Our Evolving Wine Scene

It’s time to think about time, right? We stand on the cusp of a new year. Last year is already dust. 

January is named after Janus, a Roman god depicted as having two faces, one that looks back, one that looks ahead, a god for entrances and exits, transitions and terminations, god of time itself. 

The past year brought interesting developments in wine. The vintage of 2013 will be tricky for many winemakers, but they keep coming to Oregon. As of last week, the OLCC counted 463 active wineries in our state, with more on the horizon, especially in the valleys of the Rogue, Umpqua and Columbia rivers. If we look back a few decades, the growth has been stunningly fast; if we look forward, we can hardly guess at future developments.

Our founding wineries, the ones established in the decades between 1961-1990 (Eyrie, Ponzi, Bethel Heights, Valley View, et al.), are now producing world-renowned wines. The newer producers (Teutonic, Abacela, Capitello, many others) consistently reveal surprising qualities in Oregon wines and vineyards. Add to these numbers the fact that Oregon leads the nation in craft brewing and distilling even Janus would be challenged to foresee our future.

But whatever the future, trends for the present seem rather clear: We seem to be growing up.

We’re still toddlers in wine, but we’re up and moving. Changes in Eugene’s urban wine scene might indicate how fast and how far we might go, from urban to urbane. In case you missed the buzz, Eugene has busted out with a trail of tasting rooms, tracking visitors to superb wines — and more:

Start at Capitello Wines, 540 Charnelton, fresh and comfy space, just opened, plus an array of excellent wines, among the Northwest’s best, from a super brut sparkler to an experimental dessert sauvignon blanc. Don’t miss: Capitello 2011 New Zealand Pinot Noir ($25), firm and stylish.

A block west on 5th Avenue, Oregon Wine Lab, 488 Lincoln, is home to William Rose Wines and Bodner Wine Co. Talented Aussie winemaker Mark Nicholl not only offers savorings of his William Rose line, he and wife, Rose, provide a venue for wine-related activities. Next up, a four-class series (Thursday nights) dubbed Wine Exploration and Food Pairing for Women, presented by videographer Roxanne Watson and personal chef Elizabeth Stuart (grad of LCC’s Culinary Arts); classes limited to eight persons, costs $40 each, details on Facebook.

Already, the Lab proffers tastes of wines from boutique producers, some very hard to find: Try Keeler 2011 Pinot Gris ($22), a fine mélange of pear/apple flavors and aromas, balanced and ready to drink. Also: Abbelone 2011 Pinot Noir ($21), round and ripe, smooth and attractive. 

Eugene Wine Cellars, 255 Madison (tasting room open Wednesdays to Saturdays from 4 to 8 pm), showcases the B2 (B Squared) wines, also found at their wine bar in Crescent Village. Don’t miss: B2 2011 Pinot Gris ($22), an array of flavors from tropical and floral, with a citrusy zing on the finish.  

Territorial Vineyards and Wine Co., corner of West 3rd and Adams, has become a wine-recreation destination on weekend nights, but the wines are the main attraction. DM: Territorial 2012 Chardonnay ($20), mouth-filling, elegant.

The J. Scott Cellars tasting room is stashed among boxy warehouses at 520 Commercial, but it’s worth the GPS search to get there. Jonathan Scott Oberlander is a crafty winemaker with an acute palate. Still can’t get over the J. Scott 2012 Zinfandel ($25), described in our Giftmas column (12/5), is just a delicious, definitive “big red.”

Just across the parking lot from J. Scott is the new tasting room for Noble Estate Winery; they’ve made a sensible move into town, even though their site at 29210 Gimpl Hill is quite lovely. Again, though, we came for the wines. Many Noble wines have garnered prizes and awards, but we really dig their Noble Estate 2012 Muscat Semi-Sparkling ($16), a gold medal winner, delish.

While you’re rolling through tastes of local vino, drop in on LaVelle’s new “Tap Room” at 400 International Way (Gateway area) and put a lip to LaVelle 2010 Columbia Valley Merlot ($26), rich, deep flavors of red/black berries with a hint of chocolate.

Take a little tour of our South Willamette Valley wines. Janus might glimpse how bright our future could be, but in our present moment, we all can see that the wine is fine: Enjoy.