Now, I know this is a photography blog, but with the smell of damp earth in my nose and the invitation of blue skies, I felt the need to momentarily transform this into a travel blog, kinda. Mrs Squeeze and I have been looking forward to our first joint, private overnight outing since the birth of Little Baby What’s-his-face just over 19 months ago. This last weekend, we achieved our goal and finally severed the cord. LBWHF did just fine, by the way. Didn’t miss us one bit, so ends up it was his parents that were challenged by the perceived attachment issue.
Anyway, on to our little adventure and I’ll try to talk a bit about photography along the way just to maintain the greater theme…
It all started when I was contacted by an interior design firm that I’d done some work for in the past, asking me to shoot a new wine country inn, called Le Puy, just outside of Newberg Oregon. They needed a few shots which showcased some of the elements they’d helped introduce into the space, and I happily obliged. Being about a half an hour (at the right time of day) outside of Portland, I made the trip and met with the inn owner Lea. She and her husband Andy are architects that have realized their dream of building and running a bed and breakfast inn. When they found this property, they knew that fate had delivered on their collective reverie. Their passion has been translated into a beautiful, welcoming space. Mrs Squeeze and I had an easy chore of deciding to make the trip out there for a more lengthy and comfortable stay. More of the inn in a bit….
Oregon’s Willamette Valley has grown into a premier region for wine. With a favorable climatic disposition, the valley has become primarily a pinot grape region. With over 200 wineries in the Willamette Valley, we didn’t know where to start, so we found a couple wineries that we A) recognized, and B) remembered enjoying the wine from. Mrs Squeeze and my excitement bordered on lunacy as we realized with each passing mile that we didn’t have to change a diaper or prematurely wake up for at least 24 hours. Combine that with a few wine tastings, a fancy dinner reservation and some chocolate in her purse, and we were ready to get our rock on.
Before I start in on attempting to describe the wine, I will admit, my wine “knowledge” comes from having worked at a couple restaurants, or bargain shopping on wine.com, so, coming from someone who will find almost as much enjoyment from a $6 bottle as I would from a $60 bottle, I admit, my palate would not be considered advanced by any stretch of the imagination. I like to drink wine. I’m also one who doesn’t spit tasters out. One of the most enjoyable parts of a wine tasting for me is the way that wine hits different parts of my tongue, and I’m not gonna gargle wine to get it deep back on mine. Sometimes I drink wine from a properly designed glass, other times I drink it from a whiskey bucket. I don’t feel I need to spend a lot to enjoy a bottle of wine, but I have begun to appreciate the nuances that a higher quality wine will provide. What I’m trying to get at is that I’m not a wine aficionado, so please don’t take me as one. What makes a wine “good” or “bad” in my opinion is based on the way my taste happens to find it on any given occasion, so, with that disclaimer, I will continue.
On our way out from Portland, we decided to approach the Willamette valley from the north and splintered from highway 26 to venture south into Forrest Grove and on to Elk Cove Vineyards. A beautiful vineyard gives way to a central pond and gazebo before the final approach lands you at the winery itself. Currently under construction, their tasting room had moved into their bottling and shipping room which made for a more genuine experience as I saw it. Surrounded by tanks, bottles and boxes we went through the flight enjoying our tastes. Kevin, a connected and very well-versed host helped walk us through our journey. From Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir to a Gewürztraminer, their wines were tasty and very drinkable. One thing I look for in a wine is that I can drink and enjoy it all by itself. Rarely do I buy a wine specifically to pair it with food. I do enjoy snacking while drinking it out and about, or having a nice bold red with a steak, but at home we’re usually drinking a glass of wine to drink a glass of wine, and Elk Cove Pinot Noir is one of our favorites. A bottle of their 2008 Pinot Noir in hand, we left for the next leg.
From Elk Cove we continued south through the quaint town of Yamhill and followed highway 240 east en route to a date with Erath Winery. I’ve lived in the Northwest for longer than I haven’t and I’ve never explored the Willamette Valley wine region, so the fact that we ended up turning off of Hwy 240 onto a winding roller coaster of a dirt road lent a feeling of adventure I’d not felt since my high school weekend “camping” excursions where, funny enough, we’d end up drinking wine (more often than not from boxes), or whichever type of alcohol we could convince someone’s older brother to buy us while sitting around a bonfire playing music, chatting or doing a variety of other high school type things. While the road and wine were reminiscent of a time past, Erath was an entirely new experience. The staff was very friendly, the grounds beautiful and the wine delicious. With a bottle of the 2008 Estate Selection Pinot in tow, we found our way to the Le Puy Inn for check in.
