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Full On Oregon: Food, Wine, Friends and Fun

Do you remember the best date you ever had?  I’m talking about the mother of all dates – the one where every little possible detail was taken care of.  Where you were wined and dined within an inch of your life,  and so much attention was lavished upon you, that you were almost embarrassed by it.  Yeah.  Me neither.  But, if I’d had ever experienced a date like that, I imagine it would have been very much like the extraordinary weekend I recently spent in Oregon as a guest of Travel Oregon [1].  I had such an incredibly wonderful time, and I can’t wait to tell you about it!

A while back, I received an email from Stacey of Maxwell PR [2], the public relations firm that represents Travel Oregon, inviting me, along with about twenty other food and wine writers, to an action-packed weekend filled with food, wine and adventure.    Travel Oregon is the state’s tourism commission and the official travel guide to planning an Oregon vacation.   Stacey explained that we would be spending three days immersing ourselves in Oregon’s rich and diverse culinary culture: dining at Portland’s hottest restaurants; touring Oregon’s wine country; and learning tricks of the trade from some of the area’s most talented food artisans.  It took about thirty seconds for me to reply with a resounding YES!  Visiting Oregon has always been on my bucket list of things to do, and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to go. 

When I saw the list of my fellow attendees, I became even more excited.  Some of my favorite blogging buddies were going to be there, as well as some that I’d never met, but have long admired from afar.  I finally felt like one of the “cool kids”.  Yessirree, I was one lucky little food blogger!

When I arrived at PDX, I was met by the lovely, Emily from Travel Oregon.  Gwen (Bunky Cooks [3]) and Paula (Bell’alimento [4]) were also there and we laughed like crazy when we realized that the three of us had been on the same flight from Atlanta and never even knew it.  Emily popped us into a taxi and sent us off to the Hotel deLuxe [5] to settle in.

The Hotel deLuxe is a charming little jewel of a hotel nestled in a quiet corner of downtown Portland. The hotel, decorated in the art deco style, bills itself as a contemporary tribute to the Golden Era of Hollywood.  The furnishings are gracious and elegant, with vintage movie stills from the thirties and forties lining the walls throughout.  The staff was top notch too, going out of its way to make sure all of us were comfortable and happy.  I couldn’t imagine a nicer place to think of as my home away from home during my stay.

The weekend festivities were kicked off with a welcome reception hosted by Katherine Cole, wine columnist for The Oregonian [6].  There was a lot of squealing and “squeeeee-ing” going on as all of us food bloggers ran around greeting and hugging each other.   I’m sorry to say that I don’t even remember much about the wines that were served.  I was too excited to see Helene [7], Tami [8], Gabi [9], Sean [10], Debra [11], Bea [12], Andrew [13], Carolyn [14], Nicole [15], Linda [16], Georgia [17], Cheryl [18], Leela [19], Rika [20], Danielle [21], Nick [22], Stefanie [23], Shanna [24], Janelle [25], Richard [26], Liz [27] and of course, Gwen [3] and Paula [4]!  I’m sure they were good, though, seeing as they were all vintages featured in Katherine’s new book, Voodoo Vintners: Oregon’s Astonishing Biodynamic Winegrowers [28].   The cheese was good too.  We also finally got to meet Stacey and Vicky [2]!

As the reception wound down, we divided up into groups and headed out for dinner at four of the hottest restaurants in town: Little Bird Bistro [29], Ping [30], Aviary [31] and St. Jack [32].  Honestly, they all sounded so great that it was hard to choose which to go to, but I ended up at Little Bird Bistro with Debra, Linda, Nicole, Rika, and our TO hostess, Linea.   And, what an amazing meal we had!  Don’t take my word for it.  See for yourself!

Little Bird Bistro, Portland Oregon

Maybe it was from all of those swanky cocktails, but we sure do look like some happy campers!

With a full belly and a healthy dose of jet lag, this East coast girl was drooling into her pillow by 9:30 that night.  It was a good thing too.  I had to rise and shine early the next morning for round two of Full On Oregon.

After enjoying scrumptious pastries and excellent coffee provided by Baker & Spice Bakery [35] and Water Avenue Coffee [36], the gang again split up into four groups bound for various outdoor adventures.  Mine was called Oregon’s Liquid Bounty, and included a  a tour of Oregon’s wine country.  Winemaker, Harry Peterson-Nedry, of Chehalem Winery [37] was our guide as we navigated our way through the vineyards, micro-breweries and olive groves of the verdant Willamette Valley.

