Road Trip Guide - Page 37 - Water and wine continued

Road Trip Guide
- Page 37
Water and wine continued
Stoller Family Estate and, running late for the first of several vineyard visits I’d arranged, hoof it half an hour north, to Ponzi Vineyards.

Despite its spare, modern architecture and snazzy tasting room, Ponzi’s laid-back vibe seems worlds away from the atmosphere at many of California’s Napa and Sonoma wineries, where tourist-packed wine tastings often feel more like boozy rugby scrums. Gail, Ewan and I agree that even fellow drivers here seem more courteous than those on other vineyard routes we’ve traveled. These impressions are confirmed over the next few days.

Among the area’s pioneer winemakers, the Ponzis settled near the northern tip of the 150-mile long Willamette Valley in the late 1960s. Convinced the climate and dirt were ideal for growing wine grapes such as pinot noir, they cleared pastureland, and swapped hazelnut and walnut orchards for vineyards.

Over lunch of fresh-baked quiche and a sampling of wines, Gail and I agree they made the right call. Their riesling, zingy and vibrant, is lovely. A pair of chardonnays are excellent, though we prefer the younger one, a crisply acidic 2014 reserve chardonnay. Their pinot noirs, especially those made from their oldest vines, are delicious. Ewan has only high praise for his glass of Ponzi’s Cugini sparkling grape juice.

Back that sunny afternoon at Stoller, we stroll to the hilltop tasting room. Families, most with small children, are picnicking and playing outside. Kids steamroll down the grassy hill, while others take turns on the tire swing hanging from a white oak tree in the field below. In nearly every parent’s hands is a glass of wine. It’s an idyllic scene, replayed most fair-weathered weekends, that has earned Stoller the half-joking nickname among locals: Willamette Valley State Park. It’s a name the good-natured winery staff seems to embrace.

Though a little too old to join the youngsters, Ewan is happy to explore the grounds, taking photos of the daffodils and playing fetch with a friendly dog.

Pinot noir may rule in Willamette Valley, but Stoller, like other area wineries, also makes very fine wines from other grapes, including sister Burgundian grape chardonnay and lesser known types such as tempranillo. Gail, after a sip of their 2016 late harvest riesling, declares the golden liquid “ambrosial.”

After an early dinner nearby at homey Nick’s Italian Cafe, unofficial clubhouse for area winemakers, we return to Stoller, where we lounge outside our guest house in Adirondack chairs, watching the sun set on acres of gnarled vines.

Though eager to join Gail and Ewan that evening in stargazing, I reluctantly turn in before midnight. After all, I have a different sort of appointment with a winemaker early next morning.

If Jesse seems unusually happy for a man