The whole idea behind “Vintage Highway”—in case you are new to following my travels—is that I pull my vintage, 1972 Airstream Globetrotter trailer on my trips into wine country in search of tasty, new vintages to peddle at Carpe Vino. . .get it? The concept was put to the test in spades on my 15-day trip across the Pacific Northwest, and I have to say I loved it, especially the week I camped at Stoller Vineyards in Dayton, Oregon, smack dab in the pinot sweet spot of the Willamette Valley.
My shtick is to take my spit-polished Airstream and park on the estate of a winery that is already a friend of Carpe Vino; after I drop the trailer and hook up to water and power, I head out into the neighborhood and make new friends, find new wines.
I was supposed to be at Stoller for just four nights, but because of the luxury of the full bath in the stable I was parked behind, my hosts graciously granted my request to extend my stay by a few days rather than relocate to the second winery I had planned to visit. Actually the stable is quite the structure: on one side are horse stalls; on the other is an indoor, regulation-sized basketball court, with a special sport surface. I spent a half hour missing lay-ups and free throws one morning. . .I still suck.
To get to the winery from the freeway, I followed my GPS and ended up taking a very short ferry ride across what I think was the Willamette River. My truck and trailer took up nearly the whole center of the boat for the four-minute crossing. Since I sensed I was not on a particularly well beaten path, I called the winery and talked to Mike Haverkate, one of Stoller’s first employees, and he offered to meet me in nearby Dayton.
I followed him to the winery, and after taking time to set up, Mike came back and collected me for a tour. We started at the tasting room, and he grabbed a couple of pinot glasses and what turned out to be a bottle of the 2007 Stoller SV Pinot Noir ($40, 92 points Wine Spectator). We jumped into Mike’s truck and struck out for a ride around the estate, 400 acres in all, including nearly 180 acres of vines. I sipped on the pinot while we bounced through the vineyards, and even though we were on private property, I still felt oddly naughty.
Near the top of what was a turkey ranch is where owners Bill and Cathy Stoller selected as the site for their home. The view is incredible: an unrestricted, 180-degree panorama of the estate, plus spectacular vistas of Mt. Hood and Mt. Jefferson, both snow clad in the distance. The drive leading up to the tasting room/winery complex (one of the greenest structures in Oregon and the first LEED® certified winemaking facility in the United States attaining Gold level certification) is lined on both sides with magnificent, nearly identical trees that someday will arch across the lane.
If Mike lived in Auburn, I know we would be great friends. He is easy-going, no doubt by nature but also likely influenced by the serenity of working on the land. He knows every inch of the estate with an intimacy that comes from planting vines, digging ponds, razing old farm structures and working on the new winery. I’m not sure exactly what Mike’s title is, but if this was 13th century England, he would be the “reeve” of the manor, the pivot person who gets things done and has the trust of everyone. . .at least that’s the way it appeared to me.
When you actually live on a winery estate—even for just a week—you get a sense of the rhythms of the place. Early each morning, the first person on the move seemed to be the assistant vineyard manager, setting Moose off into a barking frenzy. For the first few days, I let my pup run in the fenced pasture next to the stable, home to half a dozen lamas, two donkeys and an alpaca. . .that is until the young vineyard manager told me the animals could easily stomp my dog to death.
Business in the Stoller tasting room was regularly brisk, with people enjoying the warm, sunny afternoons sitting in the Adirondack chairs under tall pines overlooking the estate. Oh yeah, most people were sipping pinot. Mike and I tasted through the line-up (loved the Tempranillo, which I did not anticipate seeing in Oregon) and toured the winery building, which was and gravity-flow design. We walked through the Stoller business office, which had one of the grandest views you can imagine, and there were wildlife sculptures everywhere.
People at the winery are incredibly friendly and hospitable. Owner Bill Stoller and his son drove down to my trailer one evening to greet me. . .he departed the next day for a golfing excursion to Scotland. And Mike and his wife, Kelly, invited me to their home in Dayton for dinner. Their house is on the National Registry of Historic Homes and a nice restoration of a 19th century farm home. We enjoyed a nice bottle of Riesling, followed by a pinot. . .and I learned that Kelly is a balloon pilot, taking people for airborne tours of the Willamette Valley.
I stayed on the estate for three more nights following the end of the Oregon Pinot Camp, and I spent the days seeking out new wines in the Willamette Valley and catching up on rest. . .I took a nap just about every afternoon. I departed early on Saturday morning for the Portland airport where I picked up my beloved, Ellen, for three great days in the city.