and Winery
  • Winery at Canyon Crest
  • Robert Renzoni Vineyards
  • Oak Mountain Winery
  • Leonesse Cellars
  • Stuart Cellars
  • Briar Rose Winery

The highlighted wineries are medal winners of the 2010 festival.  I usually favor the reds, but on this hot day a couple of whites stood out from our tastings.  Try Wiens Family Cellars slightly dry yet very refreshing Amour De L’Orange Sparkling Chardonnay.  Van Roekel Winery’s Raspberry Private Cuvee and 2009 Viognier were really good and priced at a value.  If you’ve read our past posts you know how much we enjoy Briar Rose Winery’s wines.  Most of these vineyards are giving out coupons for 2 for 1 tastings at their tasting rooms.

Old Town Temecula

We finished off the day with a stroll through Old Town Temecula which I highly recommend as well.  There are many restaurants, shops and quaint sitting areas to enjoy the atmosphere of this historic town.  A visit to Temecula Olive Oil Company is a hoot.  If you’ve had enough wine tasting take a break and try an olive oil tasting.  This family business created a wonderful shop and delicious olive oils made from 100% California extra virgin olive oil.

Vitae Springs Vineyard, Oregon Wine Tasting

Today’s focus will be on the wineries of Dundee Hills. But before we visit this sub-appellation within the Willamette Valley, we’ll stop by another winery that’s top on our list!  We stopped by their picturesque vineyard on a Friday and were disappointed to find them closed during the day.  This is common for wineries in this area.  Be sure to call ahead before planning a wine tasting tour in Oregon.

As we finished our breakfasts in downtown Salem that clear Saturday, we enthusiastically talked about starting our tastings with the Pinots from Vitae Springs Vineyard.


Vitae Springs Vineyard

Vitae Springs VineyardWe found the most beautiful, gnarly vines grow on this property, a cozy home with floral gardens and courtyard area for gatherings creates the perfect setting.  The family atmosphere, peacefulness and hospitality from Joel & Michelle is the most special experience we’ve enjoyed yet.  A visit to Vitae Springs is an absolute must.

They have a limited production of 650 cases which was great since Sean and I love trying wines we can’t find at home.  Joel said they are increasing their 35 acres of production into new areas next year.

We were their first visitors for the day.  Sean boasted about tasting Vitae Springs wines at a Salem restaurant and how we were so eager to visit them on Friday.  Michelle explained that they do open on Fridays, in the late afternoons for happy hour, between 4:00 and 7:00.

We started off our late morning hearing about their parents who were based in the U.S. Air Force in the Mosel Valley of Germany.  It was here that they were inspired to grow grapes once they returned to the States, and as it turns out, they’d be one of the first families to plant in the Northern Willamette Valley with their German cuttings.  Consequently they  have some of the oldest vines in the region.

Tasting List Includes:Vineyard at Vitae Springs Oregon Wine Country

2007 Riesling

2005 Pinot Noir

2006 Pinot Noir

2007 Pinot Noir

One of their favorites Pinots, the 2004, was sold out.  However we were lucky to try their 2005 which is now also sold out. I remember swirling the 05 in a lovely Pinot Noir glass and enjoying the a fabulous nose of cherries and cranberries.  Michelle suggested trying her homemade peanut butter cupcakes with the

Vitae Springs Vineyard

Pinot flight.   Next thing you know, she has a tray of enticing cupcakes  topped with heaping swirls of frosting.  She was right, they complimented the Pinots suberbly.

Next we tasted the silver award winning  06 which was intriguingly complex like the 05.   Then, we sipped their 07 which were surprisingly very different from the others.  The 06 had the characteristics of a summer red wine with fresh raspberry.  There Pinots were beautiful, but I especially enjoyed the flavors of cherries from their earlier vintages.  Although their wines took up a third of our wine luggage;  they didnt’ last long at home.

Thank you Joel and Michelle for the delightful start to our day!

Coming soon….the rest of the day visiting Dundee wineries

The Best Pinots! Oregon Wine Country

My first trip to Oregon and all I could think about was tasting this regions well known Pinot Noirs.  However, I kept thinking to myself; is it going to rain during our entire visit?  Will the vines look different?  Will the wineries serve out of Pinot Noir glasses?  And most importantly—will the wine taste good?

