For many wine lovers, the first place to get acquainted with a favorite winery is in its tasting room.
There are many beautiful tasting rooms among Oregon’s 700-plus wineries. The best of them nestle into vineyards and stand beside the production facilities of the Willamette Valley. The Argyle Winery, in Dundee; King Estate, southwest of Eugene; and Willamette Valley Vineyards, outside of Salem near Turner, come immediately to mind.
There’s something special about sampling wine in a vineyard, even while standing indoors and gazing through giant picture windows. It’s even better when the winery’s tasting room was specifically designed to enhance the experience. The Sokol Blosser Winery is an outstanding example.
The Sokol Blosser family, pioneers of the Oregon wine industry, planted its first vines in the Dundee Hills above Dayton in 1971 and began producing pinot noir, pinot gris and other varietals in 1978. At first, a small tasting room served the 100-acre Yamhill County estate. But as wine tourism grew in the 21st century, a new, expanded facility became necessary.
The new tasting room and event space opened in the summer of 2013. Its design, by Allied Works of Portland, blends into the natural contours of the Dundee Hills and its rows of vineyards. Built of striated wood with clean, geometric lines, large windows and skylights, it comprises three interconnected areas.
The main tasting room is at the heart of the structure, with a bar, an outdoor terrace, a sitting area and a hearth for chilly days. An elegant library may be reserved for group wine tastings, and a kitchen serves as a gathering place for food-pairing visits. Beneath, embedded into the earth, a new cellar is used for wine storage and private tastings. A rooftop solar-panel array provides power for the tasting room.
Formal tasting rooms should always be regarded as places of wine education rather than places to party. They are intended to introduce new releases and vintages that may not be widely available in supermarkets or even in specialty wine shops.
Is there a particular etiquette that a visitor should follow at a tasting room? Bryanna Schneider Holden, manager of the Sokol Blosser tasting room, and sales associates Cameron Smith and Carolyn Leclercq made these suggestions:
• A wine tasting is just that, a tasting. One-ounce pours are intended as introductions to a producer’s varietals and vintages. Don’t demand a larger pour.
• Don’t come to a winery intoxicated: This may have a negative impact on others’ tasting experiences.
• Expect a tasting fee (typically $10 to $25) to be charged. This may subsequently be deducted from bottle purchases.
• Be aware of any fragrance you may be wearing. It’s best to visit a tasting room free of perfumes or colognes, as the essences may interfere with tasters’ ability to smell the grapes.
• Look into a winery’s food policies before arriving with a picnic basket. While some wineries have patio picnic areas, many do not.
• If you are visiting with a group of more than six, reservations — if not essential — are highly recommended, both as a courtesy to the winery and to maximize your own tasting-room experience.
While Sokol Blosser makes many wines, the winery grew around its pinot noirs. Its current inventory features 17 versions of this unique varietal, topping out with the 2012 Goosepen Block Pinot Noir ($85). “I will most likely never see another vintage like this in my lifetime,” said winemaker Alex Sokol Blosser, so it has to be good. Tasting notes focus on its fruitiness (blueberries and blackberries) with hints of cocoa.
The winery also offers a chardonnay ($38), three pinot gris ($19 to $22), a riesling ($24) and a white riesling dessert wine ($40). A sparkling rosé of 2013 pinot noir ($60) is exceptional: I had some of this with my Thanksgiving turkey, and I enjoyed its fruity nose and crisp finish.
To many wine lovers, however, Sokol Blosser may be best known for its modestly priced Evolution sub-brand. The 2014 Evolution Pinot Noir ($20) is a light, fruit-forward red with flavors of pomegranate and cranberry sauce. It’s a fine wine for pairing with salmon, duck, pork and wild mushrooms. Evolution Big Time Red ($15) blends sangiovese, syrah and Italian-style Montepulciano grapes in a bigger, bolder red suitable for pairing with beef.
Evolution Lucky No. 9 ($15) is a wildly popular, off-dry white wine with notes of tropical fruit and a crisp, clean finish. Pairing exceptionally well with spicy foods, it is a remarkable blend of nine different grapes — chardonnay, pinot gris and pinot blanc among them.
And in time for the holidays, Sokol Blosser has now launched Evolution Sparkling Wine ($20), a methode-champagnoise brut with aromatics of stone fruit (apricot, peach, pear, green apple) and delicious bubbles for celebrants’ palates.
— John Gottberg Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .