Tag: eugene

Top 10 Wine Moments of 2016

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View of Carneros wine region from Artesa Winery

2016 was unquestionably an impactful year no matter what filters you apply to its 365 days: geopolitics, U.S. politics, the global economy, or the premature passing of a disproportionate number of treasured artists.  Certainly, a historical understanding of 2016 will require a thorough review of all of these areas and more.  Our goal, however, is not to define 2016, put any labels on it, or attempt to put it into any particular context.  Instead, we want to celebrate some of the wonderful events and moments that we experienced in 2016 that are as important to remember.  Below are ten  of our top 2016 moments, not ranked by importance (how could we even do that?) but chronologically.

  1.  Wines of the World.  In January of 2016 we took our first class in the Viticulture and Winery Technology department at Napa Valley College.  Most of our wine education came to us in our important role as consumers (i.e., wine drinkers); we knew a fair amount about California and international wines, but were by no means global wine experts.  On our first day of class we were poised with our notebooks and pens to take copious notes about the wines of the world.  “Where are your glasses?” asked our professor.  Apparently this was a wine drinking class!  If we knew that such a class existed we would have taken it years before.  For the next class, we brought six wine glasses each and tasted wines from 7-10pm each Wednesday for 15 weeks.  Each week, we tasted between 12 and 14 wines, starting with France and moving through the rest of the Old World (Italy, Spain, Germany, Austria, Portugal, Eastern Europe) and eventually the New World wines (Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, South America).  Along the way we learned about the different wine regions in each country, the grape varietals growth there, unique wine-making styles, and the specific terroir of each location.  Together with the wine tasting, it was quite an education!
  2. Bottlerock 2016.  Music festivals have become a real “thing” the past several years.  In Napa, we have our own 3-day festival, Bottlerock, that has grown since its inception about five years ago into an honest-to-goodness kick-ass event.  Each year, the quality of the headliners as well as the rest of the festival lineup has increased significantly.  For Bottlerock 2016, the headliners were Florence & The Machine, Stevie Wonder and The Red Hot Chili Peppers.  We bought tickets for two days – Florence and Stevie – and came to the festival early to catch some of the unheralded (but often equally impressive) early acts.  Beyond the strong performances, the food options were more plentiful than in prior years as were the wine and beer selections.  We are looking forward to purchasing Bottlerock 2017 tickets when they go on limited pre-sale tomorrow!  Please buy yours some other day.
  3. El Centimo.  Through our wine class (see #1 above) we met two of the dynamic people behind El Centimo Real, a wonderful wine from Spain’s Rioja region.  Jesus Parreño and Alaina Velazquez both live in Napa and have wine industry “day jobs” but are also trying to share their Rioja passion with the U.S. market.  We are often called wine snobs so when we tell you that our New Year’s Eve dinner featured two bottles of this luscious Rioja, hopefully you’ll conclude that the wine is fantastic.  More surprising, perhaps, is that the wine costs at least half of what we typically pay for quality California wines.  You can find out more about El Centimo Real here:  El Centimo.
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    2010 El Centimo Real (Lot 532)

    4.  Meeting a Legend.  On Father’s Day 2016, we had the opportunity (along with two of our kids) to meet Mike Grgich, the founder of Grgich Hills winery in Napa but also one of the people who helped put Napa Valley on the global wine map.  In 1976, Mike Grgich was the winemaker at Chateau Montelena and their 1973 Chardonnay, in a head-to-head contest in Paris, came out on top of a roster of wines that included the best of France’s white wines.  This so-called Judgement of Paris ignited the world’s understanding and acceptance of American wines.  Here’s a link to our Father’s Day blog entry:  A Pair of Aces for Father’s Day.

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    The crew with Miljenko “Mike” Grgich

    5.  A chance invitation to a wine party.  Some time during the summer we received an invitation to join a wine event at a winery with which we were not familiar:  Y. Rousseau.  Via Twitter, we met Olga Mosina from the winery and she told us about the event and a bit about the winemaker, Yannick Rousseau.  Given our interest in and focus on “hidden gems,” Y. Rousseau seemed right up our alley:  a small production operation housed in the up-and-coming (but still mostly hidden) Crusher District.  As interesting was the fact that Y. Rousseau’s two signature wines are Colombard and Tannat, both rare wines to say the least in the land of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.  To read our original post click here:  A Frenchman in Napa Valley.

