We left home about 10 am on Friday morning, and after having to return to fix my sunglasses and grab some forgotten items, we were finally on the road at 10:15. Although it was cold (about 28 degrees the entire way), it was a beautiful sunny day for a drive to the coast. We decided that rather than our usual lunch stop at the Side Track Tap (aka the Side Door Café in Gleneden Beach), we'd have lunch at the Black Fish Café in Lincoln City. We'd eaten dinner there a few years back and really enjoyed it. Besides, the service at the Side Track is often slow and I wanted to get to Newport in plenty of time. We were quickly seated and I ordered the fish tacos (one of my new favorites) and Rachel had a pulled pork sandwich. I also ordered a glass of Biggio Hamina Melon de Bourgogne. Todd sources these grapes from Mike and Patty Green at Deux Vert, and both Scott Macindoe and Chris Berg make great wine from them, so we wanted to taste this wine also. We were quite disappointed - the wine was weak and lacked enough acid. I'm wondering if the bottle had been open too long since this just wasn't what we were expecting. We'll stop by the tasting room and see if we can taste a fresh bottle sometime. The food was nothing to write home about either. Rachel's pork sandwich was fine, but wasn't that interesting, and my fish tacos lacked zing. Fortunately the service was fast and we were on our way.
It looked like our timing would work out well until we had to stop about 15 miles north of Newport while they cleared an accident. We were delayed by about 20 minutes. We made it to the motel at about 1:40 and had time to change clothes and pack the backpack. We went down and walked about a block to the bus stop and waited. And waited. And waited. That's when I checked the festival website and saw that the bus schedule had been changed. After waiting about 40 minutes, we gave up and walked back to the car and drove. If the organizers want people to take the bus, they can't space them out at 45-60 minute intervals; that just dumb. On the drive there, we saw several mostly empty buses. Fortunately there was plenty of parking at the Oregon Coast Aquarium. After a short walk to the tent and a very short line, we were inside by 2:30 - about 1/2 hour later than planned. We did our usual walk-through before tasting anything just to see who was here, and then started tasting in earnest. I'll transcribe my tasting notes and put them at the end of this blog in a few days. We tasted at 11 wineries on Friday. The highlights were Pudding River's Riesling and Chardonnay and Macindoe's 2008 Melon. We had drunk through our supply of Melon last year and were pleasantly surprised that Scott still had some left. Yum! We also got to taste A Blooming Hill's 2010 Riesling which was just marvelous, although not for sale yet. Jim had sold me some of his grapes for my Riesling last fall, so it was nice to see what those grapes could do in the right hands. It's clearly time for me to check on my Riesling and see if it's ready to bottle.
Our usual Friday dinner takes place at Nana's Irish Pub. Usually we take the bus back to the motel and walk the 3 blocks to the pub, but because it was below freezing, we decided to just stop there directly on the drive back from the festival. We usually order their shepherd's pie and chicken pot pie (along with an imperial pint of Guinness, or course), but this year I went for a seafood platter (beer battered cod and oysters) and Rachel went for the Irish sausages wrapped in puff pastry with peas. Both were very tasty dishes, and I had a pint of Smithwick's Red Ale rather than the Guinness. I'll not likely do that again, since it was mostly "Guinness Lite."
We stopped at Freddies on the way home to look for gloves. Rachel found a pair, but I was out of luck. We did find some "Little Hotties" chemical hand warmers that we were eager to try. Unfortunately, we forgot to buy cereal and milk for the next morning. Oops. Upon returning to the motel, we checked for wifi, and found that there wasn't any. Fortunately, we'd brought an old access point from home and plugged it into the wired Ethernet that they did provide. It all worked, and we had great internet access for all our wifi devices. The only strange thing was that the wifi location service on my iPad got confused since it thought that our access point was in Forest Grove, not Newport. It ended up placing us somewhere near Grand Ronde on the map!
Saturday morning dawned bright and sunny and about 23 degrees. We bundled up in our long underwear and jackets and activated our hand warmers. Within about 5 minutes, they were definitely getting hot. Apparently they work using exothermic oxidation of iron powder - basically fast rusting! Because of the new stupid bus schedule, we drove again and ended up parking in the Rogue Brewing parking lot. It cost us $5, but we got a $5 discount coupon at the Rogue restaurant, where we had already planned to eat lunch. Not bad! We were in the tent shortly after things opened up at 10:00. We managed to taste through about 8 wineries before things got too crowded and loud around 12:45. We were just getting ready to leave when our friend John Olson at Palotai waved us over for a sample of his new Barbera. It's a beautiful wine and we promised him that we'd be back tomorrow to taste through his lineup. The wine highlights of the day were Ray Walsh's (Capitello Wines) 09 New Zealand Sauv Blanc and his late Riesling. Agate Ridge's Primativo and Girardet's Pinot Gris were also standouts. The technology highlight was the hand warmers. We kept them in our jacket pockets, and every time I put my hands in, it was a warm and pleasant surprise on a cold day.
