Saturday, October 6, 2012

Winery review: Youngberg Hill

As always after a wine bloggers conference, I sit back and ponder what kind of wine blogger I aspire to be and how to make that happen.  The first thing that comes to mind is, "more consistent," and believe me, Hubby and I really appreciate our readers who stop by to see if we've posted something new.  Once I get through the hump of training the new colleague who just joined my practice, I hope to be able to write here and at my Random Writings blog more regularly.  Obviously, since I'm posting this almost two months after the conference, we've got some work to do.

One other aspect of blogging we've been discussing is how to portray exactly who we are and our philosophy of wine.  We've come to the conclusion that we're not wine tasters, we're wine drinkers, meaning we typically experience wine more as average consumers, not wine experts, which we've never claimed to be.  Our blog motto, as I've mentioned, is that it's by amateurs for amateurs.  We just happen to be amateurs who've drunk a lot of different wines.  We also like to look at the whole picture from the buying experience to the final sip in the bottle.

This brings me to the topic of today's blog post:  what does holistic mean? Youngberg Hill Winery in McMinnville, Oregon claims to be organic, biodynamic, and holistic.  Hubby and I were fortunate to be invited to a tasting and lunch there the day before the wine bloggers conference went into full swing. 

The whole thing was arranged through Twitter and email.  I'll admit I didn't look at the website too closely, so the night before we went, Hubby checked them out.

"They're not just a regular winery.  They say they're holistic."  He looked up at me like I'd signed us up to join some sort of wine cult.  "What have you gotten us into?"

Thankfully no tinfoil hats were necessary.  No brainwashing occurred as far as I could tell, the wine was darn good, and I got to ponder exactly what holistic means in this context.

At first it seems owner and winemaker Wayne Bailey is one of those overachieving types who's got to go for all sorts of titles and certifications.*  I mean, seriously, the winery is organic, biodynamic, sustainable, salmon safe...  You get the idea.  Seriously, this guy thinks of everything.  From the website:  "In addition, Youngberg Hill specializes in exclusive, romantic, and personalized weddings and elopement packages, everything you need in one fabulous location."  Elopement packages?!  It's a really good thing we didn't know about this in the midst of planning our wedding in 2003 (don't tell my mom I said this).

But really, his philosophy goes deeper to one very simple principle:  if you take care of the land, the land will take care of you.  That's my clumsy paraphrase.  As I mentioned in my Pinot Smackdown post, Pinot Noir, which is their one red grape, tends to show where it's from.  Luckily Oregon soil, geology, and climate play nicely with it.

So let's get back to the experience.  We arrived and immediately went into the tasting room, where we had the opportunity to try a white and three reds, and Pinots.  Others on the trip have likely written with more eloquence about the wine, so I'll just say my favorites were the 2011 Pinot Gris and the 2008 Jordan Pinot Noir.  A bottle of the Pinot Gris came home with us, where it awaits a lovely afternoon -- come on, fall! -- and my back porch.  The Jordan Pinot Noir was lovely, nice and fruity, but a little beyond our price point, although still reasonable for the area.  Besides, we were trying to be conscious of space in Bertha, our wine shipper.

Then came lunch.  I like lunch, especially when a chef gets to play and pair his food with specific wines.  Some might argue that wine is a condiment, and choice should be driven by the food, but c'mon, remember where we were.  Personally, I believe wine and food should complement each other. Chef Joel Czarnecki of the Joel Palmer House in Dayton came out to play.  He specializes in dishes made with wild mushrooms and truffles, and also with local ingredients.  To borrow a current buzz phrase, think of it as farm and woods to table.

We got to join in with the playtime for the first dish, a two-tone gazpacho that got me over my fear of cold soups. It's hard to be afraid of something topped with marigold petals.  I enjoyed tasting the pink half, tomato-pickled ginger, and the green half, cucumber-lemon balm, by themselves and in combination, and especially with the Pinot Blanc. 

Then, beef stroganoff made with Painted Hills beef, porcini and black truffle cream paired with the 2009 Natasha Pinot Noir.

Oh, my, yes.  This pairing drew from the principle of "pair like with like," and the earthy Pinot played very nicely with the mushrooms.  I liked the wine with the food better than on its own.

Finally, a Pot de Chocolat, a baked dessert with a base of flourless chocolate cake and top layer of chocolate pudding, paired with the Jordan. Yes, I left a very happy chocoholic.

Wayne sat at our table during lunch, and Hubby and I enjoyed talking with him, Carl of Carl Giavanti Consulting, and Julia of the "Best New Wine Blog" award-winning Wine Julia blog (check out her Youngberg Hill post for complete tasting and pairing notes).  They and the rest of the fun crew on the van to and from the excursion brought the final, but possibly most important ingredient, of the wine experience together for me:  the people I've had the opportunity to meet and share wine and food with.

This, my friends, was my kind of holistic experience.

Required legalese:  The entire experience from transportation to dessert was comped, but, as always, we did our best to keep it from influencing our opinions.

* Not that I would know what that's like.  Just ask my husband, who finally had to tell me, "You've got a Ph.D., license, and extra certification.  It's my turn." 


Jeffrey Weissler said...

Thanks for writing about that awesome day and your experience. I feel very lucky to have been there too, and to have met you, and all included in the Youngberg Hill adventure. What a lunch & a couple of those pairings really hit the spot!

I wanted to share some of my thoughts in regards to holistic. A holistic way of farming speaks to the core of my particular passion with wine these days. I love the line you shared, 'If you take care of the land, the land will take care of you'. At a Biodynamic® conference I attended a few years back, the tag line was 'heal the earth, heal ourselves'. With ConsciousWine (my biz) we describe a holistic approach as one that leads to a 'vital choice for both palate & planet'. If the health of the whole system is supported by all the individual actions, the products created from within that system can be healthy and vitalizing ones (to both the land & the consumer). I think of making choices based on that as conscious choices because they connect me (as consumer) into their holistic approach, which then seems to benefit more than just me & the winery, and somehow benefits something bigger.


Cecilia Dominic said...

Thanks for stopping by and for your comment/explanation, Jeffrey!

As wine consumers, we have so many terms thrown at us, it can sometimes be hard to figure out which ones actually mean something. The experience definitely helped clarify my understanding, and I like the philosophy.

Still amused by the elopement packages. :)