Continuing to Celebrate Oregon Wine Month with an Introduction to Soter Vineyards.
Tony and Michelle Soter both grew up in Oregon, and after a long career in Napa they returned to their home state to start a new chapter of their lives and a new winery, Soter Vineyards. In the mid-1980s, Tony Soter began working as a consulting winemaker in the Napa Valley, assisting leaders in the wine industry such as, Shafer, Niebaum-Coppola and Araujo to name a few. Tony secured deeper roots in Napa when he started his own winery “Etude” in 1982. With “Etude” Tony began to focus on Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. At “Etude” he strived for memorable distinction and authentic craftsmanship. After years of working with Napa Valley’s most respected winemakers and growers, Tony concluded his consulting roles. In the fall 2006, Soter moved from a managerial role at “Etude” to an consulting position, allowing him to focus his attention on Soter Vineyards and getting his family settled in the Willamette Valley of Oregon.
Mineral Springs Ranch, the Soter’s sole Estate vineyard today, is a 240-acre woodland and grazing land situated in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA. Home to 30 acres of Pinot Noir originally planted in 2002, two acres of Chardonnay were added in 2006. These Chardonnay acres are dedicated entirely to method champenoise sparkling wine production. Just east of the charming town of Carlton, Mineral Springs Ranch is nestled on a hill top with magnificent views overlooking the surrounding Yamhill-Carlton countryside. Soter Vineyard’s production facilities and hospitality buildings are located on the property making it a true wine tasting destination.
More than just Vineyards, Mineral Springs Ranch (MRS) is a Biodynamic Farm that sits on 240 Acres which incorporates vegetables, herbs, fruit, bees, chickens, sheep, pigs, cats, dogs and more. Mineral Springs Ranch is insecticide and persistent herbicide free to protect the natural flora and fauna in the vineyard and the nearby watersheds.
The Mineral Springs vineyard is L.I.V.E. (Low Impact Viticulture and Enology) certified, a process in which certain practices are outlawed and certain others are mandatory, all in an effort to create the healthiest vines possible. Sustainability is a mission at Soter Vineyards.
At Soter Vineyards what I loved about the visit was not just the wines and memorizing views, but that they truly make the wine tasting a personal experience. Groups get a private tasting with one of the tasting room staff, either in the main building or in one of the two private cabins.
Our wine tasting was combined another group of three, and took place in the smaller private cabin. It was an inviting setting which allowed you to feel comfortable about asking those extra questions about the wine your were tasting. It is a more intimate wine tasting experience which both an experienced wine professional and those new to wine tasting can appreciate. This is how wine tasting should be, personal, relaxed, and in an welcoming place where you are able to fully appreciate the wines in a gorgeous setting and a wine expert to help guide you.
Let the tasting begin!
The one thing that I noticed about certain wines that I tasted during our trip to Willamette Valley was the slight evident note of Sea Salt in some wines. This was a surprise to me but once I learned the history of the land it made more sense. Western Oregon was on the floor of the Pacific Ocean until about about 12 million years ago. Then before that under the sea for 35 million years marine sediment was slowly accumulating in layers forming what would become a bedrock of the oldest soil in the Willamette Valley.
I felt a little bit of soil history was necessary to help characterize Soter’s Rose. Of all is the wines I tasted in the Willamette Valley, this Rosé had the most pleasant sea salt taste. For me this wine had an amazing sense of place. Both on the nose and palette you get a bright and lovely blend of sun kissed wild strawberries, and cooked bursting open cranberries. Creamy with that sprinkle of sea salt on the tongue, I loved the slight hint of white peach and blink of tartness. This was a smooth and elegant Rosé that enticed me enough to purchase a bottle to enjoy this Summer.
Spending time in new french oak, previously used oak, and stainless steel, this Chardonnay benefits from the added layers, and transformed layers. When I tasted this Chardonnay I thought, “okay, this wine has a story to tell.” Crisp summer florals and strong apple aromas did not prepare me for the first sip. I thought with the oak storage that I would get more of the classic richer Chardonnay, but this wine drank smooth and light with an amazing clean finish. The fruit flavor can only be described as golden summer fruit, sun ripened golden apple and light skinned peaches, slightly over ripe. Floating citrus blossoms linger on the tongue, with just a hush of the oak flavor. Soter calls this wine “The finest expression of the Vintage” and I would absolutely agree.
Six month barrel aged, this Pinot Noir is impressively fruit forward with a burst of light Rainier Cherries and wet slate aroma. Each sip introduces a beautiful darker Cherry flavor wrapped in layers of wild mint and peppery minerals with a soft tannin finish. Overall a wonderfully balanced Oregon Pinot Noir that represents a nice introduction to the Soter Pinot Noir flight.
