Wine always tastes better in the vineyard as we determined sampling the 2014 Grüner Veltliner surrounded by vines laden with fall foliage as far as the eye could see. This varietal is an aromatic white originating in Austria, and only produced at 6 wineries in the Northwest.
Raptor Ridge Winery was celebrating their 20th Anniversary using the opportunity to showcase their wine which began with a vineyard tour. As we traipsed back up the hill we marveled at the beautiful Pinot Noir grapes a few of which clung stubbornly to the vine having missed harvest due to late ripening.
Birds of prey lazily circled overhead awaiting their next meal on the ground. Vineyards that employ sustainable vineyard practices rely on natural predators and pests to keep the ecosystem balanced and the grapes safe. The raptors that frequent the ridge are courtesy of The Audubon Society who release birds of prey into the area.
Back in the tasting room we began the arduous retrospective tasting beginning with a 1997 Raptor Ridge Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir, displaying balanced flavors and structure in a smooth and elegant wine. It was followed by 2000 Raptor Ridge Pinot Noir from Meredith Mitchell Vineyard and Shea Estate. In the Willamette Valley the same vineyards can taste very different year to year depending on whether it was a cool or warm year. The vineyards located in different geographies and soil conditions exhibited distinct flavor profiles. Meredith Mitchell tasted earthier while the Shea Estate tasted of bright red fruit.
The 2005 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir marked the tenth vintage for the owner/winemaker, Scott Shull. The blocks were aged separately and blended before bottling, capturing notes of earthiness, red fruit, and smoky characteristics. A 2010 Gran Moraine Vineyard Pinot Noir was layered with bright fruit, rose petal, and oak flavors.
A visit to the cellar afforded an opportunity to view the wine making operation of punch-downs, to keep the juice in contact with the skin during fermentation. Tasting 2015 Chardonnay in process provided a glimpse of how it might taste as finished wine.
An alfresco lunch with vineyard views allowed us to sample and compare the current vintages 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014 Estate Pinot Noir paired with a special chef-prepared feast highlighting the bounty of harvest. Served family style, it included a kale salad, fresh baked bread, Shepherd’s Pie and plum cake which paired beautifully with the wine.
The finale included a 2011 Harbinger Vineyard Brut Rose with shortbread cookies. The gorgeous salmon color and dry style was the perfect ending to an exceptional day.
To make great wine requires more than wine knowledge, high quality grapes, and production facilities, it also takes passion. The team at Raptor Ridge use passion as the catalyst to create remarkable wine, but don’t take my word for it, try it for yourself.
Visiting: Raptor Ridge is perched on a hillside on the north end of the Willamette Valley, the ideal nest from which to taste wine and enjoy the vineyard views below. Watch for upcoming Yoga in the Vines which will feature yoga, wine tasting, and lunch at the winery prepared by resident chef/yoga instructor. Perfect for events, the winery is open daily from 11-4 p.m. Sunday – Thursday and 11-5 p.m. Friday and Saturday. They are located at 18700 Hillsboro Highway, Newberg, Oregon 97132. Phone is 503-628-8463 and website is www.raptorridgewinery.com. Reservations for private tours and tastings or for groups of 6 or more can be made at info@RaptorRidgeWinery.com.