For more than four decades, the Ponzi family has used the rich soil of the Willamette Valley to produce lush, sustainable wines. Winemaker Luisa Ponzi worked alongside her father for many years, gaining hands-on experience with viticulture and foots-on experience with grape stomping. She deepened this education in Beaune, France, where she studied Burgundian practices. In 1993, Luisa earned her Brevet Professionnel D’Oenologie et Viticulture certificate, a first for an American woman.
Luisa and her sister Maria carry on the dynasty started by their parents, creating wine varietals suited to the climate with sustainable practices that respect the tradition of winemaking. In addition to stocking the cellar with an award-winning collection of pinot noir, pinot gris, pinot blanc, chardonnay, and white riesling, the Ponzis fill bottles with arneis and dolcetto, two rare Italian varietals.
An estate house is surrounded by lush gardens, whose steps lead the way to a grass terrace that overlooks working vineyards and a gorgeous valley. Now, add locally made wine, picnics composed of organic fare, and live music. The call of, “Mon Ami!” may be heard. But no, you have not suddenly turned into a French expat hanging out in Tuscany. This is Garden Vineyards, a family-run vineyard in Hillsboro. (Mon Ami is the family dog.)
Garden Vineyards serves as an afternoon destination for picnics, wine tastings, and festivals. The vineyards' estate house is also available to rent for a weekend getaway or an overnight or extended stay. Visitors who especially love the wine can become members of the wine club,which includes six bottles in the spring and six more in the fall. Visitors can also become members of the vineyards' community-supported agriculture program and receive produce straight from the gardens.
Some of the Current Wines
Each step of Ryan Sharp’s winemaking process embodies the small-batch ethos. Within the Eastside headquarters of ENSO Winery—Wine Press Northwest’s 2013 Oregon Winery to Watch—he mixes several winemaking techniques, yielding complex flavors inside miniature fermentation bins. He mashes grapes in miniature crush equipment and ferments whites and rosés in steel-jacketed tanks no larger than a fully grown mannequin. He sources grapes only from the West Coast, giving himself a framework for his experiments with varietals such as pinot gris, pinot noir, zinfandel, and counoise. As part of his craft-oriented operation, he never makes more than 100 cases at a time of the wines from his ever-evolving roster.
At ENSO's Urban Winery & Tasting Lounge, rustic wooden chairs gather under bare light bulbs and tin lampshades, surrounding a tasting bar crafted from old wooden timbers. Guides stationed at the bar pour tastes of ENSO- and Resonate-label wines, explaining how to decipher each wine's flavor notes. These wines—along with two rotating draft beers and libations crafted by 10 other local urban wineries—complement plates of marbled artisan salamis cured by Olympic Provisions, blocks of raw and aged cheeses from Steve’s Cheese Bar, and sweet and savory pies from Pacific Pie Co.
Much like the wines they produce, Jim and Holly Witte gave their romance ample time to develop—40 years time. Though they met in New York City when Holly was Jim's secretary, it wasn't until a mutual friend reintroduced them decades later that they fell in love. They exchanged vows in Willamette Valley, an area flush with wine grapes, and then began A Blooming Hill Vineyard in nearby Washington County. Their vineyard sits in the hills of the Chehalem Mountains on a basalt range strewn with windblown volcanic soil, protected on three sides by still taller hills and taller yet older brothers. Jim personally walks the vineyards, tending to each vine by hand to create enough breathing room for full clusters to grow.
Visitors can sample the award-winning blends in the onsite tasting room, which plays host to different events each month. To sate people's curiosity, the Wittes share their fermentation process online, and to sate people's appetites, they also share the recipe for the wine-infused cake they served at the vineyard for their wedding-anniversary party.
Árdíri Winery & Vineyards' winemakers John Compagno and Gail Lizak personally tend to each vine on their five-acre vineyard in California's Napa Valley and 15-acre vineyard in Willamette Valley, Oregon. They age each harvest's fruit in French oak, creating complexly flavored whites and reds, such as the 2009 Willamette Valley pinot noir that was named one of Oregon's 50 Best Wines in 2011 and 2012 by Portland Monthly.
John and Gail share their award-winning varietals year round at their open-air tasting facility, where staffers pour samples from behind a black concrete bar and roll-up windowed doors afford stunning views of Mount Hood and the Chehalem Mountains. The boutique winery's dog- and bike-friendly grounds also include a covered flagstone patio, a fire pit, trails through the vineyards, and picnic areas perfect for sighting the rare behatted brown bear.
No strangers to the art of winemaking, the Wetzel family’s roots run deep into the vineyards that surround their winery. For four generations, they have crafted award-winning wines in Germany, and for the last 35, they have called Oregon home. Chateau Bianca Winery peeks out from the Willamette Valley, where pinot noir grapes flourish across the estate vineyards. These carefully cultivated grapes eventually fill bottles with varietals such as the 2009 Chateau Bianca Estate pinot blanc, a dry, clean-finishing wine that makes a refreshing apertif.
Guests visit the tasting room to sample some of Chateau Bianca’s wines, where each day a rotating selection of six bottles are uncorked for swirling and sipping. On days when the summer sun dapples the fields and shimmers playfully off Bacchus’s lampshade hat, sippers relax on the outdoor patio to enjoy a glass or share a bottle while looking out across rows of vines.