    6.  Tasting wine with another legend.  Again via Twitter, we connected with Amelia Ceja, the founder and owner of Ceja Vineyards.  Sourcing fruit 100% from their estate properties in Napa and Sonoma, Ceja makes a number of different varietals, including some really fantastic Pinot Noir offerings.  What is particularly compelling about the Ceja story, we thought, was the fact that Amelia and her husband both came to Napa Valley from Mexico as children and went from picking grapes alongside their parents to growing grapes on their own property and making excellent wines.  Our write-up on our visit is here:   An All-American Story.

7.  A cool Oregon winemaker.  After drop-off weekend at the University of Oregon we made a visit to another winemaker that we met on Twitter, Jerry Sass, at his estate vineyard near Salem.  We quickly became fans not only of Sass Winery but of Mr. Sass as well due to his personality as well as his approach to viticulture and winemaking. Jerry has a dry wit very similar to ours and an honest outlook on life that drew us to him right away.  As a grape grower and winemaker, we loved his commitment to dry farming his grapes (no irrigation) and the fact that 100% of his vines on the estate we visited are “own rooted” – no grafting of one grape varietal onto the roots of another type of grape.  Jerry considers making wine a craft and respects the land and the fruit he picks.  End result?  Fantastic white and red wines.  You can read our write-up on Jerry and his wines here:  A Lot of Sass In Willamette Valley.

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9 wines is the right number for tasting

 

8.  Hey let’s meet some Italian winemakers!  One of the nights we were in Venice we arranged to meet with a dynamic duo, Roberto and Natalia from The Vinum Winery in Ortona, Italy.  It was quite an experience sharing dinner with them at the famous Terraza Danieli restaurant overlooking the Grand Canal – and drinking some of their wines with dinner.  They make a fantastic Prosecco as well as a number of other white and red wines; we managed to bring a case of their wine home with us and look forward to the day their wines are available here in the U.S.  Our day in Venice, including dinner with Roberto and Natalia, can be found here:  Why Is It So Hard To Keep A Secret?

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New friends in Venice

9.  What country is this?  After leaving Venice, Italy on a Sunday in October we whisked our way north and east into what the wife thought was going to be more of Italy.  We quietly crossed the border from Italy into Slovenia and ended up at the Kabaj Morel winery in the Goriška Brda region.  We had probably the best overall wine tasting experience of our lives at Kabaj Morel; in fact, it is an insult to the experience to call it “wine tasting.”  Our visit lasted 4 1/2 hours and consisted of a five-course lunch and drinking (not tasting) many of the Kabaj wines.  Our stop at Kabaj was a top highlight on a trip of top highlights.  You can read about our gluttonous feast here:  Sneaking The Wife Across An International Border.

10.  Last but not least.  Our trip to Croatia was a major revelation in terms of our understanding and appreciation of wines from that region.  Prior to the trip we had little exposure to Balkan wines, varietals and wine regions.  We got a major education on Croatian wines during our visit to Basement Wine Bar in the capital, Zagreb.  Based on what we learned at Basement, we structured some of our days in the rest of Croatia around tasting the local wines and even visiting one of Croatia’s most well-known regions, the Peljesac Peninsula.  While there, we were able to visit Mike Grigich’s Croatian winery (Grgic Vina) which was a nice tie-in to our Father’s Day visit discussed above.  Our Croatia adventure can be accessed here:  I’ve a feeling we’re not in Croatia anymore.

Crafting this list was difficult as we have visited several dozen wineries this past year and consumed bottles from many more.  Easily, we could have done a top 50 or maybe even a top 100, but we thought ten was a manageable number.  We hope you enjoyed reminiscing about 2016 with us.

John & Irene Ingersoll

January 4, 2017

 

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A B&B That Serves Wine for Breakfast

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Bluebird Hill Farm Bed & Breakfast in Willamette Valley

We traveled to Oregon in late September to drop off a kid at the University of Oregon in Eugene.  Wrapped around that momentous event, we planned a series of adult activities for ourselves:  wine tasting, visiting some nice restaurants, attending an Oregon football game, and staying at some wine country bed and breakfasts.  This post is the fifth and final in the September 2016 Oregon series.

When we started to look for a hotel room in Eugene for a couple of days in late September, we realized that we had waited too long.  All rooms, ranging from “nice” to “halfway decent” to “ugh, at least it’s only for two nights” were booked.   The rooms that fell into the even lower categories of accommodations were demonstrating the interaction of the competing economic forces of supply and demand by charging Ritz-Carlton prices for accommodations so substandard that nearly all Yelp reviewers advised sleeping in the car as a preferred alternative.  We decided not to stay in Eugene at all and started looking for something a bit outside of town.  By a stroke of good fortune, our internet search led us to a cozy bed & breakfast:  the Bluebird Hill Farm Bed & Breakfast.  Located in Monroe, Oregon, about 45 minutes north of Eugene and 30 minutes south of Corvallis, Bluebird Hill Farm is a perfect spot for visitors to either University of Oregon or Oregon State.

