The sun was shining for day two in The Tualatin Valley, during my visit to Oregon’s Wine Country last month. My trip was courtesy of The Washington County Visitors Association (WCVA).*
Jackie, a member of the WCVA team, picked me up early at my lodging at McMenamins Grand Lodge in Forest Grove, to begin a full sunrise-to-sunset of tasting and touring around the area.
Breakfast At Maggie’s Buns
“Maggie’s Buns, known for its baked goods, is a fun, quirky cafe with delicious, homemade food,” said Jackie. It was a perfect place to go for breakfast. The cafe, located right by Pacific University, one of the oldest universities in Oregon, was packed with students.
Good thing I left my gluten-free diet at home. The pastry case was filled with freshly baked buns, muffins and scones. Ooh, ooh, ooh, the smell of cinnamon filled the air, as did pots of Stumptown coffee, a favorite beverage of Oregonians.
We sat at one of the mixed matched tables and chairs and poured two large mugs of coffee. Then Maggie and her team came out all smiles holding a tray of assorted baked goods. It was so good, so good, so good.
I could have lingered all morning, but we had to leave to make it to the town of Sherwood for our tasting at Ponzi Winery.
A Progressive Wine Tasting
I was eager to see what the Ponzi Winery had to offer, especially since The Tualatin Valley is situated in the northern Willamette Valley (WV) wine region, which was named by Wine Enthusiasts as 2016 Wine Region of the Year.” Ponzi Vineyards is internationally acclaimed for producing some of the world’s finest, limited production Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, White Riesling, Arneis and Dolcetto.
The Ponzi Winery, founded in 1970, is a family affair. Our guide Jake shared the story of owners David and Nancy Ponzi, who went to Italy to find their original grapes. “They brought back clippings in suitcases to start their winery,” said Jake. “Ponzi is one of six founding wineries in The Tualatin Valley. They share a lot of knowledge with other winemakers in the community. It strengthens the region.”
Today, their daughter Luisa is considered one of the top winemakers in the world, and sister Anna Maria is president. Brother Michael spent 20 years working in the business as well. It sounds like the business will stay in the family, as Luisa gave her twin boys an acre of Pinot Noir for their birthday when they turned 13.
Jake told us all about the winery and how the cool Oregonian weather is good for growing grapes. He took us outside to show us the vines which are planted in a wildflower-style pattern. “Each vine is a different clone,” said Jake.
Before going on the tour, we viewed the Ponzi hall of accolades. “Michelle Obama ordered a case of Ponzi wine for their farewell dinner at the White House,” said Jake. “It’s been served in the White House for years.”
In the plant, we saw fermenter machines, which would be filled with freshly picked grapes the next day, presses for pressing the juice out of the grapes, as well as huge barrels for aging the wine. “The bigger the barrel the less the wine will be touched by the oak. So the wine has a better taste,” said Jake.
Ponzi Winery is a sustainable operation and it shows. I learned that twist off caps are more sustainable than cork. Jake said it keeps the wine fresher too. They also care about the migrant workers who pick the grapes. Nancy is co-founder of an organization to support the health and well-being of migrant workers.
After our tour, it was time for the tasting. Jake poured an award-winning Chardonnay. It was so good, so good, so good. Next he poured Arneis and Pinot Gres. Both were so good, so good, so good. To close, I sipped the Pino Noir Reserve, one of the top 50 wines in the world. Naturally, it was so good, so good, so good.
“The Willamette Valley is making affordable wines,” said Jake. “Ponzi’s Pinot Noir Reserve costs $65 a bottle.” Best thing is you can find Ponzi wines across the country. Jake recommended Ponzi Riesling for Thanksgiving dinner. Guess what is going to be on my table this year for turkey day? You got it!
BTW, if you love wine, Ponzi Winery offers a wine club.
An Afternoon At The Farm
We left the Ponzi Winery for lunch at South Store Cafe, an historic landmark housed in a century-old clapboard building. “It’s been around since the early 1900s and is a beloved establishment,” said Jackie. I could tell why this homestyle restaurant was everyone’s go to spot in the wine country. We ordered sandwiches and sat and relaxed.
Following lunch, we crossed the street to Smith Berry Barn and Garden Market. It is my kind of place with farm-fresh fruits and vegetables, specialty herbs and perennials, and a Garden Store with gourmet food products, gifts, kitchen goods, candles, and more. There were jars of Marionberry Jam, the State berry of Oregon, and all kinds of honey made by local beekeepers.
“They make amazing milkshakes here. In summer they often have a line out the door for their milkshakes,” said Jackie. Not having had a milkshake since I was a kid, I had to try the Blackberry Lavender flavor of the day. It was so good, so good, so good.
Smith Berry Barn hosts an Heirloom Apple Festival in October with apple picking, apple pies and grilled apple sausage. (OMG, it’s this weekend Oct.15!!!) It sounds fabulous. I wish I could participate. Maybe next year!
Learning About Saké Making
We left the Barn and headed for our tasting and tour at SakéOne, the first American owned and operated brewer of craft saké in the world. I hadn’t had saké since the 80s and was glad to get reacquainted with this unique beverage.
SakéOne bottles saké under four distinct brands – Momokawa, Moonstone, G, and Peaceful River. Much of their saké is imported from Japan but they make a few varieties at the brewery in Oregon.
Our guide Jennifer educated us on the process of turning rice into saké. “Water quality is the most important thing in making saké and the Oregon area has good water,” said Jennifer. “Second is the quality of the rice.” On the tour, Jennifer pointed out their Japanese milling machine that is particular to SakéOne in the U.S.
We sampled dry and more fruity sakés. I preferred the more fruity varieties like Asian Pear and Plum. SakéOne also offers a Saké Club for saké lovers.
Back To Nature
Having had my fill of wine and saké, it was nice to take an afternoon walk around Fernhill Wetlands. The nature preserve is a world-class destination for birders who come to see rare migratory birds and waterfowl. The site encompasses more than 700 acres.
It’s a great place to breathe and meditate. I highly recommend a visit if you like bird watching or just want a peaceful place to wander.
Dinner Peruvian Style
“We’re going to dinner at one of Forest Grove’s newest restaurants, the Yellow Llama,” said Jackie. I was excited to try their specialties of authentic Peruvian food. Co-owner Wilson Urteaga was raised in Peru and is Yellow Llama’s chef.
What did we order? I thought you would ask so I wrote down all the details as not to forget. Here goes:
♥ Empanadas Aji de Galina (shredded chicken) and Chocio (corn).
♥ Fried Plantain Chips – salty and warm, served with a rich Peruvian sauce
♥ Lomo Saltado – marinated sirloin strips, flame-cooked in the wok and sautéed with garlic, ahi Amarillo, tomatoes and red onions in a tangy sauce. Served atop crispy French fries and a side of rice. (Well worth the carb load, yep, yep, yep.)
♥ Arroz con Mariscos – a colorful, flavorful rice with seafood dish. Seasoned rice with veggies and fresh mussels, shrimp, calamari and octopus.
Are you hungry yet? OMG, it was a best-ever dinner. No room for dessert.
P.S. In case you missed my first blog post about The Tualatin Valley, you can find it here.
*Disclosure of Material Connection: The Washington County Visitors Association sponsored my trip to The Tualatin Valley. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.