In a world full of so much stress, it’s not surprising that lavender is so popular. There are lavender soaps, perfumes, dried wreaths and fresh bouquets. At a restuarant in Portland last month, I had a lavender lemon drop, and lavender lemonade is a tasty treat in the heat of summer. And of course, lavender has a starring roll in the French Herbes de Provence herb mixture.
We are at the peak of lavender season in July and there seems to be a lavender field in full bloom at every turn. Gone are the days of having a limited selection of types: purple Spanish and purple English. Now there are hundreds of choices. There’s even a very precise color scale that resembles the diamond color spectrum.
Just up the road from us is Mountainside Lavender which is open this month for U-Pick from their fields or to purchase some of their many lavender products or plants.
On a bright Sunday afternoon, Kristin and I stopped by VIDON Vineyard. The name ‘VIDON’ (pronounced vee-dohn) comes from Vicki and Don, the founders of winery. Don is the winemaker and does most of the farming on their 20 acre vineyard. Don plans to add another 12 acres to the vineyard and will hire his first “staff member” in August to help out at the tasting room and to tend the vineyard.
VIDON makes a nice Chardonnay and Pinot Gris, but we really came for the Pinot Noirs. Don produces three single clone wines – typically less than a 100 cases of each are produced yearly. I had a hard time picking a favorite between the Pommard clone and the 777. Buying a bottle of each makes life a lot simpler. With such small production amounts, don’t expect to find their wine outside of the handful of restaurants and wine shops in the Willamette Valley. As VIDON’s popularity grows, it is worth considering joining their Cellar Club. Level 1 members commit to a case of wine a year (you can mix and match varietals), receive a 15% discount, and have access to some of the single clones that aren’t sold elsewhere.
The tasting room is typically open Noon to 5 pm on the weekends. Don is seldom far from his cell phone and is happy to open the tasting room during the weekday. (And sometimes he forgets to hang out the ‘open sign’ during the weekend so give him a call – he’s probably there). Tasting fees are a reasonable $10. The tasting room/winery is a converted machine shed. Nice on the inside but you don’t pay extra for a fancy facility. VIDON is part the of Carbon Neutral initiative, both the vineyard and winery are a part of LIVE (Low Input Viticulture and Enology) program, and their wines are “Certified Sustainable” since 2008.
We headed back that way last month with the sun out and spring popping up all around. We parked at the rather full North Falls trailhead and plotted our route for the afternoon. Having gotten a late start, we decided to do a short loop of about three miles, taking us past four of the waterfalls along the nine mile Trail of Ten Falls.
Alongside the trail we saw many early wildflowers like trillium, sweet woodruff and the unique Skunk Cabbage (really, worth a few steps off trail to experience!). With a temperate rain forest of Douglas fir and western hemlock trees, Silver Falls is also a great respite in the heat of summer (like this week!). Lots of wildlife, including numerous bird species, call the park home and welcome you to visit them.
Curt and I often start our meals at The Dundee Bistro with a giant pile of Truffled Fries. They use Oregon White Truffle Oil to finish these crisp potatoes into finger-lickin’ yumminess.
Pastas, wood-fired pizzas and hearty meats abound in the entrée list, each dish artfully designed to highlight the season’s offerings. Wednesdays are special for Whole Hog Wednesdays… serving Pork & Pinot till the whole pig, previously grilled over mesquite coals, is gone. For dessert, there is nice selection of sweet treats, however, if you are on the adventurous side, make a your dessert choice from the artisan cheeses or artisan bacons.
The wine list is a healthy size, full of Oregon Pinots and rounded out with international choices of numerous varietals. I’ve been very impressed with wine steward Chris Berry’s knowledge of his craft. When I took my world-traveler uncle into The Dundee Bistro, he proclaimed he’d never had a Pinot to his liking. Chris took the challenge, they discussed what my uncle likes in a wine, and Chris brought him a glass that has him reconsidering the wonders of Pinot. And then we ate Truffled Fries.
You can find The Dundee Bistro sharing a building with the Ponzi Tasting Room at 100 SW 7th St #A, Dundee. The phone number is (503) 554-1650. It is open daily for lunch 11:30 – 5pm and dinner 5pm – closing.
The first Friday night of every month, Main Street in Newberg transforms itself from quiet little thoroughfare into the place-to-be as the businesses open into the evening with art, music, wine and food to celebrate the vitality of the local culture. ARTwalk, which started in 2002, draws folks from near and far to hobnob with artists and vintners, neighbors and new friends.
