This One Time, at Wine Camp: Somms Take the Willamette


Jeff Harding
Hundreds of wine lovers from across the country gathered at Oregon Pinot Camp in Willamette Valley in June
Hundreds of wine lovers from across the country gathered at Oregon Pinot Camp in Willamette Valley in June

As summer comes to a close, I find comfort in looking back to how it all began: at Oregon Pinot Camp (OPC), the trade-only offshoot of the International Pinot Noir Celebration. For three days, nearly 300 wine professionals from around the country discovered the climate, geology, history, and varietal diversity of Willamette Valley. Despite the searing heat wave and chock-full schedule, we learned plenty, ate really well, drank really, REALLY well, and got to know an astounding group of wine lovers from across the country.

I went a few days early to spend time with the crew at Foris Vineyards of the Rogue Valley in southern Oregon. This part of the state is rustic, casual, with a no-frills attitude. This description accurately describes the wines of the region, as well. The Pinot Blanc was so good that I smuggled a bottle to show it off at the first leg of OPC. Another bonus: Underwood wine in a can. Don’t knock it 'till you try it! It's the perfect way to enjoy rosé outdoors, and what's more, it's available at my favorite Harlem wine shop, Pompette (smuggling not necessary).

The weekend began with a slew of parties (sushi, Riesling, swimming, among others), but I somehow was lucky enough to kick it off with Champagne, West Coast Oysters, and Ibérico ham at Antica Terra. Spending time with Winemaker Maggie Harrison was truly one of the highlights, and clearly when Ms. Harrison throws a party, she does it right. Other highlights include tasting 1974 Pommard clones at Brooks Winery (one of my favorite Oregon Pinot producers), and spending time with Janie Brooks and Pascal, the youngest winery owner I’ve ever met.

For a complete roundup of the highlights, I asked some fellow campers what their favorite parts of the weekend were. So, dive in and see what these wine professionals had to say about their experiences with Oregon wines at #OPC2015!

Wine Director Gabrielle Waxman of Galatoire’s Restaurant | New Orleans, LA 
Best education: Three rounds of blind tasting at the Multiple Personalities of Oregon Pinot Noir seminar.
Favorite wine: '98 Eyrie Vineyard Pinot Noir: bright and beautiful, you don’t think about laying these wines down—a 17-year lifespan is unexpected! The fruit was really bright and vivid, raspberry flavor and Burgundian earthiness.

Co-Owner Melanie Presson of Black Chicken Fine Wine And Craft Beer | Waxhaw, NC
Best education: Multiple Personalities of Oregon Pinot Noir seminar. Jason Lett [of Eyrie Vineyards] sat at our table. He’s so cool, laid back, and so into Oregon Pinot Noir.
Favorite wine: Elk Cove Roosevelt 2012 Pinot Noir. Earthy and Burgundian in style, not too much fruit, ready to go now, but could age a few years. It’s a food wine with high acidity—people don’t realize there’s a good bit of acid there.
Bonus experience: Shooting skeet on day three and watching the butchering demo, followed by floating down the river on inner tubes.

Wine & Beer Buyer Samantha Disegna of The Savory Grape Wine Shop | East Greenwich, RI
Best education: Being in the vineyards. Seeing the soil types and visiting the vines was really informative. It was so interesting hearing Mimi Casteel of Bethel Heights talk.
Favorite wine: Anne Amie. I loved their rosé, their Pinot Gris, and their Pinot Noir—all fabulous.

Manager & Wine Director Carrie Casagrande of Alma Nove | Hull, MA
Best education: Multiple Personalities of Oregon Pinot Noir seminar. Of course I loved it because I got to see Maggie again and got to see more of her personality, but I also thought the exercise was phenomenal in understanding vintage and other differences in Pinot.
Favorite wine: Antica Terra. I just felt a connection to these wines, to Maggie Harrison, and to her passion about the unusual and difficult way she makes wine.

Sommelier & Co-Owner Darlene Mann-Clarke of American Grocery Restaurant | Greenville, SC
Favorite wines: The 1999 St. Innocent “Shea Vineyard” Pinot Noir, and the 2006 St. Innocent Blanc de Blanc Reserve Sparkling (Mark Vlossak said he disgorged it in May of this year! WOW! Amazing texture). I tasted this at the day three Solstice Party on top of Temperance Hill Vineyard.
Bonus experience: If I had to name my favorite experience during those three days ... possibly the last evening at Stoller with the Wild Pacific Salmon dinner and the overall generosity of rare wines being poured and shared that evening.

Wine Buyer Molly Taube of Whole Foods Market | Atlanta, GA
Best education: Visiting Maple Ranch at Foris Vineyard. I especially loved the clone-tasting seminar (clone 777—I still remember, I loved that one) with the winemaker Brian Wilson, he’s great!

Favorite wine: Soter Pop [Soter Vineyards Brut Rosé]. It was 110ºF outside! This wine is refreshing, simple, elegant—I could drink it all day!

Director of Food And Beverage Anthony Boi of Castle Hill Inn | Newport, RI
Favorite wine: The 2004 Eyrie Pinot Gris. All the whites we were exposed to were young, bright, and fresh. This was completely different: Old World style, beautifully aromatic, austere, reserved. It was a great contrast to everything we’d been tasting.
Bonus experience: The salmon bake on the last night was incredible, and during dinner each wine that came around to the table was better than the one before. The crazy challenge was to drink or dump what was in the glass or pass up the opportunity to taste what was coming around.

Sommelier Missy Neill of The Clocktower | New York City, NY
Favorite wines: I loved the wines of Domaine Drouhin in general, and there was a 2002 Syrah from Andrew Rich that was delicious. I like all the wines from Big Table Farm; Antica Terra’s Botanica and Antikythera were a standout; Van Duzer wines were a total discovery…at least for me!
Bonus experience: The sunset at Anne Amie Vineyard was a spectacular setting for forging new friends with both people and wine alike.


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