Washington County, Oregon might be better known as a home base or headquarters for larger business campuses like Nike and Intel but this County is a gem for the beverage and culinary arts. Washington County, Oregon – just a tunnel ride from Portland west bound is superbly easy to get to. I am based in San Francisco and a frequent visitor to nearby wine countries in Northern California–and I never compare Napa, Mendocino, Sonoma or the Santa Cruz Mountains to each other let alone wine countries further away. Each wine country is different and should be different. After all if all wine countries were identical to Napa then no one would visit another wine country. Oregon was the departure and familiarity that I wanted all at once–and it was a delightful journey of head and soul.
I like knowing that in Oregon there is both an at-ease with the culinary and beverage arts and yet there is also a very hot passion about it as well.
Q. Where else would you go in the US to find the highest per capita consumption of Saké?
A. Oregon–and Washington County is home to Saké One–the US’s only premium Saké brewery.
This was one of my first stops on my mere 24-hour journey to Washington County. I had completed a tasting of Saké One late Spring 2012 and was delighted with the quality, commitment and artistry of their Saké line. Saké is a great beverage to mix things up differently in terms of your food pairings. Saké is not wine, beer or a spirit–it is a fermented rice beverage–served best cold and as fresh as possible. Saké One produces several styles:
- MomoKawa Diamond
- MomoKawa Silver
- MomoKawa Ruby
- MomoKawa Pearl Junmai Ginjo Nigori Genshu – a pearl colored Saké – not only beautiful to look at a refreshing and captivating Saké
- MomoKawa Organic Junmai Ginjo
- MomoKawa Organic Nigori
- G-Joy – a premium Saké
- Moonstone Asian Pear, Plum, Coconut Lemongrass, and Raspberry – a delightful light experience of infused flavours ever so gently with Saké
Saké can be a cocktail mixer and is versatile like a spirit and can be enjoyed on it’s own as well. The brewery tour is eye opening and one that I recommend. I have never toured a Saké brewing facility before and enjoyed the intricacies of the brewing process. Saké One is also home to the only American Saké Master – Greg Lorenz.
My next stop was Montinore Estate and I had featured this producer in a couple of videos prior to my visit. I realized my pronunciation was not correct. It is Montinor – no “E” sound on end. It is a combination of Montana and Oregon. This combination is a reverence to what made Willamette Valley today–a pre-historic flood coming from Montana and carving geological features into this region.
Montinore Estate is a large vineyard – approximately 230 acres of Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Müller-Thurgau, and Gewürztraminer and all Demeter certified (organic certification). It is also one of Oregon’s largest wineries. I did get an opportunity to meet their white winemaker Stephen Webber, a Brit coming to Oregon via Australia. The red and white wine programs reflect what are key to Oregon and the surprises of Müller-Thurgau (just the right climate I might add) and Gewürztraminer are a great way to showcase these varieties. Montinore is a proving ground for Müller-Thurgau showing how this Swiss variety can flourish in this area. This is an off-dry style–so bring out the vanilla butter cream cupcakes to pair with this wine. A down to earth experience here and you might also get to sample house made cheese with their beautiful line-up of wines.
I live in a great culinary center and I sometimes take for granted the fine food that I eat often. And then I travel and realize attention to detail to food is not universal and in many quarters I travel it can be an eye opening experience. I enjoyed a multi-course meal at 1910 Main in Forest Grove highlighting Washington County’s freshest farm to table selections.
- Coho Salmon Tartar – gorgeously fresh and a sterling choice, the Salmon was Gin-cured–they had me at Gin.
- Fresh Corn Spoonbread with Crab – an astonishing dish of sweet and briny flavours
- Buffalo Bolognaise with Gnocchi–a plate that I was at first concerned with — I was thinking there would be strong-gamey flavours instead they were nuanced and you could taste each component.
Another big treat for me was to pair each course with wines from Washington County producers:
- Anam Cara Cellars
- Apolloni Vineyards
- Ponzi Vineyards
- Cooper Mountain Vineyards
- Raptor Ridge Winery
- Garden Vineyards
Not only did I get to enjoy wonderful food selections-the selection of wine from Washington County was comforting and fitting. I was delighted to sit next to and met several of the representing wineries principals and winemaking staff. Each winery presented their wines with the utmost commitment to quality, caring for the land and artistry of this precious county’s Vitis Vinifera.
I was excited to stay at McMenamins Grand Lodge built in the 1912 and has the full accoutrement of what can only be found at a McMenamins–each property is a historical site. Each site, each hallway and within each hallway every view is unique and each room is different. There were no televisions–instead there was a theatre to see a movie for free–so citizens of Forest Grove could go to this theatre in addition to hotel guests and just somehow it felt quite right. It was nice to feel local. I always imagine–what would it be like if I was local and no matter where I am — Rioja, Spain, Lecce, Italy or Forest Grove, Oregon-I like to be local for the time that I am staying there.
Having a simple lunch South Store Cafe I was intrigued by the berry store across the street. Smith Berry Barn specializes in what I call northerly fruit: Tayberry, Blackberry, Boysenberry, Strawberry, Gooseberry and Currants. I was so excited to see Tayberries–fresh and absolutely convincing in flavor. I did take some preserves home of Tayberry and Marion Berry jams. I was also delighted to see five different types of blackberries, three types of strawberries, Raspberries and Fall Raspberries. To me this was a very important stop and signifies–”you are in Oregon.” Loved this place–wish they would sell their products online. And, for me, I often compare many wines and use the term “Northerly Fruit” characteristics–and this farm encapsulates my ideals so well. I reveled in being here.
I toured Hawk’s View Cellars in Sherwood, Oregon. This producer on a pristine site–hilly setting and the facility itself was a delight–superbly clean and neat. Hawk’s View specializes in Chehalem Pinot Noir, White Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Washington Cabernet Sauvignon, Washington Merlot, and Santa Lucia Highlands Syrah from Gary’s Vineyard. I tasted the red wines with a gorgeous chocolate mousse and all I wanted to do was stay and not leave.
My next journey was Two Kilts Brewing Company in Sherwood Oregon was a great journey into not only what happens in Oregon but what is part of a greater national expression of small production beers. Beer making has taken a new art form and this epoch of time we find ourselves in and is the best of beer times ever. Small producers like Two Kilts can formulate and express their Pale Ale, IPA or Scotch Sale as they see fit. The result is gorgeous qualities, textures, and a weight and mouth feel that makes for their beers to be served alone or with food–luckily there was Vietnamese food truck parked at their entrance to compliment their wondrous beers. I was glad that it was a hot day to enjoy their handsomely crafted brews.
I had a choice of touring options but this option seemed to feel so right. Washington County is superbly easy to get to and into. I was sad to leave on this short journey where I did not have commanding or great expectations but leaving for me is the promise to return to this beautiful part of Oregon to re-experience Washington County’s food, wine and more.
More Travel Information to Washington County:
Washington County Visitors Association
Demystifying Wine…One Bottle at a Time from all wine regions around the world.
Read more of my wine reviews:
© 2013 James Meléndez / Jaime Patricio Meléndez / James the Wine Guy— All Rights Reserved. James the Wine Guy also on Facebook, Twitter and most major social medias.