The Willamette Valley is especially fine for exploring off-the-beaten-path, mom ‘n’ pop wineries. Such treasures abound, and you may not know about them unless you go looking, for their production is often small, local and limited to direct sales and a handful of wine shops.
May is Oregon Wine Month and on the website you’ll find some terrific options for wine touring and tasting, food and wine extravaganzas, live music and more. I want to draw your attention to the Oregon Asian American Pacific Islander Food & Wine Festival scheduled for May 20-21 at the Stoller Family Estate. Small bites from AAPI-owned Portland restaurants accompanied by wines from participating wineries are on offer, with tasting windows at set times (to avoid over-crowding) and different chefs featured on each of the two days. Purchase tickets here.
My own wine country explorations are often focused on seeking out old vine vineyards, and Oregon has a surprising number tucked away. On my recent visit to Dion Vineyard I found a slice of Willamette Valley history of which I’d been unaware. I’ve tasted and reviewed Dion wines over the past years, but the actual history of the vineyard was an exciting discovery. And as you will see below, the winery offers visitors a chance to purchase and taste vintages going back a decade and even longer.
Kevin Johnson and Beth Klingner’s vineyard and tasting room are on the back side of the Chehalem Mountains AVA, well off the beaten path. The vineyard dates back to the mid-1970s when it was first planted by Kevin’s parents and grandfather. Until 2007 they simply grew and sold grapes; currently they also make between 700 and 1000 cases of their own wines annually. Although quantities are small, there is a compelling range to the portfolio, including back vintages, old vine bottlings and a lovely pair of sparkling wines.
When traveling throughout the Willamette Valley it’s a treat to visit wineries both new and old, big and small, fancy and homespun. Dion welcomes visitors from March to November, and as with most small wineries your best experience will be on an uncrowded week day. I usually aim for springtime, as the weather is mild and there’s a chance to taste the first releases from the past couple of vintages. At Dion, as is true of Dusky Goose which I recently profiled on Substack, you can also find well-cellared back vintages at fair prices.
Here are some current and upcoming Dion releases. All of these are currently listed for sale on the website though some are for wine club members only. Purchase information is here.
Dion 2022 Pinot Gris
I loved the previous vintage and the ’22 is a fine follow-up. The vines are fully mature and able to express the richness and depth found in the best versions of Oregon Pinot Gris. This is a juicy, refreshing wine, its ample citrus fruit amplified with bracing acidity. 82 cases; 12.9%; $27 (Chehalem Mountains) 92/100
Dion 2021 Chehalem Mountains Pinot Noir
If I were to choose a mid-priced Willamette Valley Pinot Noir to show a visitor from, say, California, how good these wines are… this is the wine I’d choose. It’s forward, fruit-packed, varietally pure, palate-soaking and long. There’s a fine balance of plummy fruit, balancing acids, natural vitality and sleek tannins. It’s a harmonious wine, instantly enjoyable (with a screwcap for safety) yet built for a decade of cellaring. 13.2%; $35 (Laurelwood District) 92/100
Dion 2020 Old Vines Pinot Noir
Dion’s vines are among the oldest in the region, so this designation carries some weight. Here they deliver the sort of profound yet delicate flavors that make these wines so special. Subtle layers combine mountain berries, citrus, hints of tropical fruits, juicy acids and more. The length is sensational. 14%; $65 (Laurelwood District) 95/100
Dion 2017 Old Vines Pinot Noir
This has a harder edge than the 2020 Old Vines bottling, with stiff tannins and a tight, hard finish. It’s most likely an accurate reflection of the vintage, and the picking decisions made. But as a result, the more ethereal qualities of old vines are muted here. I found it much better on day two, still chewy and tannic but more fruit showing. 14.3%; $65 (Chehalem Mountains) 91/100
Dion 2010 Winemakers Reserve Pinot Noir
This well-aged wine is in a prime drinking window, perhaps just beginning to show early signs of drying out, with astringent tannins dominating the finish. That said, the aromatics are brilliant, with hints of brown sugar and strawberry preserves. It’s at or near its peak, and is still listed for purchase on the website. 13.3%; $80 (Chehalem Mountains) 93/100
Dion 2021 OG Pinot Noir
OG indicates original vineyard meaning the oldest vines on the property. Just one barrel was made. This unique wine is not (yet) listed on the winery website, so I have no price. But as with the 2020 old vines bottling, it’s elegant, detailed, subtle and long – the sort of wine that few places in the world are capable of producing with this grape. Light, captivating flavors of strawberry, melon, sandalwood, lemon oil and much more cascade across and down the palate. 12.8%; $xx (Chehalem Mountains) 94/100
The wines I review have been tasted over many hours and days in peer groups. Only reviews for recommended wines are published, with links to winery websites to facilitate DTC sales. Additional exposure comes via my frequent posts on Substack, Post Alley, Instagram and several Facebook wine chat groups. I encourage you to subscribe to my Substack which is free and has an abundance of material not found on this website.
Please send current and upcoming releases according to your own release schedule (check with me first re: weather/travel exceptions). All new releases from Pacific Northwest wineries are welcome and will be tasted.