Lea and Andy, as I’d mentioned above, decided to realize their dream and have done so in beautiful fashion. We were greeted with a glass of wine and some baked brie seemingly massaged by a smattering of provençal herbs and roasted hazelnuts, which accompanied us from the great room out onto the deck.
Relaxed and enjoying our time away, we got into conversation with Lea about their new project Eat, Taste, Love which will fully immerse any participant into decadence rivaling a gathering at Versailles. Get face time with local winemakers and chefs while getting to literally enjoy the topics of conversation. With four weekends scheduled surrounding differing seasonal themes, they offer not only a unique, but beautifully balanced way to enjoy the best parts of Oregon wine country. Check the Le Puy blog HERE for booking and up to date info on the sessions starting with August 26-28th, 2011, leading into the harvest this fall October 14-16th, winter tranquility from January 27-29th and into the reemergence of spring April 20-22nd (which as we all should know falls on Earth day weekend). If you’re looking for a vacation, and enjoy wine and/or food, I think you should have a look. Plus, if you’re from a different part of the world (or country) and we’ve not yet met, I’d love to get together and show you some of my favorite photogenic areas in and around Portland and its environs. Tell Lea, I sent you. I’m not sure if it will do much for you, but you might get an extra glass of wine squeezed out of it 🙂
With our feet kicked up and our minds not far behind, we took in the views of the hills overlooking the Yamhill-Newberg Valley as we delightfully killed time with no more than a looming dinner reservation scheduled. Our room (Thunder) invited us in and asked us to take a late afternoon nap, so we gladly accepted.
Our dinner reservation found us traveling south to McMinville to a little place called Bistro Maison. Of course, after a day of wine and being deeply entrenched in Oregon wine country, I had a beer and Mrs Squeeze had some kind of spritzer with hibiscus in the title or something.
From fresh baked bread to fish croquettes, cassoulete to truffle glazed chicken, our meal was delightful, as was my beer. With about as much as we could handle in a day out, we made our way back to Le Puy, enjoyed a little chocolate while sitting out on our room’s deck and watched the valley transition to slumber. We then called it a day and proceeded to sleep like rocks.
The next morning found us greeted by fresh berry crepes and sausage served to us while overlooking playful goats and horses enjoying the day. We had the chance to talk with Lea and Andy about their history and plans with their new Inn. Refreshed and looking forward to whatever the day threw at us, we asked them for some suggestions, and I’m glad we did. They directed us to Soléna and mentioned that if interested, we should stop by a local goat farm for some tasty cheese. Neither disappointed.
Named for their daugter, Laurent and Danielle Montalieu started Soléna as a wedding present to each other, and the love that the story evokes translates to their wine. Located just east of Yamhill, their estate is one I would highly suggest visiting. Whether you are a wine drinker or not, the beautiful property is introduced by way of entry into their modern, yet medieval cellar where you’re greeted with a glass and a smile. Take the tour, taste the wine and enjoy the stories. Coming from an education largely involved in sustainability, communal management and networking, I was inspired by the mantra firmly planted in the backbone of this winery. A true and honest approach to growing, cultivating and producing wines with an emphasis on a biodynamic coexistence with the land that brings to them, the fruit of their passionate labor. When I grow up, I’m gonna become a member of this winery if for no other reason than taking the time to visit on a regular basis. While a membership was a bit out or our reach, a delightful bottle of their 2008 Guadalupe Pinot Noir was not. It will be saved for a special occasion down the road, and I already cannot wait. In fact, I’m thinking of manufacturing some type of milestone about a year to year and a half from now, and I’m sure I’ll blog about it.
Finally, we bid adieu to Yamhill and ventured on toward home with one last stop in mind. A few weeks ago we accompanied our friends as they went to pick up their membership wine shipment in person at Sokol Blosser winery. Well, long story short, we’d enjoyed our experience (and the wine) there so much, we decided to join as members as well. A very affordable, and generous membership program allowed us to ease into the whole wine thing, so Hillary and Kjell, thank you both. Melissa at Sokol Blosser helped walk us through their flight while we sat on a deck watching a heron claim the vineyard as his own. A wonderfully relaxing experience which we plan to replicate at least twice a year now. Melissa, we can’t remember exactly when you were graduating, but if it has already happened, congratulations, and thank you for locking my forgotten credit card in the safe. Wine can make you a bit forgetful evidently.
