Exploring the Oregon Wine Trail Part I: Golden Cluster Vineyards in Willamette Valley

Crowd Shot
Busy day of tasting Oregon wines during the Oregon Wine Trail event in NYC.

May is Oregon Wine Month and, thanks to Susannah Gold of Vigneto Communications, and Sally Murdoch of the Oregon Wine Board, I was invited to attend the Oregon Wine Trail tasting in New York City a couple of weeks ago. Participating wineries hailed from 19 different American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) showcasing just how diverse the wines from Oregon can be.

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Willamette Valley, which incorporates seven smaller AVAs within its borders, was well-represented, as were Columbia Gorge and Columbia Valley. Southern Oregon was at the table, too, showcasing the terroirs of Rogue Valley and Applegate Valley. Even the Snake River Valley, on the eastern border with Idaho, was present and accounted for, offering many of us the first chance to taste these wines.

Map of Oregon AVAs
So much to learn about these wines!

I spent two hours at the tasting, which was not nearly enough time to explore every region and every wine. I’d have needed a couple of days (at least) for that! But I did try to focus my efforts on wines and/or producers whose profiles in the tasting guide caught my attention.

I particularly liked how the guide was organized. Wineries were categorized according to several criteria:

  • Sustainably Grown
  • Classic Pinots
  • Diverse Whites
  • Pioneers
  • Unexpected Oregon
  • Bold Reds

A quick glance at each entry showed what each winery was known for, making it easier to prioritize my meanderings.

Different Tasting Trails
A quick guide to find the right tasting table for you.

Over the next few posts, I’m going to recap my whirlwind day of tasting wines on the Oregon Wine Trail. Here’s episode #1.

Golden Cluster – Willamette Valley

This winery immediately caught my eye as I perused the event guide: the first wine listed was an old vines Sémillon grown on original rootstock. I’m a big fan of the grape and wish more people made it. In my opinion, white Bordeaux blends that rely heavily on Sémillon are among the most beautiful white wines I’ve tasted (probably because it blunts the oversized impact of Sauvignon Blanc.) But I digress . . . .

Did you know that Prohibition began four years earlier in Oregon than elsewhere in the US? I didn’t either until I boned up on the history of Golden Cluster. Originally established in 1870 as Rueter Estate, grapes were grown here until 1915, when the land was repurposed to fruit, vegetables, and cattle grazing. In 1965 the property was purchased by Charles and Shirley Coury, who brought back the vineyards.

Laurel+Ridge+Vineyard+circa+1993 from GC website
The beautiful landscape of Golden Cluster Wines. (photo: Golden Cluster Wines)

In 2013, the Stoyanov family (owners since 1992) launched the Golden Cluster label, intending to link the property’s heritage with its future. Their specialty is growing rare varieties, all on their original rootstocks and dry-farmed. Among their offerings are Sémillon, Savagnin, Müller-Thurgau, Garanoir, and Saperavi. One I found particularly interesting was Flora, a crossing between Sémillon and Gewürztraminer. Alas, I didn’t get to taste it.

Here’s what winemaker Jeff Vejr was pouring:

Courz Semillon from Golden Cluster website
Old vines Sémillon immediately caught my attention. (photo: Golden Cluster)

2017 Coury Old Vine Willamette Valley Sémillon (SRP $32) representing the 51st vintage of these vines first planted in 1966. Jeff likened this wine to a col fondo Prosecco, as it was aged on its lees for an extended period and neither fined nor filtered. Grapes were hand-harvested, and only natural yeasts were used. A super-rich expression of Sémillon and it blew me away! Some earthy aromas, which offered a nice counterpart to the ripe, rich fruit. The only thing I didn’t like? That so little is made! My stand-out wine of the tasting.

Muller_BottleMockup
Yes, Ferris would approve!

2018 Müller? Müller? Müller? Müller? Müller Thurgau Willamette Valley (SRP $22) – grapes come from vines planted in 1978, with stingy yields. But with stingy yields come complexity and concentration, and this wine had plenty of both. Hedonistic floral aromas, ripe orchard fruit, racy acidity. I think the name is a reference to the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and, like Ferris, I’d happily skip school to try more of these wines!

2018 Paint, Dye, Give Color Columbia Gorge Saperavi (SRP $32) was a berry-rich, slightly funky wine based on the Georgian (the country, not the state) grape Saperavi. Tart on the palate, with berry, earthy flavors, this wine was aged in clay amphorae.

2018 Merci, André Jacquinet Willamette Valley Gara Noir (SRP $25) – this wine made from a Swiss variety called Garanoir, a crossing of Gamay and Reichensteiner, whose wines can mimic those made from Pinot Noir, albeit with lower acidity. Cool climates help with that, and I found this wine enjoyable: it reminded me a bit of Cabernet Franc, especially the notes of capsicum on the finish.

There’s so much more to learn about Golden Cluster wines – this post highlights just a few of the wonderful wines they make. If you have a chance to visit the property or to attend an Oregon Wine Trail event, I recommend you take it. In the meantime, you can read more about their portfolio on their website.

Stay tuned for my next post featuring the other wineries from the Oregon Wine Trail event!

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