Tuesday, May 11, 2010

One of Oregon's Pioneering Winemakers - Myron Redford - with his Amity Vineyards Wines in Washington DC

Picture: Myron Redford and Christian G.E.Schiller

The Eatonville Restaurant in Washington DC welcomed one of Oregon's pioneering Vineyard's from the Williamette region- Amity Vineyards. Founder Myron Redford was there to discuss his award-winning wines as Eatonville paired them with their Southern-inspired cuisine.


Amity Vineyards is in the Willamette Valley, were about two-thirds of Oregon’s wineries and vineyards are. Buffered from Pacific storms on the west by the Coast Range, the valley follows the Willamette River north to south for more than a hundred miles from the Columbia River near Portland to just south of Eugene. But Oregon is not only about Willamette Valley. Oregon’s vineyards span the whole State, rising up and falling over the rolling hills and gentle valleys of more than 12,000 acres (4,858 hectares) of wine grapes. Oregon’s major wine regions are the Willamette Valley, Rogue Valley, Umpqua Valley, and the Columbia Gorge. Some regions straddle the border between Oregon and the States of Washington and Idaho.

Picture: Oregon's wine regions

Wine was made in Oregon in the 19th century already, when Italian and Swiss immigrants planted wine grapes and started bottling wine. Oregon's wine industry was suppressed during Prohibition. It wasn’t until1961, when Richard Sommer set up shop in southern Oregon and planted Riesling, that the modern Oregon wine industry was borne. Other pioneers include David Adelsheim, Dick Ponzi and Bill Sokol-Blosser. Then the French also came with Domaine Drouhin bringing European sophistication to Oregon. In the past 40 years, Oregon has become one of the country’s top three wine States, with 350 wineries producing an average of 5,000 cases each a year. Most of it is Pinot Noir, but there’s also Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and modest amounts of Riesling and Merlot.

Oregon produces wine on a much smaller scale than its southern neighbor California. Oregon's biggest producer ships only 125,000 cases per year and most produce under 35,000 cases. The State features many small wineries which produce less than 5,000 cases per year. In contrast, E & J Gallo Winery, the US’ largest winery, produces about 70 million cases annually. The majority of wineries in Oregon operate their own vineyards, although some purchase grapes on the market.

Like New Zealand, Oregon rode the Sideways Pinot Noir boom for several years, expanding vineyard plantings repeatedly. Now the financial crisis has hit the wine industry. Malbec from Argentina and Camenere from Chile are hot and prices are tumbling. As if weak demand and strong competitors weren't enough, the 2009 crop was a big one -- up 23% from 2008. Combined with the unsold inventory from 2008, the State faces its first significant surplus of wine in many years.

Amity Vineyards

Amity is a small family-owned winery in Yamhill County, established in 1976, 45 miles south west of Portland, above the village of Amity. The winery was the first to produce Gamay Noir in Oregon in 1988. Amity Vineyards also produced Oregon’s first sulfite free wine from organically grown grapes in 1990.

Owners: Myron Redford, Janis Checchia and Vikki Wetle; Founder and President: Myron Redford; Winemaker: Darcy Pendergrass; Vineyard Manager: Robert Taylor.Total Acres: 15; Pinot Noir: 7.5 acres; Riesling: 3 acres; Pinot Blanc: 4.5 acres. Average Brix at Harvest by Variety: Pinot Noir: 21.5 – 22; Pinot Blanc: 19.5 - 21.5; Riesling: 19. Winery Production Capacity: 34,000 Gallons. Source of Grapes: Amity Vineyards (Estate Grapes), Sunnyside Vineyards, Bois Jolie, Cattrall, and Crannell-Amity; Schouten Vineyards-Sheridan; Meadow Vineyard. The labels routinely identify the vineyard source for grapes. All the vineyards are located in the northern end of the Willamette Valley, Oregon's main grape growing area.