We’ve been looking forward  to tasting the Pinot Noirs of Oregon for some time.  Once we got settled in to the lovely Grand Hotel in downtown Salem, we  found the closest wine bar, Bentley’s Grill and Lounge, was located in our hotel—how perfect!   We had the best waitress who recommended a wonderful introduction to the world of Oregon Pinots which included:

  • Pinot Noir Cherry Hill Estate ’06
  • Pinot Noir Vitae Springs Estate ’06
  • Pinot Noir Adelsheim ’07
  • ADEA ’06 Dean-O’s Pinot Willamette Valley

We never made it to the pioneer winery, Adelsheim Vineyard or ADEA Winery.  We’ll have to save these for our next tasting tour.  The Adelsheim Pinot is one of my favorites from the bunch.  It is a smooth, delicate red wine with red cherry, spice and smoke flavors.

Willamette Valley is filled with fields of vines, Evergreen Christmas tree farms, cherry tree farms and miles of produce.  Most of these fields are passed down through generations of families.  If you enjoy sipping wines at family owned wineries and learning about the estate’s history of hand crafted wine production you will enjoy the wonderful families of Willamette Valley.

Eola Hills of Oregon’s Willamette Valley – Day 1 Winery Tour

  • St. Innocent Winery

  • Witness Tree Vineyard

  • Cristom Vineyards

  • St Innocent Winery

    Open Weekends from 11-4pm, Tuesdays – Sundays from May 1st- October 31st

    St. Innocent Winery is a great stop to try a variety of regional wines.  The wine maker, Mark Vlossak, produces his Pinots using grapes from areas all over Oregon.  He calls them terroir-specific wines displaying grape flavors from the grounds the grapes are produced in.  You’ll notice the name of his Pinot Noirs include the vineyard’s name.  The difference in these wines is certainly noticeable.  The variety in the flavor profiles comes from the diverse soils deposited from the Willamette River water.

    Their tasting list is amazing, and long. We recommend packing a lunch or trying their delicious cookies while tasting at this winery.  They serve from what wines are opened, which is usually 7-9 tastings.  Sean charmed the wine maker into opening their 2008 Freedom Hill Vineyard Chardonnay.  It is filled with rich yellow fruit, citrus and melon flavors richly layered.  It is aged in neutral oak, commonly used for this area.  This wine is so great that the party they were hosting that evening had reserved it as their featured wine.  So, Sean and I as well as our fellow tasters took home some bottles.

    Tasting List Includes:

    2008 Vitae Springs Pinot Gris

    2008 Freedom Hill Vineyard Pinot Blanc

    2008 Freedom hill Vineyard Chardonnay

    2008 Villages Cuvee Pinot Noir

    2007 Temperance Hill Pinot Noir

    2007 Zenith Vineyard Pinot Noir

    2007 Momtazi Vineyard Pinot Noir

    2007 Justice Vineyard Pinot Noir

    2007 White Rose Pinot Noir

    2007 Winemakers Cuvee

    One thing I noticed was how all their wines are poured with Vacu Vin Crystal Wine Pourers, an accessory which allows for drip free pours as well as a graceful wine serving presentation.  This is the first winery I’ve seen use such an elegant wine pourer for all wines.

    OK, back to the wine!  The 2008 Villages Cuvee Pinot Noir is light but pleasantly spicy with pepper notes without overwhelming.  The next down on their tasting menu had an even bigger nose.  Our wine tender’s favorite is the 2007 Justice Vineyard Pinot Noir.  It had a charming nose with a smooth finish that would pair nicely with camp fire food.  We didn’t get a chance to try their 2007 White Rose Pinot Noir and 2007 Winemaker’s Cuvee.   Please let us know your reviews on these.  The latter is their highest rated wine.  Our off the list tasting is their 2007 Zenith Vineyard Barrel Select Pinot Noir.  It is a cuvee of their seven favorite barrels from their 2007 vintage.

    Their new tasting room and large event room is a classy atmosphere for a gathering.  The event room is set up with many round tables, brilliantly white table cloths, and lots of wine glasses for a wine party.  It was very inviting and we could’ve easily stayed the entire day but Sean and I were off to try the fabulous Pinots of Oregon.