After making a few purchases, we walked over to the Rogue Brewery and dropped the wine off at the car. Parking onsite has its advantages! We then had a nice lunch at the brewery restaurant and drove back to the motel. We thought about taking a walk downtown or going down to the beach, but it was just too darned cold, so we took a nap instead.
We had our usual dinner reservations at the Bay House in Lincoln City, and we were on the road by 6:00. We had gone about 10 minutes when we saw flares by the side of the road, and shortly thereafter got stuck in a long line of stopped cars. We'd inch forward every few minutes, and we saw cars coming the other direction, so we hoped that this wouldn't take long. Unfortunately after 45 minutes of this, we discovered that there was a police car turning people around. There had been a wreck that was going to take about 3 hours to clear, so we were out of luck. All those cars that we had seen coming from the other direction had been people who had been turned back. Why did they let us all wait in line for 45 minutes before turning us around!?! So, no dinner at Bay House. We both had visions of the McDonald's drive-thru on the way back into town, but fortunately Rachel started calling around and ended up getting us a reservation at April's in Newport for 8:00. Apparently they'd had cancellations from folks up north who couldn't make it past the wreck either.
We had eaten at April's a few years back and hadn't been that impressed, so our expectations were low, but at least it was better than McDonalds! We were seated right away and noticed that several other winemakers were having dinner there as well. We recognized the folks from Pudding River and also Jason, Sean, and Scott from David Hill. We let our server know that the David Hill crew were troublemakers and to watch out for them! The 3 of them had brought some bottles from their own cellars, and Jason and Scott both wandered over to let us sample some of their great wines. We ended up ordering a 2005 Heitz Cellars Cab that was really nice too. Partway through our salad course, Jim and Holly from A Blooming Hill Vineyard came in and we had a nice chat with them, after Jim gave me a hard time for wearing a tie!
I had a really nice ribeye steak and Rachel had the most tender duck she'd ever eaten. We finished off with a delicious brownie ice cream sundae. Between the food and seeing our winemaker friends, it was a very memorable meal, and I'd certainly eat at April's again. We got back to the motel and I dropped Rachel off near the room before parking the car. As I walked up toward the room, she shouted out "hola!" to me across the parking lot. Didn't I say there were fewer drunks at this motel??
We woke up on Sunday to wind and rain, but fortunately the temperature was in the upper 30's to lower 40's so it was more like we're used to at the coast in February. We packed up and checked out and were at the festival shortly before 10:00. Sunday is my favorite day of the festival because it's far less crowded, and the attendees are mostly older and not so crazy. We usually save our favorite wineries until Sunday so we can get a chance to chat with people in a less hurried atmosphere. Our first stop was to see Dyson Demara at Hillcrest. Faithful readers may recall that Hillcrest was planted by Richard Sommer in 1961 and is Oregon's oldest modern winery. Dyson has kept the operation small enough to be completely run by him and his family, allowing him to tune the winemaking to the peculiarities of any given vintage. The result is an ever changing range of styles and some very good wine. Dyson has seemingly done it all and seen it all in his years of working in the wine industry at some well-known California wineries and now Hillcrest, and we ended up chatting with him for nearly an hour.
Our next stop was back at Palotai (now called Tesoaria) to see John Olson. John took over the winery from Gabor Palotai about 6 years ago and is producing consistently good wines using a wide range of grape varieties. He's also one of the friendliest people you'd ever want to meet. He has a wonderful bright white blend called Bella Bianca that is very similar to our beloved Mingle from A Blooming Hill. He also has a fun Rosé of Merlot that is perfect for sipping on a warm summer day. I already mentioned the great Barbera, and he has a whole lineup of other great wines that range from a pure simple Dolcetto to a powerful Bordeaux blend.
Usually we finish our Sunday tasting shortly after noon and head home, stopping for lunch along the way. This year, we were on a roll and decided to stay longer and eat at the festival. Rachel found some excellent sushi (although we have yet to find a wine that works with sushi) and I had a nice (and very warm) crab and asparagus chile relleno. We finished up a bit more tasting and were on the road around 2:00. It was pouring rain as we went through the coast range, but fortunately the temp never dropped below about 38, so there was no snow or ice. We got home around 4:00.
So, another excellent year. A lot of so-so wine, but also some very good wine. We had a great time chatting with the winemakers, and had a really nice time at April's (both the food and the company). So, even though the general level of wine at this event isn't all that great, there are enough high points that we'll be back next year. After all, what's winter on the Oregon coast without the Newport Seafood and Wine Festival?