We stayed at the B&B two nights, the first of which was after the Oregon football game; because we had dinner after the game, we didn’t arrive to Bluebird Hill Farm until well after dark.  Our innkeeper, Sue Shay, must have heard us coming up the driveway and was outside to greet us when we got out of the car.

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Sue Shay, Innkeeper, Bluebird Hill Farm Bed & Breakfast

She led us upstairs and showed us to our room, one of only two in the B&B.  We noticed right away that there was a large window overlooking vineyards outside, a pleasant reminder that we were in the heart of Willamette Valley.  We wondered whose vineyards they were, a mystery that was cleared up the following morning at breakfast.

We slept in late and slowly made our way downstairs for breakfast.  Sue had arranged a nice spread for us in their dining room and we loaded up with coffee and breakfast goodies for the day ahead.  During breakfast, Sue sat with us and gave us the history of not only the B&B, but also of the vineyards and winery operation.  As it turns out, the vines we could see outside of our window belong to Sue and her husband Neil.  Like many other Oregon winemakers that we met, the Shay’s story of becoming winemakers in the Willamette Valley has a charming, modest and almost accidental feel to it.  In 2010 the Shay’s moved to Oregon after Neil took a position at Oregon State as Professor of Food Science and Technology.  Neil and Sue wanted to live out in the country and they spent about a year looking for the perfect spot.  Their patience paid off when they found a six-acre property with a lovely home surrounded by overgrown Christmas trees.

As we noted in one of our earlier Willamette Valley post (A Lot of Sass In Willamette Valley), we saw hundreds of acres of Christmas trees being farmed in several spots in the Valley.  As we enjoyed breakfast, Sue told us that when they moved in to their new home, the six acres were dominated by these trees.  They blocked views from the house to the Valley below and also took up land that could be put to better use.  During the week Neil worked his professorial day job; on the weekends, he and Sue took on the herculean chore of cutting down about 2,000 trees.  If we had to cut down 2,000 trees – or 2000, or 20, or probably even 2 ,we would hire someone.  Not the Shay’s.  With a trusty chainsaw in hand, they cut and cleared the trees themselves, giving themselves not only a gorgeous view but a lot of open land suitable for planting.

And what do you suppose they planted?  Grape vines, of course!  True to their Willamette Valley location, they planted Pinot Noir; the first vines were planted in 2013.  The Shay’s also planted Chardonnay and Pinot Gris, two white varietals that are also very common in the Valley.   They now have about three acres planted on the property.

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Vineyards on Bluebird Hill Farm estate

Today, the Shay’s are selling the fruit of their labor (or is it the labor of their fruit?) through their own winery ,which they have named Bluebird Hill Cellars.  Their wines are made from grapes grown on the estate as well as fruit sourced from other high-quality producers in the Willamette Valley.  Like others we have met, the Shay’s did not come to Oregon with the expectation that they would grow grapes and make wine.  Instead, they followed Neil’s job opportunity and picked a serene and beautiful property on which to live.  When they describe the decision to plant some grapes, it sounded very casual, not at all compelled by a commercial purpose, but for perhaps the same reason that we plant tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables in our garden every year.  At some point, again seemingly without commercial motivation, the Shay’s decided to make wine from their fruit.  We do not know what their long-term aspirations are in terms of size and volume, but we do know that they are committed to being very involved in their grape growing and winery operations and selling small-lots that meet their high standards.

For the two days that we stayed at Bluebird Hill Farm B&B, we got an up-close view of what a small lot, husband-and-wife wine operation looks like.  Each morning, while we were enjoying breakfast, Neil was working with the grapes that had been harvested in the days leading up to our visit: doing “punch downs” when necessary and measuring “Brix” (sugar levels) in the fermenting wine.  In the middle of one of our breakfasts, Neil came into the kitchen with a couple of glasses of what looked like grape juice – except that they were in wine glasses.  After having Sue taste the samples, he put some glasses in front of us and let us taste them.  One of the samples was from approximately a week prior, so it was pretty far along in its initial fermentation and had a higher alcohol content.  The second sample was from a few days ago and it still had a fair amount of sugar and the alcohol was not as pronounced. Finally, the third sample was from grapes crushed the previous day and tasted as yummy as any grape juice we’ve had.  Perhaps we should have felt some level of shame for wine tasting with our breakfast, but for some reason it felt natural and normal.

