Please The Palate Pick of the Week: The People and Wines of Willamette Valley

I traveled to the Willamette Valley in Oregon this past week for my first time. I have been to Portland but had never explored the neighboring wine region until now. But, my first trip there already has me planning my next trip. I tasted so many delicious wines, met so many winemakers and heard so many stories. And throughout it all, I felt welcomed and at home with the warm community and that is why the people and the wines of Willamette Valley are the Please The Palate pick of the week.

I am blessed to travel to wine regions around the world and meet winemakers. Every where I go, I meet friendly people who are driven by passion. But there was something palpable in the sense of community among the winemakers of Willamette Valley.

The Willamette Valley is more than 100 miles long and spans 60 miles at its widest point. It is located between Oregon’s Cascade Mountains and the Coastal Range. There are approximately 3,438,000 acres of vines planted and more than 500 wineries.

As the Willamette Valley has grown, it has become difficult for winemakers to all know each other. Of course, they all feel that the source of their grapes is the ideal location but they share a general love and respect for the entire region. And despite not knowing each other, there is admiration and respect for each other and a sense of community and pride. Throughout the week, I was struck by some of the thoughts shared by the winemakers I met.

There is Stephen Hagen of Antiquum Farm who feels his wines are “intense expressions of who we are and where we are.”

There is Jim Bernau of Willamette Valley Vineyards, one of the largest wineries in the area, who looks to tell the Oregon story through his wines. He is a leading voice in working to protect the Willamette Valley, Oregon brand that they have spent decades building.

Chris Williams is the winemaker at Brooks Winery. When founder and winemaker Jimmy Brooks died unexpectedly two weeks before harvest in 2004, twelve winemaker friends, including Chris, jumped in to make the wine. As Chris explained, “It was a good community that wanted to see Brooks survive.”

Ellen Brittan (and her husband Robert) of Brittan Vineyard and Bill Sweat (and his wine Donna Morris) of Winderlea met over wine. Today, they have two separate vineyards, two separate wine labels and two different styles but Robert consults on the Winderlea wines and the two couples share a winemaking facility and tasting room.

Maria Stuart of R. Stuart & Co. Wine with her husband Rob, shared how they [the Oregon wine industry] care for each other. There is a real community and that is what is drawing the world to Oregon.

Harry Peterson-Nedry, Anthony King and Andrew Rich are three of the winemakers that make their wine at the Carlton Winemakers Studio, a shared facility consisting of eleven winemakers. Each of these winemakers are completely independent but there is also collaboration. Those who were instrumental in the beginning of the Willamette Valley, such as Harry, have been giving back to the community. As the three of them explained over dinner, the ethos of Willamette Valley is the people and the pulse. People have touched each other for so long in this area and they rely on the camaraderie.

The people and the wines of Willamette Valley are the Please The Palate pick of the week. I had such an amazing first visit to the Willamette Valley and am inspired by the sense of community. I cannot wait to return.

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