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Youngberg Hill’s Breathtaking Beauty

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The invitation to Youngberg Hill

Just after WineJulia.com was announced as a finalist in the Best New Wine Blog category for the Wine Blog Awards, I received multiple invitations to pre and post excursions that would be taking place before and after the 2012 Wine Bloggers Conference (WBC) in Portland, Oregon.

One excursion I was invited to that I was surly not going to miss was a lunch and tasting with sky high views at Younberg Hill Vineyard Estate and Inn. Youngberg Hill is located in the Willamette Valley’s wine country just outside McMinnville, Oregon. A gorgeous Inn sits at the top of the vineyards adjacent to the tasting room with 360 degree views of the surrounding vineyards, hills and snow capped mountain ranges. 20 acres of vineyards include one block of Pinot Gris and three blocks of Pinot Noir. The Youngberg Hill vineyards are farmed organically, biodynamically and sustainably, and owners Wayne and Nicolette Bailey attribute their success to Mother Nature, along with help from their three young daughters, extended family, vineyard workers and harvest volunteers.

Youngberg Hill Inn

Just outside the main entry of Portland’s DoubleTree Hilton Hotel, where the 2012 WBC took place, I met with John Davis of Grape Escape wine country tours and local wine marketing expert Carl Giavanti of Carl Giavanti Consulting. About eight other wine bloggers and I boarded the Grape Escape van for our hour drive south to McMinnville. Both Davis and Giavanti were incredibly knowledgeable of the local wine industry and pointed out wineries along the drive while providing an interesting history on Oregon’s wine industry.

Breathtaking view from the Inn

As soon as I spotted the Youngberg Hill Inn at the top of the vineyards, which immediately reminded me of childhood summers spent on Martha’s Vineyard, I knew we were in for a treat. Once our group was inside the Inn and had their first look at the view from the deck, the word ‘breathtaking’ was echoed throughout the room where we all stood. Owner Wayne Bailey got right down to business and started pouring samples of wine while sharing the Youngberg Hill story with us.

The first wine we tasted was the 2011 Aspen Pinot Gris. Named after his youngest of three daughters, the Aspen Pinot Gris opens up with gorgeous tropical fruit aromas of pineapple and grapefruit. On the palate, pineapple and stone fruit are rounded out with a solid acidic backbone that creates a long, smooth finish. Light bodied, crisp and refreshing, this Pinot Gris is the perfect outdoor summer sipper.

The next wine in line was the 2011 Pinot Blanc. Since Youngberg Hill vineyards consists of three blocks of Pinot Noir and one block of Pinot Gris, the grapes for their Pinot Blanc are sourced from a vineyard in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA of Oregon – this is the only wine produced by Youngberg Hill where the fruit is sourced from another vineyard. I absolutely loved this Pinot Blanc. Aromas and flavors of crisp pears and lemon-lime zest immediately awaken the senses. Much like the Pinot Gris, this wine is crisp and refreshing, yet it’s medium bodied with a silky, velvety mouthfeel. A new bar has been set for Oregon Pinot Blancs, one of my favorite varietals, and it will be tough to find one as good as Youngberg Hill’s.

After the two whites, it was time to move on to the first of three Pinot Noirs. Starting with the light ruby colored 2009 Estate Pinot Noir, aromas of cranberries filled the bowl of the Riedel Oregon Pinot Noir glass – there’s nothing like having a fine Oregon Pinot Noir poured into the proper stemware. Flavors of cranberries, cherries and cloves were rounded out by a lustrous acidic finish.

Youngberg Hill owner Wayne Bailey pouring for the wine bloggers

The 2009 Natasha Pinot Noir, named after one of the other Bailey daughters, has a darker hue than the Estate Pinot Noir, and the baked cherry and cranberry aromas instantly reminded me of Thanksgiving. Light to medium bodied on the palate, Bing cherries and bright berries along with a slight hint of rhubarb (a tangy vegetable often used in pies) finish off with an earthy slightly spicy finish. From the initial bright fruit aromas to the earthy finish, I could simply imagine this would be the perfect wine alongside a roasted turkey and all of the traditional Thanksgiving sides.