Harry explained that we would be sampling the wines representing two branches of the Oregon wine industry –  The Pioneers and The New Guard.  The Pioneers are the older, more established winemakers.  These are the ones who came and established their vineyards in the sixties and early seventies, before there even was a wine industry in Oregon.  At the time, they were met with skepticism.   No one believed it was possible to grow wine grapes in Oregon.  These visionaries tried anyway, setting out to prove that they could successfully grow high-quality, cool climate varieties of grapes.  And prove it they did, paving the way for others.  In only forty years, Oregon has established itself as a world-class wine growing state with  more than three hundred wineries producing wine from seventy-two grape varieties.    They truly were modern-day pioneers!

The New Guard are the young turks of Oregon winemaking.  They are the the up and comers,  tweaking new ideas and techniques, and experimenting with new varietals.    Some are second generation winemakers, and others were just drawn to it by a love of wine and natural beauty.

Our first stop was Sokol Blosser [38] Winery in Dundee, Oregon.  The minute I stepped off the bus, I knew that this was going to be an experience I would never forget.   A cool, soft breeze caressed my face as I took in the gently rolling hills and masses of wildflowers that surrounded me.  In the distance, I could see rows upon rows of perfectly manicured grapevines.  I felt as though I had entered another world – one where everything was lush and green and lovely.  Somehow, I knew that I could be happy there forever!

We sampled sixteen different wines provided by Sokol Blosser, Ponzi Vineyards [39], Bethel Heights Vineyard [40] and The Eyrie Vineyards [41] – and, this was all before lunch!.  Most were Pinot Noirs, which is the most common wine produced in the region.  They were all lovely, but I was surprised to find how different they all were.  Each one had its own distinctive characteristics that I probably wouldn’t have noticed had I not tasted them side by side.    However, the stars of the show for me were the Pinot Gris and the Original Vines Pinot Gris Rosé shared by Jason Lett of The Eyrie Vineyards.  The Pinot Gris was a voluptuous white with rich notes of butterscotch.  The rosé was one of the most interesting and unique wines I’ve ever tasted.  It was bright and fruity, with floral notes that I couldn’t put my finger on.  I’ve never been a big fan of rosés , but I could have sipped this one forever!   Jason said that it would be aging for another year and a half before being released to the public.  I’ll be waiting in line when that time comes.  If you want to try it, you’ll have to move quickly too, as he only made twenty-five cases.

From The Pioneers, we moved on down the road, where we sample some very fine wines from Up & Comers, Ayres Vineyards [43], Antica Terra Winery [44] and Matello Wines [45].  Even though Brad, Maggie and Marcus are relatively new to winemaking, these three winemakers are just as dedicated to their craft as the Old Guard.

By the time we arrived at Thistle [46] for lunch, we had sampled over twenty different wines.  I don’t mind saying that by that time, I was definitely on the far side of loopy!   I needed food, and thankfully, Chef Eric had prepared a feast of small plates for us to soak up some of that wine.

This charming, award-winning restaurant specializes in modern American cuisine, and Chef Eric is well known for working hand in hand with area farmers, ranchers and fishermen to bring the freshest in local food to his tables.

After lunch, there was one more stop to make before heading back to Portland.  Did I mention that this was an action-packed day?  Well, that was kind of an understatement.   Our next side trip was to the Oregon Olive Mill [47] at Red Ridge Farms to get an inside look at how olive oil is produced.

Since it opened in 2008, Oregon Olive Mill has been producing artisan olive oil using the olives harvested from their thirteen thousand trees spread out over seventeen acres.  The varietals planted include Arbequina, Leccino, Mission, Pendolino and Koroneiki.  Each freshly pressed oil produced offers a distinctly different flavor and aroma ranging from green and grassy, to robust and peppery.  According to grower, Paul Durant, “In the same way that different wines pair with different foods, each olive oil also offers a unique taste and pairing profile.”  Of course, we foodies have been wise to this fact for years!

After slurping some olive oil and visiting the onsite gift shop, my fellow wine-soaked foodies and I headed back to Portland for a little (and I do mean a little) downtime before our next event: burgers and brew enjoyed under the stars, high on a Pearl District rooftop.  But, that’s a story for another day.    Editing almost 1,000 photos and writing this post have utterly exhausted me!

So, stay tuned for part two of my Full On Oregon adventure!

The Fine Print:  Here is where I disclose to you that I attended this trip as a guest of Travel Oregon, which means that they paid my way and all expenses.  Although I was traveling on their dime, I was under no obligation to post this article.  I did so of my own free will (and undying gratitude), and all opinions expressed are my own.