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After an amazing first full day at IPNC, Group A, of which we were a part, remained on campus. The breakfast on days one and two are pretty much identical – amazingly fresh berries and stone fruit (if you haven’t been to Oregon in berry season, you are missing out on one of life’s amazing pleasures), fresh buttery pastries, bacon or sausage, some yogurt, juice and coffee. Nothing terribly fancy, but delicious and nothing too wild that will destroy your palate before the tastings.
The main event is the Grand Seminar, where everyone who was off campus the day before goes to Linfield’s gym for a tasting seminar. This year’s seminar was Two Vineyards | Six Hands, which was an in-depth exploration of six wines from two vineyards. These wines were made especially for IPNC. We actually skipped this session. We decided to head off campus and grab breakfast with some local friends. We’ve had mixed results with the Grand Seminar – sometimes they are really great and other times they can drag on for way too long. Everyone we talked to said we missed out on a really great seminar this year.
After the Grand Seminar was the Lunch on the Lawn. This al fresco dining experience, like the Grand Dinner the night before it is a plated and served lunch where each table has a winemaker sharing a selection of wines they brought and the somms providing larger tastings (half glasses) of other wines from the library. We sat with one person we had met before at another IPNC and everyone else was new to us. Our winery partner was Sokol-Blosser – where we had an off-campus experience a few years ago. Our entire table was such fun and Robin Hawley the Associate Winemaker was a generous host as well. She was inquisitive and engaging – a real delight to sit with. We also had a couple of first-timers at our table, so it was great to get their impressions and to offer sage advice.
Following lunch we had our University of Pinot class, which centered on Austrian Pinot Noirs. There were about a dozen different 90 minute courses you could take – and we actively selected into this course as we do visit Vienna from time to time. The class had three Austrian winemakers showcasing the geography, the diversity and the uniqueness of their wines. These wines definitely had a lighter, crisper feel than a traditional Oregon Pinot Noir, but this is really one of the main points. It is the INTERNATIONAL Pinot Noir Celebration, not the Oregon PNC. The winemakers were insightful and made me want to hope on a plane and pay them a visit. The worst part, this class lasted 25 minutes longer than scheduled, which cut into the Afternoon Activities. We could have left, but we sat in such a place that we couldn’t actually leave without being very disruptive. Next time, plan better!
Saturday’s Afternoon Activities were focusing on Rosés and Jamón. I will still pretty full from lunch, but I’ve always got room for proper Ibérico Ham, which was served with heirloom tomatoes, burrata cheese and the most wonderful sardines I’ve ever eaten. The line was long for Jamón, but we had a rosé to keep us company. I will admit, I was in the Jamón line twice – the second time we spent more time chatting with one of the Austrian winemakers too. We’ll be visiting him on our next trip to Austria.
Like the first day, there is an al fresco tasting before dinner. Tables with dozens of wineries pouring a curated selection of wines sit underneath old oak trees. You get direct access to the winemakers and owners of these great wineries. Plus, this is a great time to mingle and chat with the new friends you met earlier in the weekend.
The final dinner is the famous Salmon Bake. This buffet dinner is the only part of the weekend that is open to non-attendees of IPNC. Separate tickets can be purchased ($225 per ticket) from the IPNC website. Like all meals, there is no assigned seating, it is first-come-first-served seating. There are two strategies for the Salmon bake 1) Hurry and select a table for you and your friends or 2) Head straight into the buffet line, then once you have a full plate, strikeout to find a seat.
The star of this dinner is the salmon, which is roasted over an open flame in the style that indigenous people of the pacific northwest would cook it. In addition to the salmon, there is beef and pork, plus tons of salads and sides – all made with fresh, local ingredients by excellent regional chefs.
Like the lunches and previous dinner, the somms are assigned to certain tables and they keep your glasses full. They are always rotating different wines including, chardonnays, rieslings and of course pinot noir. There is a ton of food at the buffets, so multiple trips are required. The separate dessert stations open up about an hour after the main meal is served – dozens of small dessert pastries and even full slices of pie.