Amity’s sulfite free wines

Beginning in 1990, Amity introduced ECO-WINE®, Oregon’s first sulfite-free wine from organic grapes. Myron Redford noted that the challenge was to make a wine about which people say, ‘This is good Pinot Noir’, not ‘This is good, for an organic sulfite free Pinot Noir." He was convinced that with good grapes and careful cellar practices Amity could make good Pinot Noir and bottled it without sulfites. In 2006, the T.T.B., the federal agency regulating wine labels, made them change “Sulfite free” to “No Detectable Sulfites”, but as Myron pointed out, the ECO-WINE is still sulfite free. In 2006, Amity expanded the ECO-WINE ® family to include Marechal Foch and Pinot Blanc.

Myron Redford

He is a legend in the Oregon wine industry. With the launch of his Amity Vineyards in 1974, Myron joined a handful of other pioneer wineries in Oregon. Born in 1945 in Utah, Myron spent his growing years in Seattle, Washington, where he lived until moving to Amity, Oregon in 1974. He attended Antioch College in Ohio where he obtained a BA in Political Science in 1968.

Although winemaking runs in his veins (Myron’s great, great uncle owned part of the Mormon Winery in Toqueville, Utah in the late 1800’s), it was a chance placement of diners at the University of Washington Faculty Club in 1970 that led to his winemaking career. In 1974, Myron purchased a small, existing vineyard in Amity, Oregon. The next two years were spent learning farming and preparing for making the first vintage of wine. He built the winery himself in 1976, and has been making wine ever since. He has supplemented his on-the-job training with short courses and seminars at both the University of California at Davis and Oregon State University.

What we ate and drank

Passed Hor D’ouevres

Tuna-Cucumber Tartar on Wonton Chip with Wasabi Crème
Hierloom Tomatoes and Goat Cheese Bruschetta
Prosciutto wrapped Marinated Mozzarella
Smoked Salmon on Potato Crisp with Crème Fraiche and Caviar

Paired with Amity Vineyards Pinot Blanc 2007

100% Pinot Blanc, 13.00% alcohol, Williamette Valley, $ 17

Tasting notes: On the nose, the wine showed pineapple, stone fruits and mineral notes, a full-bodied wine, with good acidity and a round mouth feel on the palate, coupled with flavors of nectarines and pineapple, reminded me of a traditional Alsatian Pinot Blanc.

First Course

Butter Poached Shrimp with Warm Lentil-Green Bean Salad and Truffle Vinaigrette

Paired with Amity Dry Gewuerztraminer, 2007

Willamette Valley, Alcohol: 13.50%, 100% Gewuztraminer, $ 20.00

Tasting notes: This wine smells and tastes like a traditional Alsatian Dry Gewürztraminer with aromas of lime, flint, pear and spice, on the palate the wine exhibits flavors of lime zest and lychee that leads to a spicy finish.

Second Course

Ancho Crusted Rack of Lamb with Chive Parmesan Whipped Potatoes Blackberry Gastrique and Balsamic Reduction

Paired with Amity Winemakers Reserve Pinot Noir 2007

Willamette Valley, Alcohol: 14.00%, 100% Pinot Noir,

Tasting notes: Light red in the glass, raspberry and tobacco notes on the nose, well structured and elegant, aromas of black cherry, currant, and pomegranate combined with subtle notes of cocoa and sandalwood on the palate, finishes with grace, a feminine wine.


Lemon Mousse in Phyllo Cup with Fresh Berries

Paired with Amity Wedding Dance Riesling 2008

Willamette Valley, Alcohol: 10.50%, 100% Riesling, $17.00

The wine had a noticeable sweetness. How was this achieved? Myron explained that this was done by following the practice of the Mosel winemakers in Germany. They cool the fermenting must down so that the fermentation stops and not all sugar in the grape is converted into alcohol. What you get is a sweet wine with a low alcohol level.

Tasting notes: The 2007 Wedding Dance Riesling shows both aromas and flavors consisting of lime and lemon zest, honeysuckle, minerality notes of wet rock and flint, with hints of rose and petrol, a well balanced wine.

Picture: Myron Redford with Eatonville's Chef Rusty Holman

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