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A Golden Year?

Backcountry vineyards are looking bountiful

It’s time for our annual rendition of “September Song,” ’cause September is wine time. Just as a fr’instance, on Labor Day weekend, almost every Oregon winery/tasting room opens, even many not normally open to the public, and they dress up: music usually, nibbles sometimes, special events of various sorts and, of course, lotsa wine. In case you missed, make a calendar note for next year. Plan a major gig. Get out in the Oregon backcountry, so beautiful, so bountiful, it’ll take your breath away.

Actually, though, and especially this year, in the background lurk high-times for this vintage: Harvest comes soon, this year very soon. Normally, harvest picking begins in late September through October, assuming rains and birds hold off. Vintage 2014, however, could turn out golden; after a good spring, a warm and dry summer with cool nights, growers might get a bumper crop of beautiful grapes, deeply colored, good sugar levels yielding super wines rivaling 2012 and 2008. Harvest could begin as early as mid-September in some vineyards. The crush will tell the rest of the story. But the presence of those specters could explain the pinched looks on the faces of winery folk as they pour for visitors; some would like the tourists (us) to buy wines, go home, drink ’em up, buy more. OK. 

Meanwhile, a jaunt in your buggy can be a lovely, surprising experience. Just yesterday, I cruised early morning to Monroe, to Broadley, then took Territorial Highway back to Elmira. More and more, Territorial reminds me of Napa Valley’s Highway 29, ca. 1965, still rural-cozy, still vineyard-free on many slopes, but changing rapidly. If you make this trek, take it slow, and watch out for giant tractors and heavily laden trucks on the road. Enjoy.

Vineyards and tasting rooms abound on the way — Benton-Lane, Brigadoon, Pfeiffer, High Pass, RainSong, others coming (Bennett). When you reach Elmira, wheel into West Lane Center strip mall, find Taste (a place to gather), meet Deanna Brandt for lunch, pastries, beers, wines, smart talk. She likes her wines, has a modest but growing selection; she looks for obscure labels — like Cottonwood 2012 Muller Thurgau ($28, bit of a pinch but special), the private label of Phil and Aaron Lieberman (Aaron is a talented wine-maker for Iris Vineyards, Cottage Grove); for best flavors (apples, pears, quince), serve cool, not cold. Deanna can also whip up a heckuva sammich, maybe with a dash of sarayo sauce (made in Eugene, organic mayo blended with spicy sriracha — yum).

At Taste, I crossed paths with Jeff Parker of Sweet Cheeks, learned they have a new wine-maker, Leo Gabica, soon to be featured at Marché/Provisions’ Route 5 tasting room, a program they’re calling Hometown Heroes. Cool. Sweet Cheeks 2013 Riesling ($18) is Gabica’s first wine and a crowd-pleaser for flavor and complexity.

While we’re in this neighborhood, we have to consider a reason to drink pinot gris (besides salmon in any form). Too often, pinot gris is a rather austere white wine with not a lot of character. It’s better than drinking water, of course, but dayum. However, Stanton Vineyard 2012 Pinot Gris ($13) is simply excellent, full of aromas/flavors like ripe pears, stone fruit, white flowers, with juicy mouthfeel, deftly balanced for food or sipping — a wowser.

Personal note: I’m feeling the early autumn, wanting some fun. For years, I wrote this wine column using an extended metaphor, peopled with colorful characters, lotsa chuckles — until Art Robinson, Republican, convinced me that zombies are real. He and his ilk of brain-eating nabobs of negativism scared me, turned me deathly serious. He still stalks Oregon politics, but I’m sick of his muck. Next month, I’ll return Mole and Sleuth and Wine Investigations, go back to having some yuks. Eff Robinson; Da Faz is still da guy. Happy autumn.