Sure, you’d expect Newberg Gallery to participate with a showcase of a local artist and a silent auction for a local charity. But stroll into the Coldwell Banker next and find a fiber artist showing her wares and Dobbes Family Estate pouring. Or down the street, the Coffee Cat Coffeehouse is showing employee art and Greg Hottmann Insurance is hosting The Sweetest Thing Cupcake shop. It’s the small town factor of the downtown businesses that gets the entire community involved and reminds us how interconnected we are, even if you are from out of town.
ARTwalk is quite a lively party in the warm summer months, as visitors spill out into the sidewalks of the more than 20 participating shops and businesses. In the winter months, when Oregon skies might bless the event with a little rain, the atmosphere is a cozy get together of you and all your friends. Sometimes the whole night focuses on a special theme, like Cinqo de Mayo or Hawaii in April. This month, the newly opened Chehalem Cultural Center invites guests to make their own “pop” art with exploding colors on canvas. My imagination is running wild… I think I need this art, but also whatever contraption they have built.
ARTwalk happens on the First Friday of nearly every month from 5-9pm.
Off the beaten winery path, in a former walnut processing plant, lies a fun tasting adventure. WineWorks Oregon has made this brick building on 17th Street in McMinnvile it’s home for over10 years. The beauty of the situation is that WineWorks houses five distinct labels so your tasting experience can be as unique as you are.
WineWorks Oregon is a collaboration between John Davidson and John Gilpin. Their backgrounds are in vineyard management and vine grafting, so their wines tend to show the character of the fruit. The wines that come out of their partnership are Walnut City WineWorks, Bernard-Machado, Carlton Hill, Robinson Reserve and Z’IVO Wines. Each label has a distinctive style and flair to it.
Tasting Room Manager Jennifer welcomes you into your adventure at her bar. If it gets a little crowded, she has nifty tables built out of old wine barrels situated around the room. Although the available wines for tasting is heavy on the Pinot Noirs, Jennifer prides herself in being able to set up a tasting of six wines that suit your palate. That means I can go in and taste six whites and never try a red! And one of those whites… Walnut City WineWorks’ super tasty Essential Viognier (yes, that’s sugar wine to those Pinot drinkers out there). But I found it has a great balance of flavor and sweetness; none of that cloying stickiness in some dessert wines.
You can find WineWorks Oregon at 475 NE 17th Street in McMinnville (if you’re on 3rd Street, just head north on Evans til you get there). Jennifer is there Thursday to Sunday: 11-4:30.
Newberg can sometimes feel like a confused town: part wine town, part college town, part rural suburb. The restaurant choices reflect that confusion: a little bit of high end, a lot of good grub and some chains. I am happy to report that a new restaurant has emerged to shine brightly, SubTerra-A Wine Cellar Restaurant. Janet and Martin Bleck opened this little gem in December 2009 as “affordable white-table cloth dining” and base the restaurant on their many years in catering back east and the local food of the Willamette Valley.
Curt and I went on a quiet weekday in the winter and were more than pleased. The food was fantastic and fantastically affordable. One big difference is that even though SubTerra doesn’t use the most expensive cuts of meat, Martin is such an expert at preparation, the flavors just sing. I had Braised Short Rib of Beef (it looks like a piece of chocolate cake) with polenta so creamy that it was still inspiring me days later. Curt had tender Pork with Leek and Mustard. Each entree came with soup and salad (with Yamhill Valley grown hazelnuts, of course). Dinner for 2, including one yummy dessert and one glass of wine came to around $50. Also available are small plates and regional and international wines by the glass.
Martin and Linda have taken the space and made a cozy atmosphere for your dining. There are soft fabrics and warm colors on the walls. One wall is a beautiful mural of the wine country. The wine bar is inviting as well.
SubTerra is a little hard to find, but so worth it. I give the directions like this “Turn right after Mike’s Medical Pharmacy, park, and go down the stairs below the Dark Horse Wine Bar” (get it? Sub-Terra). It is open Wednesday through Saturday for lunch from 11:30 to 5 and for dinner daily starting at 5 pm. The restaurant is also available for catered events almost any other time or day.
You can find SubTerra at 1505 Portland Rd. (99W at Villa Rd.), Newberg, OR 97135. And you can call them at (503) 538-6060.