The 2008 Jordan Pinot Noir, also named after one of their daughters, was the last wine to sample in the fabulous line-up that Wayne Bailey had prepared for the wine bloggers wine tasting, and since I’ve been known to love many of the ’08 Willamette Valley Pinot Noirs, I had a feeling this would be my favorite of the three. Beautiful blackberry and ripe currants filled the bowl of the wine glass along with hints of dark cherries and raisin. On the palate, the mouthfeel was luxurious, silky and smooth. Seamless flavors of blackberries, plum, earth and pie spice offer a full, well rounded, perfectly balanced and long lasting finish. This was most definitely my kind kind of Pinot Noir.

After the stellar wine tasting, we followed Wayne Bailey into two adjoining dining rooms with floor to ceiling windows that offered gorgeous views of the vineyards, valley and surrounding mountain ranges. We took our seats just in time for well-known Chef Christoher Czarnecki, of the famed Joel Palmer House, to introduce himself along with the three course lunch menu he had prepared for the wine bloggers luncheon.

Two Gazpachos in one: Cucumber Lemon Balm – Tomato Pickle Ginger

Starting with the beautiful Cucumber Lemon Balm and Tomato Pickle Ginger Vegan Gazpacho, which were two soups magnificently separated into one bowl, each of the soups could be tasted separately or swirled together to combine all the mouthwatering flavors. Chef Czarnecki topped the Gazpacho with edible Marigold petals and paired it with the Youngberg Hill 2011 Pinot Blanc. This was one of the best pairings I’ve ever had – all the complex flavors somehow seamlessly flowed together in perfect harmony. Elegantly ambrosial.

The main course was a Russian-style Beef Tenderloin Stroganoff served over rice with Porcini and Trumpet mushrooms paired with the 2009 Natasha Pinot Noir. Any previous negative association I had with Beef Stroganoff has dissipated – this was outstanding. The super creamy-mushroomy sauce and perfectly cooked tenderloin melted in my mouth and was incredibly delicious. The earthy finish of the Natasha Pinot Noir complemented the earthy flavors of the mushrooms – another perfect pairing by Chef Czarnecki.

Pot De Chocolate. Mmmmm

Course three was a delectable Pot De Chocolate dessert paired with a special bottle Wayne Bailey popped the cork on especially for us wine bloggers – the 2007 Jordan Pinot Noir. Although a well-known wine critic claimed the 2007 Willamette Valley Pinots were a bad vintage, to date, I have not had a bad one yet; in fact, I have absolutely been loving the ’07 vintage all summer long, If I see a 2007 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir on the shelves of my local wine market, it automatically goes into my basket. The 2007 Younberg Hill Jordan Pinot Noir had gorgeous blackberry, smoky aromas that followed onto the palate with additional blueberry, coffee and chocolate  flavors that were well rounded with exceptional depth of character. When paired with the ooey-gooey chocolate souffle/pudding dessert that was topped with whipped cream and shaved chocolate, food and wine pairing perfection was once again mastered by extremely talented chef, Chistopher Czarnecki.

With only a few minutes left to enjoy the panoramic and breathtaking views from the Inn’s expansive deck, I leaned on the railing with what was left of the 2007 Jordan Pinot Noir and took in the beauty of Youngberg Hill. It won’t be too long before I return with my husband to stay a couple nights in one of their eight well-appointed guest rooms, and I’m looking forward to sitting on the deck with a glass of Pinot Blanc during the day and stargazing with a glass of Pinot Noir in the evening.

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Incredible wine and view at Youngberg Hill

A huge thank you to Wayne Bailey for inviting me to join him along with the other wine bloggers at his breathtakingly beautiful Youngberg Hill Vineyard Inn. I really enjoyed chatting with Wayne – my time at Youngberg Hill was incredible. Kudos to Chef Christopher Czarnecki for his food and wine pairing ingenuity and culinary precision – I can’t wait to wine and dine at his restaurant, The Joel Palmer House. Big thanks also go to Grape Escape tour guide extraordinaire John Davis and local wine marketing expert Carl Giavanti – both are true gentlemen and fine examples of the good people of Oregon. Cheers!