Can you believe it? I am starting the newsletter this week on Wednesday! I am sitting in a van traveling from Ashland to Eugene as part of the Wine Media Conference. I haven’t explored the wineries of Southern Oregon at all, and it has been a great experience to do a crazy deep dive into a crazy number of wineries in three days. I could easily talk three or four weeks about my adventures, but I’m pretty sure I won’t spend a whole month rambling on and on about Southern Oregon. Maybe I will? If you want me to dive deeper into Southern Oregon over the next several weeks, you know how to go about letting me know (hint: it’s called the reply button).

A couple of weeks ago, I got an invitation to attend an event for the new tasting room at Raindance vineyard, just a short jaunt from the Allison in Newberg. Looking at my calendar, my heart sank a bit at the realization I was booked. The night sounded like a blast, though. The owner, Ken Austin, gave guided tours in his classic 1969 Land Rover with food from Jory, with wine, and I would be missing out. FOMO is so freaking real in the wine world!

As sad as I was to decline, I did want to check out the new tasting room and let them know my schedule was pretty packed until the end of August. All was good, but as I am writing this, it is the first Saturday in August. What gives? What happened? I was supposed to attend a Dinner in the Field event at Alloro the Friday following the invite. Unfortunately, due to the heat, dinner was canceled. What does one do when you have a sudden hole in your calendar? You fill it up, of course!

Driving up to the tasting room, I was blown away a bit from the environment with a sense of feeling like I was in the South. The house, where the tasting room is located, gives off a Southern vibe with a Pacific Northwest flair. There is immaculate landscaping throughout the property overlooking the vineyard, with views of the Allison a bit off into the distance. As I was greeted, there was no question in my mind, sitting inside was a no-brainer. There was a reason the Dinner in the Field event was canceled.

Stepping inside, there is a warmness reminding me of my great grandma’s house minus all the clocks and tiny ceramics. I felt like I was welcomed and at home. The view was spectacular from my seat next to the window. I can’t imagine how long it took to get all of the landscaping into place.

The tasting room manager, Zach, came over, introduced himself, and poured me a 2019 Grand Oak Riesling. With four months in barrel and cold fermented in stainless, I enjoyed the stone fruit mid-palate. I would say it was a teeny bit sweet, but nothing overpowering at all.

The 2019 Grand Oak was quickly followed up with the 2020 Grand Oak Riesling. Part of me wishes I would have tasted them both side by side, but I didn’t. I couldn’t tell too much of a difference between the two, but with it being hot outside, both are great for a nice hot summer day!

Something you don’t see very much in the Valley is Gewürztraminer, and I was surprised to see this was my next pour. Looking at my last sentence and reflecting on my visits to the Rogue Valley this week, maybe I should be more specific on which Valley I am referring to. Or perhaps I should assume you know, or you can read my mind. I think you can read my mind at this point.

Anyway, back to the Gewurtz. I can’t say I know much about the varietal, but the floral nose was radiant. I wasn’t the biggest of fans of the pour, but I also haven’t had much Gewurtz. I need more time to try the varietal from all over to give this one a shot. If you are a fan of the Gewurtz, check it out and let me know what you thought!

My next pour was the Grand Oak Chard poured by Ron, who has been working with Oregon Wine for the past 20 years. I was a little excited to taste another 2019, and before I took my first sip, Ron let me know that Bryan Weil is the winemaker for Raindance. Some of you recognize Bryan’s name, but for those who do not, he is also the winemaker at Alexana. I was now even more excited to sip the Chard, and wow, upon entry, it reached up and said, “Hello!” At $36, this is a great Tuesday night Chard.

Ron brought me a Pinot glass, and I was happy! Quick side note, I think my body is starting to break down a little. I haven’t had a Willamette Valley Pinot all week. All of these Rogue Valley varietals are getting to me. A side note to the side note, if you don’t know me now, the previous sentence was complete sarcasm. I do miss my Pinots, though!

Pouring the 2019 Estate Cuvee into the Pinot Glass, Ron informed me that all Pinots spent ten months in barrel and was opened last night during the event. All French Oak, with 13% new, 25% once used, and 62% neutral. I enjoyed the dark fruit on the nose and a nice lingering finish. There were a bit of tannins, and it makes me wonder how present those tannins were last night when it was first opened. At $35, Monday night wine is looking pretty good.

Next up was the 2018 Grand Oak Pinot. This pour is a reflection of spice and everything nice. Thirsty Thursday isn’t looking too bad for $39/bottle. As I was tasting through the Grand Oak Pinot, a couple walked in, and immediately I could smell the woman’s perfume. I wouldn’t say it was overpowering, but I mention it because I have been trying harder and harder to work on my sniffy sniff. I am glad I picked it up, but also I understand why it is more difficult to smell the wine when there are other fragrances in the air.

Zack came back to pour me the 2018 Estate Reserve and looking back on his description of this wine, it fits perfectly. He calls the 2018 Reserve a “Double bacon cheeseburger wine.” The tannins for this pour would cut through the grease in the burger and bacon in a heartbeat! So break out the grill for your $42 Friday night wine!

As I was tasting through the Estate Reserve, a gentleman walked up to me and started talking. He introduced himself as Ken Austin. Come to find out, he and his wife are the owners. In the beginning, they only sold grapes, but with the rains in 2013, a couple of contracts backed out. At the time Alexana was buying grapes from Raindance, Bryan proposed an idea to Ken of creating a Raindance label. Ken took Bryan up on the concept, and it’s been an incredible journey.

As we talked, I complimented Ken on all of the hard work that must have gone into getting the new tasting room ready. It was easy to read his face, and I am sure he was thinking, “You have no idea.” He proceeded to tell me he custom-made seven tables for the tasting room this year. There were more than seven tables in for people to sit, but all of the tables Ken built. Looking at the website, Ken taught himself woodworking in Junior High. The tables were absolutely stunning!

When Ken walked away, the couple asked me if I was a writer, and we ended up talking for a little bit. I think my little notebook is always a dead giveaway. Come to find out, they were on their honeymoon from Michigan. This was their third attempt to stay in Oregon since they got married. The day after they were married, a tornado hit. The wife grabbed two bottles of wine for five adults to wait out the storm. Hopefully, they didn’t have to wait too long because I am pretty sure two bottles amongst five adults might last 2 hours. When they asked me what my name was, the wife got a big smile on her face. A.J. is a family name for her. Her dad’s name was Argyle James.

Oh, it was great to talk with some random strangers and swap stories. I gave them a few suggestions of wineries to visit during their stay, said, “Goodbye,” and proceeded home. The ambiance at Raindance is perfect for an afternoon tasting. So, when you get out to Raindance, please let Zack, Ron, or Ken that “A.J. sent me.”

With Gratitude,
A.J. Weinzettel

PS – Yes, I wasn’t super long-winded this week. Writing on a bus going down I-5 isn’t the greatest of experiences.

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