Well, that my friends was our weekend. If you’re interested in looking at the sites of the wineries or the beautiful Le Puy Inn, all pertinent links are below. I’m hoping to develop a couple wine country photography projects, stay tuned. So, we didn’t quite talk much photography, but hey, it can be nice to take a wine break sometimes too.
Thank you to Sarah from Dwellable.com for finding my article and showcasing it on their site 😀
Click these for more info 🙂
Le Puy Inn – A gorgeous Oregon Wine Country Inn.
Elk Cove Vinyards – Settled in the Northern Willamette Valley, delicious wine, a very worthwhile trip.
Erath Winery – A truly adventurous journey to a beautiful winery.
Solena Estate Winery – A biodynamic wonderland with beautifully crafted wines.
Sokol Blosser Winery – Like an adult’s version of a tree fort, with obvious adult benefits.
Bistro Maison – A taste of France in the heart of McMinville
Here are a few other travel articles for further procrastination, or informative research 🙂
Amsterdam’n it! – (Amsterdam pt 2)
Eat, Taste, Love. Wine, food, fun and education in the Willamette Valley
Hill Head, south coast, England
Have camera, will travel (answers to all of those “what kind of camera gear should I bring” type questions).
If you’re interested in keeping up with my blog and would like to receive articles via email, please just place your email in the box at the top right of the page. I won’t use your email for anything else, promise 🙂
Nice to see you and Mrs S out and about taking vacation photos – I’m impressed by the rows of grapes through the trees. Very, very nice shot though I’m unsure why. Must violate all the rules of landscape photography.
I’ll also say that your food photos indicates a new career! Great, appetizing shot of the cassoulete. Won’t even go into why you knew how to spell it. Anyway, a very nice variation on the photography tips/equipment/etc posts of yore.
Yeah, kind of a “reverse landscape” eh? Well, I’ve never been much of a landscape shooter anyhow, but I cannot wait for the harvest season. With all the vines heaving under the weight of full clusters, I think it will be a lot of fun to wander and shoot. Feel free to make a trip north, we can shoot and grab a glass 🙂
Very interesting post Tyson and glad you had a mini-vacation.
When we were in OR we unfortunately did not visit the wine region in person, just via too (is that possible?) many bottles!
We were surprised by how expensive some US wines are – often enough we ended up buying French Burgundy in the shop for our pre-dinner drinks because they were less expensive! We should have made a side-by-side comparison of the Pinot Noir products from OR vs. Burgundy.
But I have to agree with you that a “good” wine is based on ones’ taste (that in turn can change and grow based on wine education). We were just in the Chateauneuf du Pape region here in France (near Avignon, a town with a bridge). The Cotes du Rhone wines are peppery, full in consistency and alcohol content. We are enjoying our new learning curve!
Speaking of education, there’s a really neat sounding 4-day “Learn to taste wine” university here, let me know if you want the address. I’d love to do this sort of thing.
Yes, the prices have always been a point of contention for us, and one which we cannot really find an answer for. My theory is kinda three fold, first, I think that in most European countries, wine is more a right as opposed to privilege, and it feels as if prices were as high as Oregon pinots, or Napa cabs, they’d have riots on their hands. Secondly, I think the industry is far more established in Europe. Land is (and has been) owned in many cases for generations, infrastructure is laid and pricing has been easier in that sense to level while maintaining profits. Land prices in the last 30 or 40 years in the wine growing regions of California and Oregon have gone bonkers, and in turn created a premium rush on well placed plots. Finally, I feel that wine in this country is seen as more ‘elite’ a beverage, where in many other parts of the world it is more widely spread. We have the macrobrew beer companies strongly rooted there, and in turn, the more one pays for a bottle here, shows that A) they can afford to drink the good stuff, and B) allows them the ability to feel as if they are enjoying something that others cannot. This may be a fairly narrow view of wine drinkers stateside, and I know that there are premium prices on many an Italian or French wine, but the quality for the price seems much more accessible when purchasing a nice Burgundy or Chianti vs a local Pinot Noir or Napa Cab for instance. Whether the quality produces much of a gap, I don’t know and feel fine with that. As long as I enjoy what I’m drinking, I’m a happy man. That all said, I have really enjoyed some of the wines we’ve tasted on our little journeys and look forward to enjoying the bottles we’ve purchased, for very special occasions of course 🙂
I hope you guys are well. Your blog is beautiful as always.
what a beauty…
Thanks Inna 🙂
My name is Sarah and I’m with Dwellable. I was looking for blog posts about Willamette Valley to share on our site and I came across your post…If you’re open to it, drop me a line at Sarah(at)dwellable(dot)com.
Hope to hear from you 🙂
Just fired you off an email 🙂