Exploring the Region

A mole in a pout is a sight to behold, rare, and slightly scary.

Thinking I was early, I had ridden the wheezing Otis to the 15th floor of Eugene’s oldest high-rise, shuffled down the hall to our office, Wine Investigations, found Mole already in our lab, in a mope. “Hey, Sleut’,” he said, “whatcha got from all yer trackin’ wit’ out me?”

There it was: He felt hurt that I’d been on the wine trail without him. I had just returned from three days with Kat, wining and dining in the Walla Walla Valley (more on the results later), then solo visits to some local producers we hadn’t covered recently. Mole brightened when I told him about our experience at High Pass Winery; he beamed when I told him that our host, Lynn Wysocky, asked about him, even raised a glass, “To Mole!”

“Cool,” sez Mole, “so is Dieter Boehm (High Pass owner) still farming?”

“‘Workin’ in the rain,’ he said, ‘with Mother Nature.’ His lovely wife, Fridah, dropped in briefly, then Dieter himself.”

“Sweet, and what’s about the wines?”

“All good,” I replied, “but several really special.”

High Pass Winery and vineyards are located at the far western rim of the grid. Drive to Junction City, turn left on High Pass Road, continue about a zillion miles, follow signs, check out edgy country living. High Pass Road becomes Lavell; stay on it. Slow down when you start seeing meticulously tended vineyards. Wind up the gravel drive; signs point to the winery. A clean, well-appointed tasting room awaits.

Dieter Boehm reminds me of the late, great Richard Sommer (HillCrest, Roseburg) in treating each of his vines like his grandchildren. He also bottles some tasty juice, all priced fairly.

High Pass 2011 Riesling is crisp and clean, with a touch of minerality ($12). Their 2014 Rosé of Pinot Noir delivers pretty fruit ($11), but the 2014 Sauvignon Blanc surprises, with citrus flavors, tropical notes, the fruit coming from the estate’s “Union School” vineyard ($15). Dieter’s 2010 Pinot Noir from his “Zauberberg” (“Magic Mountain”) block is serious pinot, lavish in black cherry flavors, finely balanced ($30). The star of the High Pass line-up has to be the 2013 Scheurebe, Late Harvest, yummy dessert wine with 12 to 15 percent residual sugar ($NA). This wine will be released only at the Barrel Tour, June 13. Mole adds, “Gotta go fer dat.”

I also popped in on the Oregon Wine Lab, 488 Lincoln St., to confer with proprietor/winemaker Mark Nicholl, the talented Aussie behind William Rose wines. I sipped, listened: Mark knows his wines. He offered an impressive array but two really stood out: William Rose 2014 “Prohibition Rose” Rosé of Sangiovese is bone dry but lively in fruit flavors (red fruits, rose petals) ($18), terrif when the days grow long and hot and the foods are cool. Nicholl says his Wm Rose 2013 Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc (50/50 blend) will be “bloody magnificent” with oysters; flavors of stone fruits, citrus and white flowers will open up with fresh bivalves ($28).

One more: Wm Rose 2013 Pinot Noir is a shocker, superb ($34). Tiny production; don’t miss.

Mole sez, “We tries not ta miss anybody. But there’s so much wine, so little time.” We’re unashamed locavores, ’cause our local growers are making some of the best wines anywhere. We know exciting wines are being made in places like Silvan Ridge, Bennett, Iris, more than 20 others in the south Willamette Valley.

We’ll get there — together, usually.