Sunday, April 25, 2010

Reflections on a Glass of Oak Knoll

Driving the Oregon countryside on the weekends has far and away become one of my most favorite times for quiet contemplation, so, before I even began my wine tasting at Oak Knoll, one of Oregon’s oldest producers, I sat down at a cozy little cocktail table to download a bunch of thoughts accumulating in my brain before they flew away with the speed of a hummingbird (because that’s how quickly I forget things lately). The lovely Nadine came out from her post behind the wine bar to deliver me an extensive wine menu, providing me with tableside service while she talked me through their selections. In a nutshell… down-to-earth, gracious and friendly hospitality.

Oak Knoll Winery, founded in 1970 by Ron and Marjorie Vuylsteke, was the very first winery in Washington County. The Vuylstekes started their foray into winemaking back in the early 60’s after a bumper crop of blackberries led to the production of blackberry wines. A few years later, they were securing contracts with early regional grape growers and founded some of Oregon’s first wines, and by 1978, one out of every three bottles of Oregon wine sold was from Oak Knoll Winery. Today, the wines are crafted by the Vuylsteke's cousin, Jeff Herinckx, who joined the winery in 1984.

Their wines were certainly more respectable than I had honestly ever given them credit for. I never realized (or admitted?) how susceptible I was, but I kind of had it drilled into my head, from back in the day when I earned a paycheck from a certain winery, that a certain county’s wineries were basically subpar (with the exception of one, of course). That being said, I wish I could have actually tasted the wines blind, because as much as one’s surroundings can affect how the wine tastes, so can one’s personal experiences (in this case I was seriously trying to overcome a negative impression)—and can you ever really obtain an objective impression of a wine?

One of the wines I truly enjoyed was Oak Knoll’s 2007 Pinot Gris ($14). With a nice, rich and creamy mouth feel, the wine made it’s entrance with the typical apple and pear you’d expect at the surface, but underneath I detected entrancing layers of melon and tropical star fruit notes while the mouth offered additional exotic flavors of grapefruit, mango and a spicy, zingy ginger finish; it was a delicious, intriguing and complex white wine, great for summer with a nice acidity and a moderate price point.

Another stand-out wine was the 2005 Pinot Noir Vintage Reserve ($29). It’s light ruby color tinged slightly brown hinted at a touch of age opened up as slowly and surely as a hare in a race to reveal surprising depth and unexpected characters of leather, sweet red cherries, ripe juicy strawberries, violets and an intriguing spicebox finish of spicy clove and sexy cinnamon—ooo la la.

While meandering about outside, soaking up a bit of spring's welcome but early sunny offering, I savored a bite of dark chocolate with Oak Knoll’s 2006 Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, which was all dark fruit and pepper in a glass, and thought long and hard about my own predilection for the unpretentious that often directly competes with an equal desire for high quality; it’s not easy to achieve both, yet Oak Knoll continually strives to do so and that’s probably why they continue to remain such major players in this wild game of Winopoly. Until we sip again…



  1. Do the Washington Co. wines have the reputation as "inferior" because they lie north of the Willamette Valley, or am I looking at my map wrong?

  2. Excellent question Joe, but I think there are so many answers, I'm afraid to even attempt it, but I will. I think part of it sadly has to do with sheer numbers. Washington County has so many less wineries than Yamhill County, I imagine that comes into play with marketing $ and we all know how useful $ is when trying to build an image. Secondly, up until recently, very few of the wineries were open regularly on the weekends (much less during the week), and they're much more spread out along the Valley corridor. I think it's mostly these factors that have made them SEEM less desirable, but if you've traveled the Sip47 Route, you know better!! Wineries like Elk Cove are giving the rest of em a run for their money!!

  3. You had me at dark chocolate and Cab...

    Do you know how widely distributed Oak Knoll is? I'm down here in Sonoma County, CA.

    Thanks for providing us with the Oregonian Wine Country!


  4. Another excellent post and story about Oregon winery. They are lucky to have you. Your use of big words (predilection) certainly have us simple folk scratching our heads ;)

    Keep up the great work, Tamara


  5. Thanks! Sounds like Sonoma vs. Napa several years back. If the product's good, it can make up for paltry marketing...

  6. You must have been reading my mind!!!

  7. Please come visit us in South Willamette Valley! Our boutique wineries (17 of them) are all in or close to Eugene - Meet the winemaker, tour the wineries...taste some outstanding Pinot Noir! Our Barrel Tour is coming up in June!