“I want you to look out your window and imagine Snow. Snowmen, snow balls, igloos, snow trucks, snow … cold, cold snow. Then I want you to imagine what that makes you want to drink.”
Michelle also encouraged participants to include a snow day story from their youth. Quite frankly I grew up in Phoenix, AZ, and therefore have no snow stories to tell from my youth! However, this week I’ve been working on an article I am writing for a regional magazine on the Columbia Gorge Wine Region, and after hearing the theme for this month I was immediately reminded of my only major “snow day” experience in recent adult history. Coincidentally, it happened here in Oregon, in the Columbia Gorge. The event that will forever be known by locals as “Arctic Blast 2008”. The storm that shut down schools, businesses, and pretty much a good chunk of the city, for almost an entire week.
I happened to be working in Hood River, OR (50 miles east of Portland) when part one of the storm hit. Hood River was the opening round for the whole area, leaving a couple feet of snow on the ground, but the worst was yet to come. I was at a local Columbia Gorge wine event the night before the larger, more news worthy, part of the storm hit, drinking the very wine I will describe below.
The next morning I had planned to stick around and visit a few wineries but something told me to head back home to Portland. Just minutes after I returned home they shut down highway I-84, the only major highway connecting east and west from Portland, in both directions due to ice and hazardous conditions.
I-84 was closed, indefinitely, just days before Christmas. It continued to snow throughout the region, causing numerous traffic accidents, road, school and business closures. Unlike other parts of the country where snow storms are the norm, Portland was not equipped with the necessary resources to plow roads for safe driving conditions. I was lucky enough to make it back to Portland safe, and since I couldn’t get back out east to go to work I was able to enjoy a few “snow days” while the city of Portland was virtually shut down. Even the mall… THE MALL… had half its stores closed the Sunday before Christmas because nobody could drive on the roads, and thus get to work. I remember thinking, “only in Portland would a snow storm cause Victorias Secret to close during the busiest shopping days leading up to Christmas.”
Now, the most important part was that I was safe and that I had plenty of wine to keep me warm during this Arctic Blast. I assure you I did. And the wine that most reminds me of this incident was the wine I was drinking on the eve of that memorable storm, The Pines 1852 Old Vine Zinfandel.
To many people in the Pacific Northwest the wine “Old Vine Zinfandel” is often associated with cult winemaker Peter Rosback of Sineann. What many of them don’t realize is that the Old Vine Zinfandel grapes come from The Pines Vineyard in The Dalles, OR, owned and managed by Lonnie Wright who also makes an Old Vine Zin, from the same vineyard, for his own winery The Pines 1852.
Lonnie Wright learned the art and science of grape growing in the 1970’s helping to build 2,000 acres of vineyards for Columbia Crest (a winery now owned by Washington’s Chateau St. Michelle) in Patterson, WA. In the two years it took for the vineyard to be built Lonnie learned from many viticulture experts in the region, and eventually became the area manager for 650 acres of grapes and supervised the first harvest there.
A few years later, in the early 1980’s, Lonnie met his wife in Hood River, and wanting to settle in the area had heard about an orchardist in The Dalles (20 miles east of Hood River, 70 miles east of Portland) needing help renovating a century old vineyard that had been neglected for over twenty years. Lonnie stepped right in and help to revitalize this vineyard that was almost dead and eventually brought the original eight acres of century old vines back to life.
Soon after, Wright decided to follow his gut and his dream by starting his own vineyard management company in The Dalles, and eventually moved his family onto the original property to manage “The Pines” Vineyard, and continued to plant more and more vineyards. Back then, when very few vineyards were planted, he saw the potential for world class vineyards in the Columbia Gorge.
Wright began selling his Old Vine Zinfandel grapes to winemaker Peter Rosback of Sineann who has made a cult following of his Sineann labeled “Old Vine Zin”, and also sold other grapes to various local wineries. By 2001 Wright decided it was time to start his own winery. Since Rosback had been doing such a great job with his Sineann label, Wright asked him to be the winemaker of “The Pines 1852” wines. And with the shake of a hand the deal was done, and Rosback has been making the wines for The Pines ever since.
A few years later they opened up a tasting room in downtown Hood River. Managed by Wrights daughter Sierra, the tasting room not only provides an elegant showcase for their well-crafted wines, but has also has become a favorite local spot for watching live music on the weekends, events, and gallery displays by local artists.
Today Lonnie Wright manages over 200 acres of grapes in the Columbia Gorge and consults for many other vintners in the region. Over the last 25 years Wright has become an integral part of the growth and success of the Columbia Gorge Wine Region.
Although The Pines produces a wide variety of beautiful wines, if you ask both Lonnie and Sierra what wine they are most proud of, of course they will say their Old Vine Zinfandel. This is their flagship wine. A wi
ne you are not likely to find outside the winery, as this limited production wine sells out quickly. But you can still find some of the 2008 Old Vine Zin through their tasting room or website.
To me this wine represents a speck of what is possible in the Columbia Gorge and will also be an ever reminder of my experience during the Arctic Blast 2008. It is not only a great “Snow Day” wine, but also a great Oregon Zinfandel. And if you are one of the many people thinking “What? You can’t grow Zinfandel in Oregon!”, then I challenge you to try this wine! A wine that could easily stand up to some of its California counterparts.
This wine is one of the few using the alternative glass closure.
Immediately this wine hits you with a bouquet of dark berry fruit, rich black cherries, plums, and freshly ground black pepper. A deeper sniff will introduce intriguing roasted meat and bacon fat aromas. The mouth is full-bodied with rich cherry and more black berry flavors along with a dark chocolate cherry lushness, with a velvety smooth finish. The wine has a nice balance of fruit and spice without being a “fruit bomb”.
With the fruit coming from the oldest Zinfandel vineyard in the Pacific Northwest this is definitely a wine any Northwest wine enthusiast (or one wanting to learn more about Northwest wines) should experience…. Snow day or not!
Winery: The Pines 1852 (tasting room located in Hood River, OR)
Region: Columbia Valley (the winery, however, is a part of the smaller community within the Columbia Gorge Winegrowers Association. Technically the vineyards in The Dalles are considered within the larger Columbia Valley, AVA, just a few miles east of the Columbia Gorge AVA cutoff)
The Columbia Gorge is an exciting and quickly growing region and The Pines 1852 is definitely a winery to keep your eyes on. For more information on this diverse region please continue to check in here as I continue to write about Columbia Gorge wines. And for more information on the family behind The Pines check out this video.