The casual dinner allows for easy walking and chatting with new friends. People also bring their own bottles to share with friends old and new. We find our selves walking around the tables, exploring new wines and continuing to meet new people.
At the end of the night, we always grab a few friends and a couple chairs and sit by the remains of the Salmon Bake Fire. We have so much fun at this part of the night, it is a sad time as the great weekend is coming to a close.
The International Pinot Noir celebration is the last weekend of July each year. For the past 32 years pinot lovers from all over the world have descended on McMinnville Oregon, 40 miles south of Portland to eat, drink and celebrate the wonderful Pinot Noir grape.
We have attended this event for nearly a decade now and really look forward to it each year. This year we were in Group A, which means our first day was off campus. After breakfast, we hopped on waiting motor coaches which schlepped our group to the beautiful Archery Summit Winery. The 20 minute drive through the picturesque Willamette Valley and up winding roads would usually be filled with deep anticipation. “Where are we going?”, “What will the tasting focus on?” – these questions and the speculative answers would fill the bus. This time, not so much, our host spilled the beans on our destination before we even left Linfield. Not really a big deal, and he felt awful about it, but I do prefer the surprise and the fun of guessing.
Once we arrived we were greeted by the new winemaker Ian Burch and vineyard manager Tim Scott. While we got acquainted with the vineyard, the winery and their process, we enjoyed a lovely 2016 Eola-Amity Hills Chardonnay.
We moved inside for the main tasting. This blind tasting pitted three Oregon Pinots against a Californian and one from Burgundy. We smelled, tasted and talked about each of the wines and the specific winemaking process, then we had to pair up the wines with each of the wineries. I got three of five correct.
Next we moved outside again, this time for lunch. I strategically took a seat between two reserved (for winemakers) seats and was fortunate enough to sit next to Ian. We enjoyed a lovely lunch prepared by Sybaris Bistro from Albany Oregon.
There were too many people for us all to go on a tour of the wine caves, but Ian asked one of his colleagues to take just us down for a quick tour. It was quick, but quite lovely. We got back with just enough time to order a mixed case and hop on the bus. We kept it a secret that we’d been given a private tour.
Once back on campus we head over to the for the Afternoon Activities, which included some sparkling tastings and lawn games. The tasting continued with the first al fresco tasting, where two dozen wineries pour one of their selections. You get some great time with the winemakers or their representatives while continuing to enjoy a beautiful Oregon summer.
Finally, the first day closed out with the Grand Dinner. This casual dinner is a plated affair. Each table has a winemaker pouring some of their own wines, while the wandering somms (who are paired with just two tables to ensure proper coverage) continue to pour various selections. Your glasses are never dry. The meal is prepared by several chefs from the area. It was delectable.
We were fortunate enough to snag a seat with our friends Scott and Lisa from Coeur de Terre. We always drink great wine and laugh a little too much with them. We met them at IPNC a few years earlier and have always enjoyed reconnecting with them upon our return. That’s the beauty of IPNC, it is full of approachable people, who love wine. Be they on the production or consumption side – in general you are getting to know genuine people without the snobbiness of other wine and food events.
Day one comes to a close. A really great day and a perfect first half of IPNC. Must rest up, this all starts again tomorrow at 07h30!
The last weekend of July each year brings together a wondeful group of winos 40 miles south of Portland Oregon. The International Pinot Noir Celebration is one of my favorite weekends of the year. Wine growers, makers, distributors and most importantly, consumers gather in Mcminnville, Oregon for two-and-a-half days of sheer Pinot bliss.
The festivities are held on the campus of Linfield College, my alma mater, and at various vineyards in the surrounding countryside. The Willamette Valley is home to some truly amazing Pinot Noirs. The volcanic soil brings a certain delightful minerality to the wines. The topography and climate push the Pinot grapes to be their best. The rainy springs and hot dry, summers (with a beautiful coastal breeze that cools down the valley late in the afternoon) make for, what I think, is the perfect wine.