    Witness Tree Vineyard

    Open Tuesday – Sunday from 11 – 5 pm

    Beautiful scenery engulfed us as we drove to this 100% estate bottled vineyard.  Upon entering their homey tasting room, up on a hill above the tasting room is this ancient oak tree.  This historic tree is the symbol on their wine label and Pinot Noir tasting glasses.  During our tasting, Mark took us outside to show us the tree and educated us on the history of this interesting heritage.  We learned during the Oregon Trail times of 1854 this tree was used as a surveyor’s landmark.  The carved marking is still evident on the tree’s trunk.  We were planning on hiking to see it, but were warned of poison oak.  Oh shucks, guess we’ll have to try more Pinot ;). The tree is a magnificent sight from down below and I’m sure just as impressive up close. The following weekend’s event featured a ceremony for the historical dedication of this tree.

    Sean came up with a new label for the winery.  Maybe Witness Tree will come out with a wine called The Heritage to dedicate the significance of this recently approved historical landmark.  I can only imagine the happiness on the settler’s faces once they reached this ancient oak tree and determined the distance to their new home land.  In 1850 a married couple received 640 acres of free land for heading out to this once rural area.  We were surprised to hear during these days 320 acres of the land was put in the man’s name and the other half was put in the wife’s name.  This way if the couple splits, each owned their own acreage.

    Tasting List Includes:

    2007 Witness Tree Estate Viognier

    2007 Witness Tree Chainsaw Pinot Noir

    2007 Witness Tree Estate Pinot Blanc

    2007 Witness Tree Vintage Select Chardonnay   

    2008 Witness Tree Estate Pinot Noir

    2007 Witness Tree Vintage Select Pinot Noir

    2006 Witness Tree Hanson Pinot Noir

    2008 Witness Tree Dolcetto “Remari”

    2008 Witness Tree Sweet Signe

    We had a wonderful time sipping wines at Witness Tree Vineyard with Debbie, our wine tender and Steven, the vineyard manager and wine maker.  Steven and Debbie were fun and informative.  We also met fellow wine tasters Josh, Alisha, Stephanie and Matt and all of us eventually bought bottles and bottles of wine by the end of our tasting at Witness Tree Vineyard.

    Their Viognier had an orange citrus taste to it.  This seems to be common in this neck of the woods. The Chainsaw was excellent with lots of pepper, light mouth-feel and tobacco flavoring. The Vintage Select is full of a traditional Pinot flavor.  A favorite is the Hanson Pinot Noir made with grapes from the highest elevation of the property. It has fresh ground pepper, extremely smooth elegant finish with a subtle cherry aroma.  Everyone in the tasting room bought the last wine on the list which is the 2008 Witness Tree Sweet Signe.  It’s like honey or “sweet nectar” as Sean described.

    Cristom Vineyards

    Open Tuesday – Sunday from 11 – 5 pm  (Jan. – Feb. by apt.)

    A short drive from Witness Tree is Cristom Vineyards.  The beautiful entrance is adorned with floral landscaping leading to an impressive doorway which opens into a well planned tasting room.  We learned that the owners were the first to introduce the Viognier to Willamette Valley.  One would think it is too wet to grow this grape in the area, but the owners introduced the grape to the brightest section of their vineyard.

    Tasting List Includes:

    2007 Estate Pinot Gris

    2008 Estate Viognier

    2007 Mt. Jefferson Cuvee Pinot Noir

    2007 Sommers Reserve Pinot Noir

    2007 Eileen Vineyard Pinot Noir

    2007 Jessie Vineyard Pinot Noir

    Of these, their Viognier certainly stood out as a favorite.  Another great one is their 2007 Eileen Vineyard Pinot Noir which is light bodied, bold with ruby color and filled with flavor which was a pleasant surprise after a swish of lightness mouth-feel.

    We finished off the day with our new wine tasting buddies Josh, Alisha, Stephanie and Matt at Cristom after Steven at Witness Tree steered us to the Nick’s Italian Cafe, in Mcminnville.  And so, we kept on with the good times at this restaurant with the coolest back bar room. We ordered a bottle of Penner-Ash Pinot Noir and uncorked a sample of wines from the wineries we visited.  It was a splendid time and a place not to miss on your wine tour.  This secret room in the back of the restaurant has a cozy atmosphere with pool table.  We had a great time finishing the night in this casual, relaxed and what seemed like a secret room only locals new about.