This Mineral Springs Ranch 2016 Pinot Noir is a Flagship blend of all of the 5 clones of Pinot grapes. Pleasantly sharper on the nose with a deep dark blackberries and the delicate profuse clear-blue flowers, the Arp of a Rosemary plant. This Pinot Noir is deeper than the 2016 Yamhill-Carlton with a light pepper cola flavor, and a long mineral driven finish. Light, dry and rich with delicate tannins this Pinot Noir delivered a gentle punch. Extraordinary well rounded, this wine was a definite contender of my favorite sip of the Tasting.
This Mineral Springs 2015 White Label Pinot Noir is Velvet in a glass.
Tony Soter calls the Mineral Springs 2015 White Label Pinot Noir his “Career Wine” and rightfully so. Only 600 cases were produced of this Mystery Heirloom Clone Pinot Noir Vine that was acquired in California in the late 80’s. The grapes of this mystery clone were planted in acreage that has the most sunlight, and the grapes produce a thicker skin. More stress is put on the grapes in this location, but in this case it is a good thing since this Pinot Noir is not bottled every year. As soon as I smelled the first aromas of this wine, my mind automatically thought how amazing this Pinot Noir would be with a Filet Mignon and sauted mushrooms. Lower in acidity, but still amazingly structured, the deep color of this wine is a nod to the notes of dried herb, fresh rain soil, and cardamon soaked cherries. One sip of this wine and you are propelled into a late summer day with dark ripe fruits ready for the taking and firm spicy tannins that leave full jammy layers on your tongue. At $100 a bottle this wine is a little on the pricey side but the tannin structure also leads to this being a good wine to store for future enjoyment.
Soter Vineyards tasting room is open to the public by advanced appointment only, and it is a wonderful experience to try their extraordinary wines and the stunning natural beauty atop Mineral Springs Ranch.
The MSR Classic Tasting allows you to enjoy a sampling of current release wines in a seated, semi-private format guided by a hospitality specialists. They keep the groups small to ensure an intimate and informative experience and the tastings usually last around 45 minutes. Cost is $30 per person, refundable with purchase. This Classic Tasting is availability 7 days a week by advance appointment.
Homemade Raviolis being prepared for the Provisions Tasting
The MSR Provisions Tasting is a culinary tasting experience focused on the art of food and wine pairing. While sampling Soter Winery current release wines, their chef will serve you small plates and delicious bites crafted from the produce and meat grown on their biodynamic farm. The Provision Tasting is availability, Friday – Monday with advance appointment, the cost is $100 per person.
A visit to the Carlton area of the Willamette Valley would not be complete without a tasting at the beautiful Soter Vineyards and Mineral Springs Ranch. You will need to contact the winery to schedule your reservation. Call 503-662-5600 for your reservation. Visit http://sotervineyards.com/ to learn more about this Oregon Winery.
Images © Drink In Nature Photography and Drink In Life Blog.
During my recent visit to Willamette Valley we spent four days exploring the region and were able to visit 10 wineries. A private tasting at Bells Up Winery was a perfect way to begin our first full day of wine tasting.
Sometimes what you are looking for all along makes itself know when you least expect it. This is what happened to Dave and Sara Specter in August of 2008 during a wine tasting trip to the Willamette Valley. Dave, who was making wine in his basement at night while working as a corporate tax attorney during the day and Sara who was working as a freelance Marketing consultant, both enjoyed taking “Wine Trips”. On this trip traveling from their home in Cincinnati and staying in the Rose Garden Room at Chehalem Ridge Bed & Breakfast which is a mere 400 feet up the side of the mountain from the current location of Bells Up Winery, Sara formulated a plan and announced that they would move to property on Bell Road in Newberg, plant a vineyard, open a winery. With David as the winemaker this would all fall into place in 20 years. Fortunately for wine enthusiasts, things don’t always work out as planned. In 2012, Dave and Sara seized their opportunity to begin their winery, Bells Up.
The Specters chose the name “Bells Up” both to reflect their Bell Road address, and more importantly to signify Dave’s 20-plus years as a French horn player. “Bells Up” is a musical term which refers to a dramatic moment in classical music where the composer’s score instructs the French horn players to lift the bells of their instruments up to propel their sound with maximal force.
Bells Up Winery is best known for their Classic Oregon Pinot Noir; however, they also make some other fantastic varietals that don’t typically appear in a Willamette Valley flight. For that reason I want to Introduce you to some of these unique Bells Up wines, and to display that there are more varietals to discover in the Willamette Valley in addition to the abundant Pinot Noir wines.