Traditional Oregon Pinot Noirs are (like their cousins from around the world), light bodied and pair well with pork, salmon and duck (remember French Burgundy is a Pinot Noir). They also have an Earthy element. Some would say (yes, I am one) that Oregon Pinots taste like dirt. Delectable dirt.
IPNC includes tasting seminars, vineyard tours, amazing meals and al fresco wine tastings, all culminating in the final dinner, the Salmon Bake. Large slabs of salmon are roasted over hot coals. This buffet dinner has so many great options you must take multiple trips to the buffet line.
Not all meals are buffet though, breakfast is, but the other dinner and the lunches are proper plated affairs. Still casual in nature, but with white table clothes, excellent food and of course fabulous wines. Every event is casual. Shorts, sandals and polos are the standard attire for men. Even the Grand dinner on Friday night is still casual – you may opt to put on long pants because it does get chilly in the valley at night.
I love Oregon summers. The heat and sun of the day re-energize me. The camaraderie of the attendees is intoxicating. This isn’t a snobby event. People are here to talk about wine, learn about wine and share. At the Salmon Bake guests are encouraged to bring their favorite bottles. People do this and share. They aren’t showing off, they want to expose you to their favorite wine. They want to discuss the wine with you. It is a totally refreshing experience. It is Oregon.
Put this wonderful wine event on your calendar and join us at Linfield College the last weekend of July in 2019.
We spent Thanksgiving in Oregon. We flew in, brought my mom in and the in-laws drove up from Arizona. Our plan had us staying a couple days in the Willamette Valley, then moving to Portland for the final days of the holiday. Our plan was simple, pick a nice hotel where we could relax and enjoy Thanksgiving and have a great holiday meal. There aren’t many options that offer everything we were looking for, but we found the Allison Inn and Spa and it checked all the boxes.
We knew of the Allison for a few years now, but never had the opportunity to visit. The restaurant on site, Jory, gets high praise too. The hotel is located in Newberg, Oregon, which is about an hour from Portland. This 85 room hotel is situated in the rolling hills just a few minutes outside of town. As you pull on property, the winding road takes you by the Hotel and you loop around to the complimentary valet parking. You can self park, if you prefer, but why would you?
You walk into the main lobby where several employees are waiting at reception. You get a total Pacific Northwest vibe from this place, with the slate floors and abundance of wood grains throughout. Check-in was quick and except for a member of our group complaining about the room rate (which was about $350/room/night). They let us know about the walking trails on property as well as the hours of the spa, restaurant and the bar (really the most important info about a hotel stay).
The Allison is often used for local corporate events – rumor has it Nike and Intel often book the whole property. That being said, this isn’t your stereotypical conference hotel. It isn’t sterile and bland like the traditional conference space. During our stay we didn’t really feel like we were at anything but a nice hotel in the Oregon Wine Country.
Past reception is the main lobby (you know, I hate how at some hotels you have to walk through the maze that is the social lobby just to check in at some hotels, this wasn’t the case here). The lobby area has ample seating around a big beautiful fireplace. We spent many an hour here, enjoying the fire, chatting and working our way through the cocktail and snack lists. We waited no longer than one minute from the time we sat down in the lobby before we were greeted by a server who brought us water, menus and these wonderfully spiced hazelnuts (or as we locals call them, filberts). The service team here was really top notch. While they may not have been the most polished, they were genuinely concerned about your happiness and really pushed to make your stay memorable.
We were given ground floor rooms with small patios. We looked out on the hotel grounds which were in the throes of autumn color change. Red, yellow and orange leaves accompanied the beautiful evergreens making a truly picturesque view. It was unseasonably warm during our visit (15C/60F), so we spent quite a bit of time outside on our patio, walking the grounds or cocktailing by the outside next to the main bar.
The rooms were large and had a king bed, a love seat sized window seating area, a comfortable chair, an adequately sized desk which could be used as an in room dining area too.
The bathroom was very large, with separate shower and tub. The soaking tub called to me, but since we were traveling with family, lounging in the tub with a bottle of wine by myself didn’t seem to make much sense. Next time.
