One of the things on our list was to visit the Tie Dye and Tofu exhibit at the Lane County Historical Society Museum and check out the counterculture history of Eugene, Oregon. However the main reason we came to the southern part of the Willamette Valley was to sample their wonderful Pinot wines. We successfully met both goals.
My wife and I first checked into the beautiful and quaint Excelsior Inn then preceded quickly to the outdoor patio of their Ristorante Italiano. What we found interesting is the owner of the Inn and restaurant, Chef Maurizio Paparo, is also a farmer. Much of our salads and herbs were fresh from his farm. For starters we had the Insalata Caesar with a dressing that was made of the typical Caesar salad ingredients of garlic with a touch of anchovies, lemon and Worcestershire, but tasted distinctly special. For the main course my wife was served “Filetto di manzo gorgonzola” from the locally based Knee Deep Cattle Co. and she proclaimed: “This filet mignon was the best piece of beef that I have ever had.” I really enjoyed the “Linguine allo Scoglio” which had mussels, clams, calamari and shrimp on a bed of linguine. (Photo right: Our table awaits us at the Ristorante Italiano located at the Excelsior Inn)
Upon arriving at The Lane Country Historical Society Museum in Eugene we first saw a brightly painted VW bus and knew we were at the right place. As we walked around and saw the other exhibits we learned that the some of the roots of counterculture movement came from the so called “radicals” that attended the University of Oregon. We also saw exhibits of the coffee houses and organic food stores that were very popular in the late 1960’s and 1970’s. I am sure that the local farmers thought that all this tie-dye behavior was a bit erratic.
Now the word erratic has a better meaning when we start to focus on wine. A glacier erratic is a big rock that is transported a large distance by a glacier. In fact, one can see examples of erratic rocks at Erratic Rock State Natural Site which is in the Willamette Valley. What does this have to do with wine? During the end of the last major ice age, about 15,000 years ago, there was a massive flood from ancient Lake Missoula in Montana which scoured across Eastern Washington and stripped the soil. All this soil, rocks and water were carried down the Columbia Gorge. There was an ice jam near the Washington and Oregon border so the water flowed into the Willamette Valley forming a huge lake. Experts claim that the depth of the water was 300 to 400 feet. Scientists today refer to it as Lake Allison. After the lake receded the Willamette Valley had lots of fertile soil and a quite few big boulders (erratic).
Now it was time to sample some wine. Our first stop was just south and west of Eugene; King Estate Winery. Before the wine tasting started we thought it would be best to sample Chef Michael Landsberg’s delights in their delightful patio restaurant. Everyone suggested the Crab Cakes but I was a little reluctant as most of the ones I’ve had were greasy and heavy. WOW is all I can say after we had these very light and tasty cakes. Then we had a Hey Bayles Farm salad. Chef Landsberg gets most of his fresh vegetable from nearby Hey Bayles organic farm. Finally, after much arm twisting (just kidding) we had the roasted smoked chicken which was very juicy. This was from the King Estate Winery charcuterie and they really know how to cure their foods.
Along with the delicious food we enjoyed some of their wonderful wines. The Acrobat Pinot Gris offers a refreshing light taste that went great with the crab cakes. We also enjoyed the Domaine Pinot Gris. We went on to the Signature Pinot Noir which has a rich taste but not overpowering.
After several hours of a leisurely meal and walk around the vineyard we proceeded north and just west of Eugene to Sweet Cheeks Winery. While we were there we enjoyed the nice light taste of the Reserve Pinot Gris. Next up was the very special taste of the Pinot Fusion which is a blend of Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, with a little Merlot and Shiraz. We also had Viognier which is very popular varietal in Australia. This wine is a fine showcase for winemaker Mark Nicholl’s Australian roots. Mark is probably one of the few people that has been able to be involved in wine production almost the same day in two countries as he finished his work in his native Australia and the next day arrived at Sweet Creeks to make his wonderful wines.
Our last wine sipping of the day carried us to Junction City to Pfeiffer Vineyards (thirty-five minutes north of Eugene.) Owners Robin and Danuta Pfeiffer come with a diverse history. Robin grew up on the property, which was then a sheep ranch and became a High School Spanish teacher and Danuta was a newspaper columnist and talk show host. This interesting combination makes for some great wine. In the late 1970’s and 1980’s Robin encouraged his family to get rid of the sheep and grow wine grapes. Great choice!
The wine tasting started with the Viognier which has a lime taste, and we had the Pinot Gris which has a sweet light fruit taste. The final tastings included the Chardonnay which has a very clean taste and Anna Skye wine which is a blend of Muscat and Pinot Blanc – great for a warm summer day. On our way out we noticed a flyer about a trip that the owners were leading; “The Celebration of Wine and Cruise along the Danube.” That would be fun but you don’t need to go as far as the Danube to enjoy the wonderful wines of the Willamette valley.
After this strenuous day of wine tasting it was time to head to the Terminus, a new restaurant located at the site of the former train station in Corvallis. Terminus is located along the Willamette with great views. We wanted to go with a light dinner and on this warm day the cold Gazpacho soup was perfect. The unique recipe of avocados, cucumbers, spices, asparagus, and nutmeg created some of the best Gazpacho that I have tasted. My wife equally enjoyed the sweet potato soup along with the Watermelon Salad. Finally for our main entrée we ordered the Mediterranean Hummus – although the lamb and the fillet were very tempting. Also tempting was the Cape Town Pizza which is a specialty of the South African Executive Chef Hamid Serdani. After the meal we walked along the Willamette and planned our next day of wine tasting.
754 East 13th Avenue
Eugene, OR 97401
Lane County Historical Society
740 West 13th Avenue,
Eugene, OR 97402
80854 Territorial Rd.
Eugene, OR 97405
Sweet Cheeks Winery
27007 Briggs Hill Rd Eugene, OR
25040 Jaeg Road
Junction City, OR 97448
Sponsored by OregonWineCountry.org
Author: Michael Fagin is a freelance travel writer who has traveled over the last ten years across Canada and visited all the major Canadian wine regions. Mr. Fagin is currently touring the Pacific Northwest enjoying the wine country, dining, and hiking the region. While he is not writing Mr. Fagin is a meteorologist for West Coast Weather, LLC forecasting weather for the West Coast of the US as well as on an international basis.
Photos by Elizabeth Fagin.