Making exceptional wine requires exceptional grapes, sourced from growers as dedicated to their craft as we are ours. The Lange family has steadfastly maintained strong relationships with great growers throughout the Willamette Valley — some spanning decades. Yamhill Vineyards, owned and managed by Ralph and Sue Stein, has been on the Lange vineyard roster since the early days, starting in 1987. Yamhill Vineyards provides a great deal of fruit for Lange Pinot Gris Reserve, Pinot Noir Three Hills Cuvee, and all of the fruit for the limited-production and highly-sought Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir Yamhill Vineyards.
The realm of wine can sometimes seem lofty and overwhelming. When you break it down to its respective components, though, it’s very organic and approachable — from my bucolic standpoint, anyway. It really begins with farmers and winemakers, passionate about their pursuits, excelling to put before you a fine beverage you enjoy usually with the comforts of good company, good food, and maybe some good tunes. Kahlil Gibran wrote, “Work is love made visible.”
And so it is with the Stein family at Yamhill Vineyards. In addition to farming 20 acres in the Yamhill-Carlton District, they also operate a Bed and Breakfast onsite (which I knew) and a flower business, growing and shipping stately eremurus to florists across the country (which I learned).
Sue had always wanted to host our tasting room staff at the B&B for one of her classic breakfasts and a tour, and we finally decided on Monday, June 28.
The drive to Yamhill Vineyards, winding along Highway 240, is beautiful in itself, and the B&B is secluded off a dirt road, nestled in garden foliage, vineyard blocks, and eremurus plantings. A massive deck with valley views spans one side of the inn, and vaulted ceilings and windows make for an impressive great room. There is a cozy feel to the place, as if you’re visiting a cherished relative — which, in a way, is how it is for us.
Sue and Ralph greeted us on the deck, and while Sue showed Joanne and Paula the charming koi pond visible from the deck, I peppered Ralph with a few vineyard questions. Once inside, Sue gave us the full tour, and then we sat down to a lovely table off the great room for what stands as the biggest breakfast I’ve had in some time. (Looking out into the vineyards and watching yellow finches through the window at a nearby feeder were nice accents).
Sue prepares homemade goodies from our local bounties, down to the Yamhill Vineyards Pinot Gris juice she serves with breakfast (it blows the Concord stuff out of the water, I’m not afraid to admit). We started with fresh fruit salad, followed by homemade granola and yogurt. The highlight (and house specialty): baked French toast smothered with blackberry preserve and a large dollop of fresh whipped cream. And we finished with a scoop of bright Pinot Blanc sorbet. For those who are sugar shy, Sue also has some great egg recipes she prepares.
After breakfast, Ralph hopped in his truck and led us to the vineyard blocks that provide the Pommard clone Pinot Noir for our Yamhill Vineyards bottling, and the fruit for our Pinot Blanc. After tasting these wines and pouring these wines and talking about these wines, it was slightly magical to finally see their source. I liken it to visiting the homestead once inhabited by your great, great grandparents (okay, I’m a geek). The aspect is different, and the Willakenzie soil is much more taupe than we’re used to on our red hill, and finally the story starts to come together.
Ralph, in the midst of questioning, was quick to point out that after long spring rains and sudden sunshine, the vines were requiring a lot of attention, including moving their wires up a notch for their active shoots and new leaves. It’s as if they’re clamoring for the sun as much as we Oregonian (read: Vitamin D-deficient) humanoids.
Perhaps the most exciting bit of info Ralph conveyed was that bloom had begun, though just an estimated 1% of the vineyard. We laughed a bit when he said, “Yeah, I’ll probably declare (note/record) it on Sunday,” as though he’d raise his hands and shout over the valley, “I … DECLARE … BLOOM!” Sunday just happens to be Independence Day, so maybe he’ll add a few fireworks to the declaration. We certainly think bloom is an event worthy of pyrotechnics.
A big thank you to Ralph and Sue Stein, for their hospitality and contributions to the wine world. Here’s to a wonderful 2010 growing season at Yamhill Vineyards!