One of the best part of the Wine Media Conference, which was held in August in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, is the pre- and post-conference excursions. These day-long adventures take us out in the vineyards and wineries where we get to meet the people behind the wines (and taste plenty of wines!).
Ribbon Ridge was my pick for a pre-con excursion and it exceeded every expectation! Ribbon Ridge is a relatively new AVA (American Viticultural Area), having been established on July 1, 2005. It’s nested within the larger Willamette Valley AVA and sits up on a ridge at nearly 700 feet elevation. It’s Oregon’s smallest AVA, running just 3 1/2 miles long and 1 3/4 miles wide. It’s kind of like an island rising up on the west side of Chehalem.
We started our Ribbon Ridge adventure from Portland Airport, and drove to Newberg – a cute little town that was refreshingly full of local shops and cafés (no chains!) After dropping our bags at Yamhill Suites, smack in the center of town, we hit the road with Dan Warnshuis, owner of Utopia Winery and our host for two days. We stopped at Domaine Divio for a quick splash of Passetoutgrain and then it was off to The Allison Inn for dinner, starring wines from Domaine Divio and Utopia.
In thinking about how to share the story of Ribbon Ridge, it really comes down to the people there who are making wines that are special, because of the unique sedimentary soils of Ribbon Ridge that are very fine-textured and not too fertile – making it perfect for growing grapes. (Grape vines are great at “struggling” to find water and nutrients in the soil, which builds concentrated flavors in the berries – I know – super geeky, sorry.)
Until 2005, the wineries located in the area were Willamette Valley AVA. Harry Peterson Nedry, owner of RR Winery and Ridgecrest, spearheaded the application to become the Ribbon Ridge AVA and now you’ll find “Ribbon Ridge” on labels from 30 wineries. Here are a few notes from some of the amazing wineries we visited.
Domaine Divio – Owned by Burgundian Bruno Corneaux, Domaine Divio grows Pinot Noir and Chardonnay plus some crazy obscure grapes like Passetoutgrain, An ancestral Burgundian blend of Gamay and Pinot Noir and Pinot Beurot, Burgundy’s term for Pinot Gris. Cool! The property is stunning, the winery is boutique in style and the wines are heavenly. Bruno joined us for dinner at The Allison with magnums of Chard and Pinot and his outsize personality and generous character made the night so memorable!
RR Winery & Ridgecrest – Harry Peterson-Nedry founded RR Winery and now his daughter, Wynn Peterson-Nedry is making the wines at Willamette Valley’s Carlton Wine Studio (a collective winemaking facility where more than a dozen winemakers craft their wines). It was fascinating to hear the story of how the Ribbon Ridge AVA was established and how Harry purchased 120 acres in 1980 – the very first vineyard in what is now Ribbon Ridge AVA. We tasted through the range of both Ridgecrest and Ribbon Ridge wines and they are fun! Ridgecrest Dry Riesling and RR Pinot Noir were my own two favorites.
Utopia – Dan Warnshuis started Utopia in 2002, after a tech career in California. He started small, making just over 400 cases of Pinot Noir. He added Chardonnay plantings in 2010 and today he practices sustainable farming, including dry farming (no irrigation). Dan hosted us for sushi and a tasting of his Chardonnays, Rosé of Pinot Noir and Pinot Noirs in his fun and funky tasting room, before taking a walk through he vineyards.
Trisaetum – Started in 2003 by James Frey, the winery is named for his two children (Tristan and Tatum). He sold his first bottle in 2009 and today produces about 6000 cases a year. We got to know James and the winery with a side-by-side tasting of his Ribbon Ridge and Coast Range wines, including 2018 Pashey Blanc de Blancs, 2018 Pinot Noir, Dry Riesling and Medium Dry Riesling. It was wine geek paradise! You could totally taste the differences in each wine – the ones that came from Ribbon Ridge and the ones that came from his Coast Range vineyard, which is 10 miles closer to the ocean. This also is where I learned also about the magical pairing of hazelnuts (roasted, unsalted) and Dry Riesling. (Get on that, friends!)
Eminent Domaine – Jeff Meader has an interesting career in wine, first starting a wine storage and shipping company in McMinnville, and then a custom-crush facility nearby. In 2006, he finally purchased his own land – in Ribbon Ridge – and named his winery in honor of a business deal that at first was to his disadvantage (involving eminent domaine, which relates to a government’s ability to appropriate land) – but the ultimately drove him to purchase land property and turn it into his own winery and vineyards. He and his wife had us for a pizza party on their gorgeous property and I fell hard for their 2019 Chardonnay and his Pinot Noirs are also amazing.
Styring – Our last stop of the day was spent at this delightful winery, at picnic tables under the biggest oak tree I’ve ever seen. Perched high atop Ribbon Ridge, it was a perfect opportunity to get to know Steve and Kelley Styring and their beautiful wines. We tasted through their Estate Vintage Brut sparkler called Rixi made from 100 percent Riesling – LOVE! Then they brought out delicious strawberries and mascarpone and cheesecake bites with Whimsy Riesling and Afterglow Riesling Dessert wines. You know I love Riesling and particulary Dry Riesling, and it’s fun to taste ones with a bit of sweetness – they are just gorgeous with ripe summer fruit and a bit of rich cheese or cream. And they gifted us with a bottle of their Pinot Noir, which I am looking forward to opening soon! (Also, they come from a long line of vikings, which is just plain cool!)
I want to thank all the winemakers who made this such an amazing experience. What a big impact this tiny AVA has on the Willamette Valley wine world! For more on these wineries, visit their websites here: