Guests enjoy the 2017 Keeler Estate German Christmas Dinner hosted in the cellar. ##Photo by Heidi Von Tagen
Host Gabriele Keeler chats with guests during the 2017 dinner. ##Photo by Heidi Von Tagen

Celebrating Weihnachten at Keeler Estate

A German Christmas

By Tamara Belgard

From light festivals to yule goats, to stockings — or shoes — stuffed with surprises, Christmas traditions figure prominently around the world. In my family, holidays are marked by food we’ve looked forward to all year long.

A mouthwatering plate of rinderrouladen, rotkohl, spätzle and geröstetes gemüse (see page 37 for translation) represents some of the dishes featured at this year’s Keeler Estate German Christmas Dinner, Dec. 8. ##Photo by Kathryn Elsesser

Menus of treasured traditions are customary for many. For Craig and Gabriele Keeler of Keeler Estate Vineyard in Amity, the table takes center stage. German dishes star alongside the warmest hospitality, festive decorations and a selection of wine that would make Santa and all the elves toasty and likely off schedule. The Keelers first hosted their now annual German Christmas Dinner with friends in 2015.

The dinners are inspired by Gabriele’s fond childhood memories of Christmas after the war in her hometown of Bremen in Northern Germany. Times were tough in those days. There was not a lot of money or resources, so practical items, straw ornaments, apples, Mandarin oranges and nuts, became Christmas decorations. Gabriele recalls, “We used what we had or what we could easily make. My mother always said, ‘And when Christmas is all done and over, we can eat the apples.’ They were a necessity in disguise.” She says they enjoyed many baked apples over the winter.

Tamara Belgard

Tamara Belgard is a freelance writer who explores the Oregon wine scene from her home in S.W. Portland.

The Keelers continue to honor those traditions, transforming their winery into a celebration of Christmas past. Instead of hanging expensive and fragile glass ornaments, she dresses the beautifully lit trees with wooden ornaments collected as a young girl, as well as bright red apples that add an organic element and punches of color to the otherwise dim cellar — still fragrant with the smells of harvest.

In Germany, a very common sight remains the Advent wreath, a Christian tradition that marks the passage of the four Sundays leading to Christmas. On the fourth and final Sunday before Christmas, all the candles are lit. Gabriele’s family has always created the wreath at home with greenery and small decorations. She laughs at the story now, but recalls, “We used real candles on our Christmas tree every year, but after the Advent wreath caught fire one year, our mother, undeterred, would keep two buckets of water nearby, just in case.” Brave and equally undaunted, Gabriele still uses genuine candles on her trees.

Gingerbread houses, made by local artist Mike Bittle and his wife, Renée, of RMB Craft Bakery, decorate last year’s Keeler Christimas event. ##Photo by Heidi Von Tagen

There’s probably no place where old-fashioned customs feel stronger than around the Keelers’ holiday table. Most traditional Christmas dinners in Germany include pork and potatoes — the selection after World War II was scarce; there was not much food available. This bit of history explains why the steak tartare served at last year’s Christmas dinner was, as Gabriele says, “a very special treat.”

“The spices have to be just right, as well as the way it is served,” Gabriele continues. “Tartare is a delicacy, and it was a rare luxury when we could it at Christmas dinners growing up in Germany. My mother would always tell the story about how the Huns stored the beef under their saddles to tenderize the meat.”

Keeler Estate wines were paired with all the dishes. ##Photo by Heidi Von Tagen

Herring was, and still is, common in German dishes. Gabriele says, “It is fairly inexpensive, and there is plenty of it, especially where we were up in Northern Germany [near] the Baltic Sea. And whenever we had fish dishes in Germany, we would serve it with beer and/or Schnapps because one of the common sayings in Germany is, ‘that fish always has to swim!’”

Last year, the Keelers partnered with Chef Yuriy Chira of Chira’s in Salem for a festive celebration of fine German fare and Keeler wine. Some of the dishes included: Kartoffelsuppe, a traditional German potato soup with Black Forest ham; Herring Salat, a pickled herring salad; Geschmorte Kotletten und Würstchen mit Sauerkraut, a 12-ounce pork chop braised with German sausage, sauerkraut and golden potatoes; Rouladen, filet mignon roulade with pickles in a beef demi-glace with house-prepared horseradish; Geröstetes Gemüse, roasted winter vegetables; Gefülltes Käsebrot, bread stuffed with beer cheese; and Schokoladenkuchen mit Beeren und Sahne, a German chocolate cake with Marionberries and cream served with a secret Santa cocktail — which is still a secret.

Christmas trees create a festive atmosphere for the annual winery event. ##Photo by Heidi Von Tagen

As for wine, it’s been a part of Gabrielle’s life long before co-founding the organic, Biodynamic vineyard and estate winery in 2007. Her grandfather, a wine merchant who frequently traveled to Greece, Spain and Italy, shared his best bottles during the holidays. She recalls, “Our mother would read the wine labels to us and teach us about the different regions and characteristics of the wine. As children, we were allowed to have a little sip, and that was very special.”

Along with food and wine, gingerbread houses too beautiful to eat are also part of the Keeler Christmas dinner. A German tradition since the 16th century, the houses (at last year’s event) were made by local artist Mike Bittle and his wife, Renée, of RMB Craft Bakery in McMinnville. “Growing up, we would bake the gingerbread and then make homemade houses,” Gabrielle says. “It was one of my favorite activities to do during Christmas. We would decorate the houses and use some of them as gifts. The houses would last a long time.” Last year, a handful of guests took a bit of the Keeler Christmas magic home after winning one of the spectacular masterpieces.

Yet, in addition to the lucky winners, everybody who attends the annual event wins in the end. Fine German fare and Keeler wine with warm memories of the evening linger for days. This year will be no different — check the mouthwatering sidebar for this year’s menu.


Keeler Estate German Christmas Dinner

December 8, 2018

In partnership with
Mount Angel’s Glockenspiel Restaurant

Marinated cucumber salad with dill weed and sour cream dressing
2017 Vintage Brut Sparkling Wine

Cream of cauliflower soup
2016 Chardonnay

Schweinefilet im Speckmantel mit Apfel
Brined and bacon-wrapped tenderloin of pork baked over a bed of savory apples

Slow braised beef rolled with bacon, dill pickle, onion and German mustard in tomato sauce

Geröstetes Gemüse
Roasted medley of winter vegetables: Brussels sprouts, baby potatoes, rainbow carrots and turnips

German-style handmade dumplings

Braised sweet and sour red cabbage with apple
2014 Pinot Noir
2016 Majestic White Oaks Pinot Noir

Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte
Black Forest Cake
2017 Late Harvest Pinot Gris

Tickets are $125 exclusively for our wine club members. Each guest will receive a bottle of our new 2017 Late Harvest Pinot Gris to take home. Limited seating available, this event will sell out. Purchase online,, or by phone at 503-687-2618. Due to the nature of this event refunds are not available for cancellations, however if you’d like to transfer your seats to a friend, please give us a call.

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