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Innovation at Oregon Wineries!

a bottle of wine

The Willamette Valley is renowned for its Pinot Noirs. Fully 70% of its vineyards are dedicated to this “heartbreak” grape. This grape is notorious for being delicate, picky, prone to mildew, as well as difficult to perfect but when all goes right it compares to the best Burgundies in France, and brings wine enthusiasts from around the world to try it. So come to Oregon for its Pinot Noir but stay for the 30% of the other grapes you will be surprised to find here!

I am a seeker of the unusual, different, “off the beaten path” whether in wine, stone jewelry, clothing, food; I love to try what’s new. For example, in the off-season we drove from Portland to New Jersey and back. On our return trip we stopped in Albuquerque and I discovered white buffalo turquoise and bought an amazing ring from Dino at his native american store in Old Town. Found only in several mines in Nevada, this rare stone is turquoise’s step sister and used to be discarded since it is missing copper, which is what gives turquoise its classic blue-green hue. (check out my insta post for a photo and Dino’s card: @trianglewinepdx)


So where are the “white buffalo” wines of Oregon? Well let me share some of my favorites:


Varnum Vintners: Cyler and Tara Lynn Varnum own a vineyard and winery in Amity. They specialize in easy to drink sparkling wines, and pioneered the use of packaging wine in beer bottles in six-packs and crown caps for ease of opening, carrying, and single serving. Cyler uses non-traditional grapes and blends from Pinot Gris Rose, Red Viognier (fermented on Petit Sirah skins), Rulander, Tempranillo, Cabernet Franc, They also make an  excellent classic Pinot Noir as well as a Riesling for every taste from dry to off dry to sparkling.


Teutonic Wine Co: This Portland urban winery was recommended to me by Cy Varnum when I asked where I could find Oregon dry Gewurztraminer. Winemaker Barnaby Tuttle specializes in German and Alsatian varieties including Riesling (alone or blended with Pinot Gris), Gruner Veltliner, Pinot Meunier (known as a Champagne blending grape), Pinot Noir (alone or blended with Gewurztraminer or Chardonnay) plus Tannat (hailing from the Basque region of Spain) available as both a red wine (lots of skin contact) or white wine (minimal skin contact). The Crab Tomalley white wine blend is truly one of a kind and Seafoam Rosé of Pinot Noir’s briny note makes it perfect to pair with seafood.


Troon Vineyard: Located in Applegate Valley (southwestern corner of Oregon), their modern downtown McMinnville tasting room makes it a convenient stop for Portland-area wine lovers looking for the out of the ordinary. They are both Demeter Biodynamic and Regenerative Organic certified and their southern locale allows for plantings of a wider variety of grapes compared to the Willamette Valley. Reds include: Tannat, Syrah and Kubli Red blend of Syrah and Grenache. Whites include: Vermentino, Kubli Bench Amber blend of Vermentino, Riesling and Roussanne, plus a (sold out!) Rose of Tinta Roriz, Malbec and Counoise. 


Cana’s Feast: Winemaker Patrick Taylor is passionate about French and Italian red wines. They were the first to import the Sangiovese Grosso clone of Chianti fame (used in the world renowned Brunello di Montalcino wines) into the US. Nebbiolo (the grape used in Italian Barolo and Barbaresco wines) is another Italian noble grape, rarely found in the Pacific Northwest. Both grapes are farmed in Washington State’s Ciel du Cheval vineyard. Add Barbera, Arneis, Chinato, and Primitivo red wines for additional diversity you will find at this Italian-style tasting patio (complete with 2 bocci courts) in Carlton. 

Update: I just saw an instagram post on a new-release blend called Giasaggio with Dolcetto, Barbera, and Nebbiolo. Looking forward to trying it!


Gran Moraine: At classic (and excellent) Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and sparkling wine house, winemaker Shane Moore created Flavorscape, their experimental label made without added sulfur dioxide. Their first release was a carbonic maceration Pinot Blanc orange wine in 2015. Available now is their 2021 vintage. They have recently released their first Flavorscape 2021 Gamay Noir, the grape of Beaujolais, France. According to Shane “I always wanted to push the envelope. If you’re not going to ruin a wine you’re not growing.” I have not tried either but they are definitely on my list.


There are so many more examples of innovative wines and winemakers in Oregon. Come and see for yourself and try some amazing grapes you’ve never heard of and blends you would never have imagined! The possibilities open to creative winemakers are endless and limited only by their imagination and the grapes they can get their hands on, the wines are waiting for you!


a person standing in front of a store

Me and one of the employees of Turquoise Mountain Trading Company in Albuquerque, New Mexico



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