The grapes for Rhapsody are sourced from Plum Hill Vineyard in Gaston, Oregon and this vibrant white wine is aged sur lie in stainless steel tanks for 6 months. This isn’t your typical white wine, this Pinot Blanc is a fuller bodied wine that has a crisp acidity, but some spicy attributes spring forward that resemble a red wine. On the nose you find yourself walking through a warm summer garden nestled among ripening citrus trees with aromas of mineral rich freshly turned soil. The long finish on this Pinot Blanc is both surprising and delightful and you want to savor each layer of the pineapple upside down cake flavor. Each sip introduces a new note that also brings back elements of the aroma. This is a lovely sipping wine but would also pair well with a Summer Snap Pea salad and Fish tacos with fresh made guacamole.
The 2018 Bells Up Prelude is like a sunny summer day picnic in a bottle. All of the flavors of a picnic in each sip, like a blanket layed out with strawberries, watermelon and pink lemonade. A well balanced Rosé with citrus undertones and a dry finish. This musical Rosé was named for Franz Liszt’s “Symphonic Poem No. 3: Les Preludes” and will be a Romantic Era addition to any summer picnic. I’m going to pretend that this is the end of an Opera Aria (and not a Symphony score) and give a loud hearty “BRAVO” to this Prelude.
“Firebird” is aged 12 months in French oak with grapes that were sourced exclusively from Summit View, at 1150 feet it is one of the highest elevation vineyards in Milton-Freewater, Oregon.
This 2017 Firebird Syrah from Bells Up delivers amazing aromas of fresh blueberries and blackberries and a spicy dark chocolate bar enjoyed during a walk among the cedar trees. A powerful punch of black cherry cola on the tongue with a long extraordinary finish of mocha and wild mint flavors. To be honest, this is a bottle that I purchased to bring home because I couldn’t get enough of the flavors in this Syrah.
There are so many benefits to becoming a member of Bells Up Winery’s Fanfare Club, such as exclusive rights to by special limited production wines. During my tasting I had the opportunity to try two of the club exclusives, “Helios” and “Candide”. Both of these wines secretly became my two favorite sips of the day.
2018 Helios is produced from Chehalem Mountains AVA Seyval Blanc Estate Vineyard grapes. This wine is ONLY available to members of Fanfare Club and ONLY 15 cases were produced. This limited edition vintage is the first bottling and is named for Carl Nielsen’s “Helios Overture, Opus 18. For “Research Purposes” I was given the special opportunity to purchase a single bottle of this rare Oregon Hybrid grape wine. I became very intrigued with this wine after tasting it and really wanted to explore the story and making of this wine more for a future blog post.
Do you know that feeling of sitting in a meadow on the first sunny day of spring with the smell of wild flowers and green grass surrounding you? Now imagine that aroma with the addition of a tropical citrus bowl of fruit. My first thought was a glass of sunshine and aroma of spring. Bright, clean and a cascading flood of fruit flavors greet you on the first sip. Flavors of pear, lemon and soft stone fruits all try to push each other aside to be the prominent flavor. I most appreciated the long finish, and welcoming a new flavor taking over each sip. Special.
Each year, winemaker Dave crafts a limited edition vintage available only to members of Bells Up’s Fanfare Club. The 2016 Candide is this year’s selection. Sourced from the Nemarniki Vineyard of the Chehalm Mountains AVA Reserve Pinot Noir and only 33 cases were produced. Candide is a blend of two heritage clones of Pinot Noir, 75% Wadenswil and 25% Pommard. Candide is named for Leonard Bernstein’s operetta of the same name and which was based on the 1759 novella by Voltaire.
This 2016 Candide is like a fresh cup of coffee, not in the aroma but in the sense that you just want to keep smelling the amazing blend of scents that greet you with each sniff. Chocolate covered cherries, a selection of herbs and a hint of smoke have you anticipating the first sip. The flavor of this wine reminded me of a Christmas wine with ripe dark fruits and vanilla spice, like a slice of cinnamon toast. Warming and down to earth with a feeling in the finish of a walk through the woods.
*Last minute Update: Unfortunately for my readers (but fortunately for me!) I got the last of the 2016 Candide! The new Club exclusive Pinot is 2017 Villanelle, and 2017 Candide is now available in the Bells Up tasting room in their flight.
Tasting the fantastic array of wines at Bells Up would not have been the wonderful experience that it was without having the opportunity to sit down and talk with Dave and Sara. Their story, from conception of the winery to where they are today, is a true example of taking the chance to follow your dreams. Dave’s passion as a winemaker is complimented by his true belief in building lasting personal relationships with each and every person who comes through the tasting room door. Sara’s enthusiasm is contagious, and her welcoming personality instantly gives a homey feel to their winery. I would encourage anyone making a trip to Newberg and the Oregon Wine Country to make an appointment to visit Bells Up Winery.
Visit https://bellsupwinery.com/ to learn more about this Oregon Winery.
To schedule an appointment or to purchase wine, call Bells Up Winery at 503.537.1328 or email email@example.com
All photos copyrighted by Drink In Nature Photography & Drink In Life Blog