Uncharted territory: East Valley wineries offer a chance to explore

June 2012 Posted in Business, Food & Drink

By Omie Drawhorn

East Valley Wine Festival
St. Josef’s Winery,
28836 S. Barlow Road, Canby

Winemaker’s Gala Evening:
6-10 p.m. Friday, June 15, $35

Wine Tasting and Competition:
noon-6 p.m. Saturday, June 16, $10.

For information and a list of
participating wineries,
visit www.eastvalleywine.com
or call 503-651-3190

East Valley wineries have long operated in the shadow of the more well-known Oregon wine region located on the west side of the valley, but little by little, local wineries are making a name for themselves.

Wine tasting often takes adventurers to McMinnville, Dundee and the Hood River area, but the growing number of vineyards situated between Oregon City, Woodburn, Silverton and Aumsville, are starting to increase its fan base, said Jason Hanson of Hanson Vineyard in Monitor.

“Interest is increasing without a doubt,” Hanson said. “More people stop at the wineries; more and more people know we are here.”

But he said many aren’t aware there are so many wineries in the area. When they take a look at the map and brochure the East Valley wineries group put together, they may recognize a couple names, but many are news to them. To increase interest and knowledge of the wineries and their products, the group is collectively hosting the third annual East Valley Wine Festival, June 15 and 16 at St. Josef Winery in 28836 S. Barlow Road in Canby.

The East Valley Wineries Association consists of 12 small, family-owned wineries located in the region with histories of participating in different wine events around state and region.

“We are big enough that we decided we could create our own event; it would help stick the pin in the map, flag in the map; East Valley has a great wine tradition, 30 years of wine history, we want to create more events like this and promote wine on this side of the valley,” Hanson said.

St. Josef’s and Silver Falls Vineyards were two of early pioneers, and were later followed by wineries like Hanson’s.

“We have a long wine tradition, but somehow we have been a bit eclipsed in notoriety or recognition for the other side of the valley,” he said.

Sandy Piluso of Piluso Vineyard and Winery in Aumsville said during the 1960s, the East Valley had the opportunity to be at the wine forefront. Jason Lett told Piluso the story of how his father, David Lett, founder of Eyrie Vineyards, had hoped to grow his now famous Pinot Noir grapes in East Valley farmland in 1966, but farmers didn’t think it would be successful.

He ended up locating outside of Dundee and built a name for Pinot Noir in Oregon and beyond.

The East Valley missed its first chance to be at the forefront of the wine scene, but it isn’t too late to take a piece of the spotlight now, Piluso said.

The East Valley has competed with the “west side” from wine tasting’s inception, Piluso said.  “Some of our older wineries have provided excellent fruit to westside wineries for 30 years but never got the recognition. This festival showcases some of our best wines for those who have heard of what we do, but have not discovered our area as of yet,” she said.

The two-day festival features the latest wines from Marion and Clackamas county wineries, including Vitis Ridge, Hanson Vineyards, Piluso Wines, Silver Falls Vineyards and Pudding River Wine Cellars. Those who attend can meet the winemakers, sample the latest releases and enjoy wonderful food and music.

Hanson said in its second year, almost 500 people attended the Saturday festivities, and 155 attended the dinner and wine gala on Friday night.

He is optimistic about even higher attendance this year.

“We were thrilled with the result last year and we want to keep building on it,” Hanson said. “There is a thirst for more wine centric events in this area. Wine lovers don’t want to travel to Dundee, Carlton and Portland to enjoy fine wines. We’ve got it right here.”

Sharon Deckelman of Vitis Ridge in Silverton, said part of last year’s success was due to a Groupon promotion that will run this year as well.

“We’re seeing a lot more people who weren’t aware of our wineries before (both at the festival and on tours), we are seeing more people from the Portland area,” she said.  “We’re getting our wines out there.”

Hanson said shoppers can find East Valley wines in many grocery stores between Portland and Eugene.

Piluso said even though the wineries are located in a relatively small geographical area and produce some of the same grapes and wines, each shows its unique characteristics.

“The soils, elevations, grape varietals, winemaking protocols and viticultural practices contribute to our success by being unique,” she said.

Each of the wineries are excited to share their new releases from Riesling and Pinot Noir to Malbec and Gruner Veltliner.

“Even if you visit Vitis Ridge or Hanson and tasted the wines, chances are you going to be able to try new wines you never tasted at the event. It’s an exciting thing for us to be able to promote that we understand spirit of the festival,” Hanson said.

He said although the wineries operate independently, they are a close knit group who like to pool their resources.

“We adhere to the notion that rising tides lifts all boats,” Hanson said. “The most important thing to all success is to increase people hopping on the East Valley tour.”

If they visit Hanson, St. Josef’s, Silver Falls Vineyards and Pudding River Wine Cellars, and they let people know there is a wonderful group of people on this side of the valley, all parties benefit, Hanson said.

“We have a long tradition of camaraderie; we share information we pick up, and ask some of more veteran growers questions,” he said.

By working together, more visitors are likely to venture to the East Valley and learn about the wines and wineries that are making their presence known.

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