When I’m all messy and guests ask me if I’ve been out gardening, I tell them, “No, it’s more like I’ve been out wild-ing”. We are making an effort to plant low-maintenance, native shrubs, trees and wildflowers to repopulated the hillsides around the B&B. This started back in October 2006 when we hired some guys to spray the barren dirt with
a green slurry of wildflower and rye grass seed. The California poppies, dianthus, floxglove and other wildflowers that come back each year make me so happy. However, I do have a beef with the rye grass. While the rye grass was supposed to be a temporary plant that didn’t reseed well, many farmers around us grow it for hay, including the 28 acres across the street. When that much rye grass does even a little bit of reseeding, we are inundated with this allergy-inducing, shrub-smothering pesky plant.
I mean, seriously… I bit my tongue sneezing this week.
And the poor flowering quinces, barely two feet tall, can’t see the sun on account of this rye grass. This is war.
Bring on the GrassHog. Each day this week I have spent a bit of time whacking back the grass. I know Curt has a big monster of a gas-powered brush cutter, but my GrassHog has just the right balance of finesse and power without too much weight. It’s like we found each other on an online dating site… we’re a match.
Little by little, I am reclaiming our newly planted shrubs and trees. I am bringing sunlight to the land. And even though I still sneeze, I feel some sense of revenge against the flowering grass. I might not rule these 15 acres like I did my ’burb lot, but we yet may succeed in taming our piece of wild.
Here’s an important tip if you don’t want to stand out: we call it “the Coast”. Not the shore, the beach or the ocean – the Coast. We call it that because along the 363 miles of coastline has all those aspects at some point, but not at every point. Sometimes there is a beach, but it may be sandy or it may be pebbly. There always is an ocean, but sometimes the trek from the road to the ocean is best left for the rock climbers. It’s ruggedness is unlike other coastline in the US and it’s just a one and a half hour drive from our B&B.
Getting to the coast from the Willamette Valley, is a windy drive on Highway 18 to Lincoln City, home to the World’s Shortest River (I’ve only ever seen the sign) and Kite Flying Festivals. Turning south on Highway 101 takes you along numerous viewpoints, like Devil’s Punchbowl (my dad’s favorite rock-hounding beach at low tide) and Boiler Bay State Park that beg a stop to soak in the awesomeness of the coast.
Winding into Newport, you find a town, historically a fishing town, to wander for the day. Just south of Newport’s bay bridge is the Oregon Coast Aquarium which houses Passages of the Deep, an acrylic tunnel through sea water home to sharks, rays and tons of other sea life. The otters, seals and sea lions live outside with large pools to swim in and rocky beaches to rest on. The aviary houses elusive puffins which fly above and below the water. Each tank has above-water and under-water viewing areas to enhance your experience.
Newport has a coastal side, at Nye Beach, lined with cute shops and good grub, like at the Chowder Bowl. Be sure to save your Texas Toast from lunch to feed seagulls at the beach a block away. The bay side of Newport houses the fishing industry, a large herd of sea lions and a street full of taffy-filled shops and the quirky Ripley’s Believe It Or Not museum. A great choice for dinner – and you know the seafood is fresh – is Whales Tale.
What I like about Robin Murto is that she’s passionate. She, like many in the wine industry, has a second job (oh wait, she just retired this spring), but get her talking about farming her 17 acres of Pinot Noir and one acre of Pinot Gris, and her eyes twinkle with excitement. This was most evident to me when a friend and I spent an hour with her on her vineyard tour. Because Pinot Noir, probably more than any other varietal, takes much of its character from the growing conditions, the farmers play a pivotal role in the wine making process.
On the tour through the vines, Robin explained that she and her husband Mike bought these acres back in 1991. They were off to a good start with a rich vineyard that had originally been planted back in 1978, which makes it some of the oldest Pinot Noir in the valley. They have added more vines over the years and do much of the farming themselves. Robin humbly admitted that Mike is the better pruner and explained the time consuming process of making sure the vines send all their energy to the best grapes. She told us of their efforts to deal with their wildlife woes. The hawk in the tree keeps the grape-eating bird population down but netting- only on one side of the vines -is still necessary to protect the grapes. And then there’s the guy you call to take care of the gophers, Caddyshack style… I think I know quite a few men who would like that job.
I have a pretty good understanding of wines, but walking around the fields with the farmer gave me a better grasp of some of the more intricate matters of getting great grapes with which to make great wine. The Murtos sell most of their grapes, but keep some for their own label, Cleo’s Hill Wines. We wrapped up our tour in Robin’s kitchen to taste the 2006 Pinot Noir, just 140 cases made and the 2007 Pinot Gris, just 70 cases made.
Tours daily at 10:30am, April through October by appointment. You can get ahold of Robin for your own tour by phone: (503) 538-5302 or through their website… if you go in spring or fall, it doesn’t hurt to have not-so-perfect shoes to tromp around in.