Details: Oregon’s Willamette Valley
The wood-and-glass structure, opened to the public in early July, appears to emerge organically from the red volcanic soils of the Dundee Hills, hugging the earth while looking toward the sky. The building’s angles and skylights seem dramatic and subversive; designed to maximize natural light, they give an impression of creation in progress rather than a structure fully formed.
The host led me into an adjacent room and introduced me to Alison and Alex Sokol Blosser, the sister-brother team now managing the winery their parents established in the 1970s. A handful of visitors stood around a U-shaped bar sipping pinot noir or chardonnay. Through the floor-to-ceiling glass windows offering a panoramic view of the valley and the Cascade Range in the distance, I saw three couples seated on a narrow patio enjoying flights of wines.
“We think of this facility as the last piece of the puzzle for us,” said Alison, who handles marketing for the winery, while Alex is the winemaker. The siblings took over operation of the family-owned winery in 2008 and plan to “take winery hospitality to a new level, not just for Sokol Blosser, but for Oregon,” she said.
“You can have a social experience standing at the bar, a flight of wines with some local charcuterie and cheese on the porch, or you can really geek out in the library with a vertical flight of older pinot noirs,” Alison explained. There’s also a kitchen and a farm table for catered luncheons, a terrace reserved for winery club members and a multimedia conference room for corporate retreats — with wine, of course.
“It’s not a one-size-fits-all experience anymore,” Alison said. “In our old tasting room, you came in and took what we offered. Now you have a choice.”
The facility, modestly called the Tasting Room, was designed by Portland architect Brad Cloepfil. It aims to reinvent the winery experience for oenophile tourists who make the hour’s drive south from Portland.
It also represents a new coming of age for Oregon’s booming wine industry, centered in the Willamette Valley. Many of the wineries that pioneered this region in the 1970s, like Sokol Blosser, are well into their second generation, and new winery openings pushed the valley’s total to 316 as of the end of July. Business is booming in Asia, and Japanese and Chinese tourists have discovered Oregon’s wine country.
They’ve noticed in California and France, too. Earlier this year, Jackson Family Wines, one of California’s biggest wine companies, purchased several hundred acres of vineyard land in Oregon. The company, most famous for its Kendall-Jackson line of wines, later bought the facility and land operated by Soléna Estate in Willamette’s Yamhill-Carlton district. Soléna is building a new facility nearby. Within days came news that renowned Burgundy house Maison Louis Jadot had bought another winery nearby. The Willamette Valley — and Oregon in general — has gained new confidence and prominence as a world-class wine region.