Indulge In A Romantic Oregon Winery Vacation
A delicious look at the American Pinot Noir getaway at Willamette Valley Vineyards
By Carol Antman
Jim Bernau probably got in serious trouble for overly enjoying the sips of wine his parents gave him as a child. Especially when they discovered that the effects had motivated him to pilfer Concord grape juice from the freezer, read up on fermentation in the family’s encyclopedias and stash a batch of brew in the crawl space of the house. They’d certainly have been more lenient if they’d known that Jim was beginning his life’s work: introducing pinot noir to Oregon.
History of Wine in Oregon
Wine had not been produced in the state since prohibition and laws were unfavorable. Eschewing the plan his father had for him to become a lawyer and the popular path of dilettante vineyard owners, Jim worked as a lobbyist before he planted the first vine. He helped pass legislation in 1981 to establish an advisory board for research and promotion of the industry. Further law changes made wineries a permitted use on farmland, allowed the direct shipment of wine and began wine tastings in stores and restaurants. The Oregon Wine Board was begun. His philanthropy funded a professorship for fermentation science at Oregon State University. This was probably when Jim’s dad reconsidered Jim’s childish mischief and speculated, “Someday our hillsides will be covered with vines.” “We’re just getting started,” Jim countered.
“Jim is an amazing person,” says Christine Collier, the winery director. “When you meet him the word ‘visionary’ comes to mind. Everyone says that.” He believes in hard work and collaboration. In 1983 he bought an overgrown plum orchard in the Salem Hills and began Willamette Valley Vineyards, watering his vines with 17 lengths of 75-foot garden hoses he bought on sale. Over the years he purchased neighboring vineyards and continued to lobby to stimulate the industry’s growth. To build the enterprise, he conducted the first crowd funding in the nation with over 2,000 wine enthusiasts and vineyard owners acquiring shares. Today it’s one of the smallest companies on the NASDAQ.
So now the mossy, wet climate of Oregon has cache. “The focus in Oregon will be Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sparkling wine — it’s practically a spitting image of Burgundy, France,” enthuses the blog Wine Folly. “Our terroir is unique with ancient volcanic, glacial and sedimentary flood soils on slopes where orientation, elevation and grade create unique growing conditions,” Jim describes. The winery is committed to being a thoughtful steward of its land. All vines are naturally grown and tended by hand. Biofuel tractors and sustainable corks have earned the vineyards a “Hero of Salmon” and the industry’s coveted Founders Award for low impact viticulture. “Our approach is to grow, by hand, the highest quality fruit using careful canopy management and to achieve wines that are truly expressive of the varietal and the place where they are grown,” Jim proudly explains.
The pinot noir is reaping praise and awards. Wine Enthusiast Magazine calls Willamette Valley Vineyards “One of America’s great pinot noir producers.” The vineyard was named “2011 Winery for the Year” by Wine and Spirits Magazine and a “great ambassador for wines of Oregon.” They received the hottest small brand award from Wine Business Monthly. “It’s been quite a quest,” Jim muses. Now that the winery is producing over 100,000 cases a year, it is available for under $30 a bottle nationwide. Aficionados describe the pinot’s taste as fruity with nuances of cranberries and earth. Visitors to Oregon can sample flight tastings at the vineyard or tasting rooms at McMinnville or Tualatin or tour the operation which Rachel Ray called “One of my most memorable experiences out in the vineyards.” For East Coast enthusiasts, Willamette Valley Vineyards is hosting a cruise out of Miami Nov. 7 to 14, 2015 with Jim leading workshops, wine-paired meals and tastings on the luxurious Celebrity Reflection. The wine’s popularity inspires a rowdy annual grape stomping where costumed participants get up to their knees in fruit. Couples are flocking to the newly renovated hospitality suites for romantic “Under the Tuscan Sun” weekends. There’s even pinot poetry as in this ditty from Richard Dyer of South Carolina“…With distinctive aromas of earth, oak and spice… Very intriguing and ever so nice…Perhaps it’s the soil or even the seasons, or maybe the winemaker is really the reason…”
If you go: Visit the vineyard: www.WillametteValleyVineyards.com.
Go on the cruise from Miami: syndical.com/blog/willamette-valley-vineyards-kirkland-signature-cruise-syndical