The mini bar was quintessential Pacific Northwest, which included chocolate covered filberts, nutrition bars, chips and filtered water. The water wasn’t bottled per se, but was filtered and kept in a refillable glass vessel, which was much more environmentally sound than all those wasted bottles we toss while at hotels. The mini bar was complimentary, but unfortunately we never got our chocolate covered filberts restocked…that was probably a good thing, considering how much I ate on this visit.
We booked spa appointments months in advance as we weren’t sure how busy the Hotel would be. Would they book up, or would they close the spa for Thanksgiving? We got massages on Thanksgiving morning. The facilities were relatively great. There aren’t a lot of high end spas in the area to compare this to. It was very clean, with proper lockers, both a dry and a wet sauna and a couple showers. The spa was separated into male and female areas, but there was a coed waiting area if you prefer. Honestly the massages were really great. Hotel massages can really be hit or miss and the team at the Allison really hit it out of the park. 90 minutes just flew by.
We ate three meals at the hotel, lunch and dinner on Thanksgiving, plus breakfast the next day. Only lunch on Thanksgiving wasn’t without issues though. We grabbed a casual lunch in the bar, knowing that we had a large tasting menu planned for Thanksgiving dinner…plus all those wonderfully spiced filberts during afternoon cocktails. I had the mac and cheese, while the others all had the smoked salmon wrap. It was a really delightful lunch.
Dinner, at Jory, was an interesting endeavor. We booked our rooms in March – we wanted to make sure that we had a place to stay. Shortly after booking, I emailed the hotel to make proper Thanksgiving Dinner reservations. I was greeted the next day with a response saying that it was too early to make those reservations, but Jory’s manager would reach out as soon as it was possible to make reservations. I followed up again in August and got the same response. Again, I followed up in September and was told that Thanksgiving dinner was sold out and there was NOTHING they could do. I was frustrated and absolutely livid. After nearly half a dozen emails we finally got it squared away and managed to get dinner reservations at 19h30 – a little later than we wanted, but it was much better than grabbing a sandwich at the Safeway. After this interaction, we were a little concerned with how the actual stay would go (remember, this issue popped up two months before we set foot on property). We had long conversations about changing our plans. Ultimately they fixed it, but it took some strong language and the threat of cancelling our whole stay with them before it was resolved.
Fast forward to Thanksgiving dinner. The five of us were seated and we had been studying the menu all day, so once we sat down, we were ready to rock and roll. The tasting menu had traditional Thanksgiving selections that were both individually selected and shared for the table. Everyone else selected the turkey dinner option, while I chose the ham. The turkey wasn’t a turkey in the traditional sense, it was more of a turkey roll, which disappointed most of our table. They enjoyed it, but they all felt it seemed a little processed and the easy way out. My ham was quite fatty and salty, but I do believe I made the best selection.
The next day we wanted breakfast at the hotel, before we went out wine tasting. We arrived at 09h30 and asked about breakfast and were told that breakfast was no longer being served – despite the fact that people were just going in to be seated. As an alternative, we were offered the snack menu at the bar – which only had four-top tables for the five of us. It was suggested that we sit at different tables, or one of us could sit at the bar, while the other four sat at a table. I was really surprised at these suggestions.
I asked to speak to someone else, the manager, the supervisor, someone. With my previous issues with the restaurant team here, I knew that dealing with the manager on duty would get more traction. Usually I don’t ask for the manager, I work with the front line people and almost always we come to a positive resolution. The manager let me know that we couldn’t be seated at the five-top table in the restaurant because it was reserved…for a party of four….at 13h00. They intended on holding the table for 3.5 hours. I told the manager that we had plans to go wine tasting and had no intention of sitting around that table for 3.5 hours and if we were still sitting there at 12h00 she could personally remind me and I’d make sure we left. She balked. I truly felt this was unreasonable, so the discussion continued. They eventually relented about 20 minutes later.
We were seated for breakfast, waters and menus were delivered, then interestingly enough, it took 30 minutes before anyone returned to even take drink orders. It was 10h30 at this point.
