It’s harvest time in Oregon’s Washington County! The Pinot noir grapes have had a spectacular summer, with long, hot days, and a fruitful bounty to follow.
I visited four wineries on a recent trip to the area: Ponzi Vineyards, Cooper Mountain Vineyards, Ribera Vineyards, and Villa Catalana Cellars, each with their own stories to tell and atmosphere to soak up.
Ponzi Vineyards is a second-generation family winery, started by husband and wife team Nancy and Dick Ponzi in 1970. Their three kids took over the winery in 1993 (one has since retired).
Their youngest daughter is the current winemaker. Ponzi has three locations: Beaverton, Dundee, and Sherwood, the latter being the newest location, opened in summer 2013.
Pinot Gris is the vineyard’s signature white ($17/bottle). Eight years into the company, the owners saw a need to produce a white wine to compliment the Pinot noirs, thus the Pinot Gris was begun in 1981. This is a light, food-friendly wine.
I sampled the Arneis 2013 ($50/bottle); the fairly rare Arneis grape originates in the Piedmont region of Northern Italy. Only five or six American wine producers grow it, and the grape was brought back from near-extinction by the Currado family (owners of Vietti Winery).
Ponzi produces 10-12 wines annually, three of which are Pinot noirs. The three prominent grapes onsite are Pinot noir, Pinot gris, and Chardonnay. Ponzi is a LIVE-certified winery (Low Input Viticulture and Enology).
Organic fertilizers are used, and sulfur in limited quantities, only when absolutely necessary in order to preserve the winery’s 130 acres of grapes.
Their sleek four-level gravity-flow-assisted winemaking facility was booming on the morning of my visit, with freshly-harvested Pinot noir grapes being fermented below.
I sampled two Pinot noirs: a 2012 Tavola ($25/bottle), and a 2012 Ponzi Pinot noir ($40/bottle). While the Tavola is an ‘everyday’ fruit-forward pinot meant to be enjoyed as a table wine, the Ponzi contains darker fruit notes, produced in the winery’s classic style. Considered the signature Pinot, it has a bit more pepper and spice, and would be well paired with lamb or roast.
Ponzi Vineyards is located at 19500 SW Mountain Home Road in Sherwood.
Cooper Mountain Vineyards was started in 1985, its first vintage released two years later. Nine and a half acres of ‘Old Vines’ are grown at the property, with a total acreage of 123 (the winery produces wines using grapes from several local wine makers).
Cooper Mountain has the distinction of being the only winery to produce Tocai Friulano ($22/bottle), a grape found in the Northeastern part of Italy. Part of the Sauvignon blanc family, the Friulano’s aged in stainless steel and imparts tropical fruit and lemon flavours.
Grown right on the property, the ‘Old Vines’ Chardonnay ($30/bottle) is aged seven months in French oak, just enough to gain that lovely vanilla aroma, but avoiding the heavily buttery quality. This one’s a bit more crisp.
Newly-released Cooper Mountain Pinot noir 2012 ($28/bottle) benefits from that year’s perfect summer; dark fruits and blueberries are the primary flavours I tasted when sampling this enjoyable Pinot.
Cooper Mountain grows grapes using the bio-dynamic process, evident while tasting Cooper Mountain’s organic, sulfite-free Pinot noir ‘Life’ ($40/bottle). This one’s got a nice spice, with dark red fruits prominent on the palate.
The winery uses a more complex selection of grapes from three vineyards in a higher elevation to produce its Pinot noir ‘Mountain Terroir’ ($50/bottle). This one’s got a great earthy quality to it, with dark cherry and spice notes adding to a spicy vanilla aroma on the nose.
Cooper Mountain Winery is located at 20121 SW Leonardo Lane in Beaverton.
The drive around these parts is very scenic, with gentle slopes, farms, and seasonal colour — worth taking the time to savour, much like the area’s wines.
Mt. Hood Territory
Darrel and Molly Roby began Ribera Vineyards in 2000, its first vintage produced four years later (with a ‘whopping’ 80 cases of Pinot gris, Pinot noir, and Chardonnay, according to Molly).
The small vineyard now produces 1,200 cases annually, choosing to focus on Southern Oregon grapes, the majority of them Syrah.
The winery’s 2013 Rose was chosen as one of Oregon’s 50 Best Wines recently by Portland Monthly. Ribera self-distributes their wines, working out a winery facility along with several other regional wine makers.
The 2012 Molly’s Vineyard Chardonnay ($18/bottle) is neutral-barrel fermented for 11 months, allowing the citrusy/pear flavour to shine through.
2012 Confluence ($22/bottle) contains four grapes (Mourverde, Syrah, Grenache, Counoise), the latter being a somewhat obscure French grape used a lot to blend wines. This fuller-bodied wine is a great alternative to the region’s Pinot-centric products. I tasted red and black berries on the palate, finding this Rhone-style wine a juicy, enjoyable sipper.
The 2012 Stormy Morning Vineyard Pinot noir ($25/bottle) has a slightly tart flavour coming from the cranberry flavour, along with a hint of spice from the dark fruit. Strawberry is also prevalent on the palate.
Ribera’s sleek new tasting room is located on the Farmlandia Farm Loop Trail at 21775 SW Ribera Lane in West Linn; visit their site for tasting hours (on weekends; otherwise by appointment).
The tasting room at Villa Catalana Cellars is in the heart of a conservatory filled with rare botanicals and wrought iron tables. I wasn’t expecting the door to open to lead to such a unique space, but even in the rainy October weather, the light in here made me forget the pitter-patter outside.
The property is beautiful, inspired by 12th century Spanish Romanesque churches. Owner Burl Mostul created moulds for columns, poured in concrete, pressure-washed them the next day to give them an aged appearance, mortared the capitals onto the top and poured concrete over them so they’re solid.
12th century Spain meets modern-day Oregon thus.
Burl and his wife have tried to keep the architectural style as consistent as possible throughout the property, starting the project in 2009, and taking just over a year to build the home and arches. The gardens are a continual work of progress.
Rare Plant Research plays a huge role here. Burl started back in 1987 as a hobby, growing tropical plants new to science. Post 9/11, it got harder to move plants between countries, so he focused on new garden plants, getting seeds and sourcing plants from New Zealand, Mexico, South Africa, Ecuador, China, and Thailand.
Burl sought out plants that would be interesting to gardeners, and began to develop hybrids. The project has since evolved into a wholesale nursery that sees a huge number of customers come through his winery during their first open nursery of the season.
The majority of the plants are suitable to tropical deciduous forest or dessert climates.
As far as the winery goes, Pinot noir is the focus here. Villa Catalana looks for small vineyards that have exceptional soil for a particular grape, in 2012’s case, Earl’s Vineyard (near Molalla), containing terroir that makes for a unique Pinot noir, a bit softer than the typical Oregon Pinots.
The tasting room is open from 1-4 pm on Saturdays and is located at 11900 S. Criteser Road in Oregon City.
Located 30 minutes south of Portland between Oregon City and Canby in Beaver Creek Valley, Villa Catalana Cellars is part of the self-guided Canby Area Farm Loop.