Taste and find the valley's fine wine
Wine sprawls a huge range in flavor and price, from bitter-wine-face to gimme-more and from three-buck Chuck to wines costing thousands of dollars. So, how do you know what you're getting and how do you find the best tasting wine without taking out a second mortgage? Local winemaker Darin Ingram talks how to find great wine that won't make your wallet whine.
Ingram, owner of King's Raven Winery outside of Oregon City, made his first batch of wine in 1999 with Concord grapes and a cider press. That's not how to get great wine, he found.
"It was horrible," Ingram said.
But he stuck with it, and convinced his parents to commit about an acre of their Black Angus and hay farm to growing vines. They started making wine in 2003. Now, they have 15 acres of vines, a tasting room and a flourishing business. They grow all their own grapes and make several wines including whites like Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Phoenix, and reds like Pinot Noir, Leon Millot, Maréchal Foch and more.
Because Ingram enjoys the advantage of setting up shop on the property his grandfather bought in the 1940s and because they move forward out of pocket, he is able to offer his wines at great prices.
But he warns against buying wine that's too cheap.
"Cheap wine doesn't offer as many benefits as medium to high grade wine and can even offer some detriments," Ingram said.
To make cheap wine, some companies use cheap tricks, like adding preservatives, and Ingram says that sacrifices the quality.
Ingram shared several tips for finding quality wines that are still affordable, and really, it all boils down to one tip: taste them.
Hit the festivals and farmers markets
A number of festivals in Oregon are dedicated to wine—some at the coast and some in the city. These allow consumers to taste from hundreds of wineries. Cascade Foothills Winegrowers, consisting of 15 small family-run wineries in the foothills of the Willamette Valley, is holding their annual spring tasting at the Mt. Angel Festhall, 500 Wilco Hwy, on Saturday, April 28 from 1-5 p.m. Then comes the annual Canby Wine, Food and Brew at Clackamas County Fairgrounds and Event Center on June 1-3.
You can also find some wineries at the farmers markets while you're grabbing your veggies. King's Raven, Forest Edge Vineyard and Wandering Duck Artisan Wine can all be found at the Oregon City Farmers Market, which runs year round; Christopher Bridge Wines can be found at Canby Farmers Market, which kicks off April 28; and Forest Edge can also be found at Molalla Farmers Market, which will open May 31.
Visit the wineries
Molalla has at least five wineries within about ten miles, where, instead of a bartender, you'll probably find the winemaker behind the counter. All of them offer tastings for a small fee, or Cascade Foothills Winegrowers offers a passport to all of its wineries for $39. It includes free tastings at all but one of the wineries and discounts on the purchase of bottles. The passport is available at cascadefoothillswines.com/#passport and at all of the participating wineries including King's Raven, Villa Catalana, Whiskey Hill, St. Josef's, Aurora Cellars and more.
Attend winemaker dinners
The more experienced wine drinker may be looking for bolder flavors and wanting to explore wine with food. That's where winemaker dinners come in. Local chefs, restaurants and farms partner with wineries to provide a one-night upscale dining experience.
"It's an all-inclusive kind of price, but it's usually bottomless drinks," Ingram said. "You get the flavor of the high-end restaurant for a value price, but you also get introduced to how wine works with food."
One such dinner, the Field & Vines Farm to Table Dinner, is being held at King's Raven Winery, 11603 S. New Era Rd., on June 16 from 5:30-9 p.m. The meal will be prepared by Chef Pascal in partnership with Marion Acres, a local farm providing high quality pasture-raised meat. The cost is $90 per ticket and that includes a six to seven course dinner, wine and beer, tax, gratuity and a panoramic view of the valley.
Join a club.
Once you find that wine that you can't get enough of, joining the winery's club gets you better prices and some pretty nice perks, like free tastings any time for you and your friends and exclusive events. And it doesn't cost as much as you'd think. The price usually runs at about the cost of the bottles you're getting, and it includes two to four pick-ups or deliveries per year.
"You usually get first opportunity to those lots and batches too, so you're getting it before everybody else," Ingram said. "So, there's some exclusivity there."
Ingram has sold out of his Leon Millot for the past two years, and at his May 12 wine club pick-up party, members will get first dibs at his 2015 Leon Millot. The event, starting at 7:30 p.m., is for wine club members, but Ingram also invites those interested in joining to attend.