The breakfast menu was interesting, as it had a few left over items from the Thanksgiving Dinner, including Turkey Stuffing Bread Pudding and Turkey Eggs Benedict. We were all pretty content with our breakfast selections, but were tired of the service issues at Jory and were ready to make a move.
My mom and the in-laws spent a few hours after breakfast in the main lobby, near the fireplace, reading and chatting while we headed off to hit a couple of wineries. Thanksgiving and Memorial Day weekends are huge tasting weekends in the Willamette Valley. After spending time out enjoying the wineries, we returned to pickup the family and head off to Portland. The lobby was bustling and I sat down to see how the parents enjoyed their time by the fire, the server who had helped me each day, arrived with seasoned filberts and a negroni – the drink that I had started off my cocktail hour(s) with each day. She remembered and delivered without me even acknowledging her. It was lovely. I had no intention of grabbing a drink then, but it would be rude not to enjoy the drink…wouldn’t it?
Our time at the Allison was over. It wasn’t without hiccups, mostly relating to the team at Jory. The hotel itself was quite lovely, especially for the area and in general the service was stellar. Our biggest issues, really came from the front line service leadership at Jory while everyone else was on point. The views from the hotel are so relaxing for me. I grew up just a few miles from the Allison, so it really felt like home and was just what I was looking for in a Thanksgiving break with family.
How do you spend your Thanksgiving breaks? Do you work hard to spend time with family at home, or do you take a trip somewhere…or do you take your extended family with you somewhere? While it was a great time and I thoroughly look forward to another stay at the Allison, I will say, I’m not looking forward to another big family holiday road trip soon.
Our Labor Day Weekend trip to Yosemite ended with a final night in San Francisco, before our flight back to Chicago. I was given a choice of 3 restaurants for our one main meal in San Francisco, and I selected Coi (pronounced kwah – not coy). This Michelin Two-Star Restaurant is located in the North Beach neighborhood. The seafood centric menu by newly named chef, Matthew Kirkley was exquisite. Chef Kirkley and a few other members of his team recently left Chicago for San Francisco and are doing amazing things at Coi.
I wrote a few days about about the geographical error in the wine list – a simple, yet glaringly obvious issue: Burgundy is in France, not Germany. We all make errors in our work, but something as basic as this really surprises me that it made through the review process. Perhaps someone went in and intentionally made a change when printing new menus. How long had this error been present? How important is an issue like this when the fine folks from Michelin come in to review the restaurant? That being said, if the worst part of the dinner was a wrong country listed on a wine list, I’d consider that to be a win.
This meal made the list of best dining experiences we’ve had this year. It wasn’t number one for the year, remember, we went to Lima and ate our way through some of the best places on the continent (more on that later). For me, the standout dish was the Dungeness Crab. Being an Oregonian, I have a special place in my heart, er, stomach, for Dungeness Crab. One of the reasons this course stood out was the juxtaposition of the presentation (which looked fine, but didn’t wow me) and the flavors / textures of the food itself. My expectations were dropped based on presentation, but my mouth was blown away by the execution.
From a wine perspective, I think the Burgundy served with the Maine Lobster was great. I am a major fan of, as I call them, dirty Pinot Noirs. I just love the Earthy flavors that come from some of the world’s best Pinots. Oregon and Burgundy are my favorite regions for this type of wine and the 2006 Serafin Père et Fils, ‘Les Millandes,’ Morey-Saint-Denis Premier Cru sure fit the bill.
What I also loved about Coi was the service. When we visited L20, in Chicago (where Chef Kirkley and at least one of Coi’s servers came from), the service was abysmal…at best. We loved, again, the juxtaposition of the highly-elevated fine dining experience, with the gentile and approachable staff. We quickly built a rapport with the service team and laughed quite a bit together. After the meal, we sat and chatted, getting additional restaurant recommendations for the following day, and enjoying our wine.
We don’t make it to San Francisco all that often, and Coi isn’t an every day option, but I would very much love to return and experience another menu from this stellar team – if the opportunity should arise, I would definitely considering returning for this same menu again. I’d have to make sure the same service team was working my table though – they really pulled program together.
Kudos Chef and Team.