After leaving Lemelson, I drove around, lost, wasting a precious hour, cursing Google Maps for creating a road over the Dundee Hills that apparently doesn’t exist. I did see some beautiful countryside along the way, and cranked the Walkmen’s shockingly faithful rerecording of Harry Nilsson and John Lennon’s Pussycats album, eventually making it to the oasis that is Domaine Serene.
This winery is almost out of place amongst Oregon’s earthy, naturalistic, unassuming style. Some have even taken to calling it Domaine Extreme. But, man oh man; the wines are really something special. Best known for their Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir, Domaine Serene has taken to bottling the individual component vineyards as well, and I was particularly impressed by the 2003 Mark Bradford Vineyard: Light and airy on the palate, with a nose that smelled appealingly like a shovelful of clean soil.
Domaine Serene is also making Columbia Valley Syrah under the label Rockblock. The Seven Hills Vineyard is a juicy new-world crowd pleaser; the Del Rio Vineyard comes across as darker, spicier and more Rhone-styled. Winemaker Tony Rynders told me it was all in the vineyard, not in any differing techniques from site to site. In fact, he suggested that Syrah is even better at telegraphing terroir than Pinot Noir.
My last stop, as it got dark, and most wineries started to close up for the night, was at Bergstrom, where 31- year-old wunderkind Josh Bergstrom makes some of my favourite wines of the whole trip. His Pinots are rich and mysterious – supple and truly delicious. Many of the best qualities of the wines I had tried on this excursion showed up again here, often in clearer focus.
Josh, friendly and funny even at the end of a long day, poured me a crisp, lemony, minerally Chardonnay, reminiscent of a Chablis, or a top-notch New Zealand Chard. Not bad for a region that often hangs its head in embarrassment over the quality of the chardonnays it has previously bottled. Add to that a very tasty dry Riesling cheekily named Dr. Bergstrom (could that be a dig, or a tribute to Dr. Loosen?), which seems to land squarely between the Mosel and Alsace.
I was really impressed by the restraint in so many of the wines I tasted on this trip. Sure, many were easy-drinking, fruit-forward tipplers, but so many more were complex and quietly seductive, without being unapproachable. Like music, there is room for all dimensions of palate-pleasers, and the Willamette Valley offers them all, but with integrity, personality and heart.