After breakfast we left for a day of wine tasting and exploring, including a stop for dinner along the way.  Sue promised that if we made it back early enough she would let us taste their wines – not the fermenting juice, the stuff that actually made it to a bottle.  When we got back, Neil and Sue were having dinner with Bobby Moy, their smart, young winemaker who, like us, lives in Napa Valley.  We told Sue that we didn’t want to get in the way of their dinner and would skip the tasting.  She was having none of it and invited us to join them on their outside deck.  The Shay’s opened all of their wines and we had our tasting overlooking the vineyards on a beautiful Willamette evening.  It was a special feeling, more like sitting with friends than visiting a winery.   Adding to this special feeling was having Bobby there giving us inside information on each wine, vintage, and sharing their wine making approach.  It was exciting for us to see two people approaching the wine business with a mixture of adventure, seriousness, curiosity and humility.

We enjoyed the Bluebird Hill Cellars Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, as well as their Rosé of Pinot Noir.  We purchased bottles of all of these wines to take home with us.  Many of their wines are sold out until the next vintage is bottled, but their Chardonnay and Pinot Noir  and Rosé are available for sale on their site: http://www.bluebirdhillcellars.wine/shop.  Unlike small-lot producers in Napa, which often charge exorbitant prices for their wines, Bluebird Cellars’ wines are very reasonably priced:  $20 for the Rosé, $22 for the Pinot Gris, $28.00 for the Chardonnay, and $32.00 for the Pinot Noir.  In our opinion, the Bluebird Hill Cellars wines can hold their own against much more expensive Willamette Valley offerings.

As we pulled out of the B&B driveway on our long drive home on Monday morning, we felt like we had made new friends that we hope to see again soon.  Certainly, the next time we have to be in Eugene, we will skip the chain hotels, even if reservations are available, and stay with Neil and Sue at Bluebird Hill Farm B&B.  The tranquility of the setting and the warmth and hospitality are well worth the extra few miles of driving.

John & Irene Ingersoll

October 19, 2016

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A view of the b&b from the bottom of the property
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Not all of the Christmas trees were removed!

A Fun Little Lie in Eugene, Oregon

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Raining cats and dogs (and ducks) at Autzen Stadium

Don Essig has been the public address announcer at Autzen Stadium, the football home of the University of Oregon Ducks, for the past 46 years.  In 1990, umbrellas were banned at Oregon football games after fans complained about blocked views.  Fortunately for the fans who attended that first umbrella-less game, it did not rain that day.  In his pre-game weather report, Essig tossed out a somewhat tongue-in-cheek line:  “It never rains in Autzen Stadium.”  Somewhat miraculously, it did not rain again at Autzen for 34 games, which made Essig’s line seem quite prophetic.

Of course, eventually it did rain, and has rained many times at Autzen Stadium, as we can attest from last year’s Cal-Oregon game where we had to drag out the coats we never wear in California. And the hats. The gloves. The scarf. The beanie.  The rain boots.  It rained very hard that day, which was just insult to injury as Cal lost by a wide margin and I went back to my hotel soaked to the bone.

For our second trip to Autzen, though, there was not even a hint of rain.  We had the most beautiful blue sky with just a couple of puffy white clouds floating along.

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A sunnier day at Autzen Stadium

The game we attended was the Ducks’ Pac-12 home opener against the Colorado Buffaloes, a game that coincided with move-in weekend for students.  With all of the students back for Fall quarter and thousands of parents in town as well, the stadium was rocking to say the least.  For the second year in a row, Oregon lost its first conference home game.  Last year the Ducks lost Utah by a shocking score of 62-20 – a six touchdown deficit at game’s end.  This year, the Ducks kept it closer, failing to score at the end of the game and losing a close one 41-38.

In both games, something struck us about the fans that attend Oregon games:  they are some of the most intense, loyal and committed fans in football.  No matter what the score, Duck fans stay engaged, they keep cheering their team on, they find something positive to focus on. Even down by five touchdowns last season, they applauded first downs and big gains knowing that the team could not possibly come back and win.  At many stadiums, when a team gets down by 10 points, or 14 points, or worse, the stands start to empty out.  Things are different at Autzen Stadium.  Last year, at the end of the third quarter, down 54-13, sitting in a torrential downpour, virtually no fans had left the game.  Admittedly, after one more score the fans started filing out, but long after they would have most other places.

