Willamette Valley Wows Seattle
By Mark Stock
The Willamette Valley Wineries Association headed north for its first out-of-state showcase this March, landing in Seattle with a caravan of some 50 wineries. Like Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby, the Association traveled in classic fashion, well-organized and neatly tailored by tremendous winemaking talent and their signature nostalgic media campaign.
Two sold out events made up the first-ever WVWA Block Party, an afternoon trade tasting followed by an evening consumer tasting. Both were housed by South Seattle’s beautifully restored SODO Park building, a former cannery turned events space that’s a century old and a few short blocks from the Sound.
The trade showcase exposed Oregon Pinot Noir to Washingtonian distributors, restaurateurs, and bottle shop owners. Many winemakers were on hand to pour, offering a personal feel that reflects Oregon wine country’s trademark intimacy and charm. The wineries stressed Pinot Noir but poured a few other expected varietals, such as Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, and Riesling.
Regional maps depicting the Willamette Valley’s seven sub-appellations flanked the main room while the area’s newest luxury resort, The Allison, established a strong presence front-and-center. Oregon icons including Jason Lett of Eyrie Vineyards and Laurent Montalieu of Soléna Cellars shared the space with lesser-known producers such as Thistle Wines of Dundee and Winter’s Hill of Dayton.
Tired of apologizing for a vintage that’s truly coming into its own, many of the wineries prominently featured 2007s. Some Washingtonians entered the tasting with sound bites like “challenging” and “watery” in their depiction of the vintage. However, as the many surprised faces indicated, these wines are generally very complex and quite praiseworthy. In part, the Block Party was a reckoning event, setting the record straight about a difficult year that Oregon winemakers embraced rather than merely survived.
About 400 tasters attended the consumer portion, catered by SODO Park’s occupying business, Herban Feast. The menu featured northwest cuisine including Carlton Farms pork tenderloin sliders, bacon wrapped figs and plenty of Oregon hazelnuts. In true Oregon fashion, a Stumptown Coffee stand greeted participants after the final set of wineries.
Barbara Gross of Cooper Mountain Vineyards in Beaverton echoed the wave of support and enthusiasm for the Block Party. “That was the best event I have been to in years,” she said. “Oregon pinot needs to be refreshed, the thing about branding is that you always have to reinvent yourself.”
Wineries Association Executive Director Sue Horstmann said the sell-out crowd to both segments of the Block Party indicates Willamette Valley wines are attracting Washington tasters, setting a precedent for road trips to come. The pours were large, the atmosphere cozy and the experience very Oregonian. The Block Party managed to move a large part of the Valley into a single space, offering curious attendees a concentrated version of wine tasting in Oregon pinot country.
Mark Stock, a Gonzaga University grad, is a Portland-based freelance writer and photographer with a knack for all things Oregon.