This fan loyalty must be partially cultural, but also reflects just how difficult it is to get a ticket to a Ducks football game.  There are only 54,000 seats at Autzen Stadium – far less than the 100,000+ capacity at other football powerhouses such as Michigan, Penn State, Ohio State or Alabama. Moreover, for students, getting a ticket to a home football game is nearly as monumental as getting a golden ticket in the Willy Wonka movie.  About a month before the Fall term begins, a small number of student season tickets is made available via online lottery.  Students, including our son, have multiple browser screens open at the Athletic Department website waiting for the stroke of 6 p.m. Pacific Time when the allotment of tickets are put on sale.  Most students are unable to get tickets through this lottery process; their recourse is to put their name in for a supplemental lottery each Thursday where single-game tickets are available.  With such a mismatch between supply and demand, we suppose that students understand how lucky they are to get a ticket.

One consequence of the high demand-to-supply ratio is that the visitor’s section is one of the most meager and inhospitable of any we have seen in college football.  Many stadiums allot the visiting team an entire end zone, or several sections in one of the corners of the stadium. At the Colorado game, we thought for a moment that there were no visiting fans; but when Colorado scored we heard a tiny commotion coming from a group of stalwart fans cheering from the tiniest wedge of a section you could imagine.  This was the same for the Cal game and the Utah game in 2015, which tells us that the Ducks simply don’t allocate tickets for the visiting team.

The combination of a hard-to-get ticket, and nearly 100% home fans, make for a raucous and energized crowd. During the entire game, the student section never sits down; the fans are jumping up and down and leading non-stop cheers. Our favorite tradition occurs at the start of the 4th quarter of every Oregon home football game:  an entire stadium of fans singing the song “Shout” from Animal House.  What’s the connection, you ask?  Perhaps the most iconic college comedy of all time was filmed at the University of Oregon, with most of the fraternity scenes shot in an actual University of Oregon fraternity.  Ever since the release of the movie, students at U of O have had a strong identity with the movie.  Perhaps the strongest “Animal House” identification is with the song “Shout,” performed during the movie by Otis Day & the Knights.  We shot a quick video of the assembled 54,000 fans singing the song, clapping and dancing along to the words (“a little bit louder now,” “a little bit softer now”).

Last season, during Oregon Basketball’s run to a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, I witnessed the same thing at Matthew Knight Arena, home of the men’s basketball team.  Although the basketball arena is a smaller venue, it is indoors so the energy of the crowd was even more frenetic than at the football game.  We will try and get to at least one basketball game this Spring, and maybe one more football game this Fall.

John & Irene Ingersoll

October 12, 2016

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Shocking – raining at Autzen Stadium!
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The Ducks wearing their throw-back uniforms

 

O, Oregon!

We spent nearly a week in Oregon at the end of September, a trip motivated by the need to drop our son off at the U of O. We decided to add a couple of days to the trip and visit some wineries and wine regions we have not been to before.  One of the benefits of writing a wine blog and having an active presence on Twitter (@topochinesvino) is the connection to new friends across the United States and around the world.  Over the past six months or so, we have developed friendships in the Twittersphere with a number of winemakers and winery managers up and down the state of Oregon.  We built our non-campus activities around in-person visits to their wineries to learn more about their wines and what led them to this often challenging way of life.  We think we’ve made some lasting friendships from our visits in addition to tasting some of Oregon’s top-notch wines.

Over the course of our 6 days in Oregon, we had a wide range of adventures and experiences:

  1.  We saw an Oregon football game (our first together) in the very impressive Autzen stadium in Eugene.
  2.  We stayed at two very different but lovely B&B’s, both of which have vineyards and are producing their own wines.
  3.  Despite having visited Oregon multiple times, we discovered a part of the Willamette Valley (the southern region) that was new to us.
  4.  In between winery visits and campus activities, we were able to enjoy some superb restaurants.
  5.  On the drive home, we encountered two wine regions that until recently we did not know existed:  Umpqua Valley and Rogue Valley.

We will be posting about all of these experiences over the next several days, with of course lots of photos to accompany our stories.  For now, we leave you with a few pictures to whet the appetite for what is to come.

John & Irene Ingersoll

October 3, 2016

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Oregon-Colorado Football Game
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Irene Rocking Her Duck Hat In the Vineyard
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Oregon Pinot Noir
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Enviously Eying the Barrels
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Ready for Harvest
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Spanish Platter and Tempranillo
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Enjoying Rose in Rogue Valley