We were a motley crew loading into a Mercedes coach in the middle of the Willamette Valley wine country in Dundee, Oregon. Among us a poet, a doctor, a writer, a photographer, two self-described “nuts and bolts guys” (engineers) for an international company, a law professor, and the director of a large corporation based in Philadelphia. So what did we have in common? Apparently we all loved wine, traveled a lot, accrued thousands of miles with United MileagePlus, and had used our miles to bid on (and win) this trip. “Welcome to United MileagePlus Exclusives’ Wine Country Experience,” our guide said, as he shut the coach doors. And with that we were off to explore a slice of the expansive Willamette Valley AVA (American Viticultural Area) in the Dundee Hills AVA.
During the gentle climb up the Dundee Hills to Domaine Serene Estate, one of us remarked that the topography is like the Cote d’Or in Burgundy. Green hills dotted with huge old oaks rolled out to the valley floor for miles. Straight rows of vines, oriented to catch the longest rays of the sun, were lined up like stationary soldiers supporting the vines across the smallest winery to the estates on the top of the hills.
The Evenstad family, owners of Domaine Serene Estate, fell in love with the wines of Burgundy long ago. Wishing to fulfill their dream of producing world-class pinot noir in Oregon, the Evenstads set to work buying land, planting vines, finding a notable winemaker, and building a winery. Today they have garnered numerous awards for their wines and for their environmentally conscious, innovative vineyard management and winery practices. And the wine? It’s divine.
At Domaine Serene, our United MileagePlus Exclusives group was treated to a private tour of a newly-opened, chateau-inspired, wine venue called The Clubhouse. The group soon ended up on the patio. And while we nibbled appetizers, we sipped some of Domaine Serene’s elegant Chardonnays and their expressive pinots, we talked wine and got to know each other. The dramatic denouement at sunset captivated us from this spectacular viewpoint; as if it was on cue, we watched the hills turn completely gold while tasting the glowing pinot in our glasses.
Day two began with a leisurely breakfast at Babica Hen Cafe at The Inn at Red Hills before heading back to Domaine Serene Estate to tour the winery. After an abbreviated lesson in wine-making and Domaine Serene’s wine philosophy, a surprise awaited us. A helicopter landed on the great lawn. After a briefing by our Precision flight crew, small groups heli-toured the Estate’s vineyards marveling at the incredible views of the Willamette Valley’s vast wine production. How do you top that? With a formal wine-pairing luncheon in the wine cave by a top Portland catering company called Hunt & Gather. To finish this lovely day at Domaine Serene Estate, we tasted a burgundy from Domaine Serene’s newest wine property in Burgundy, France, Château de la Cree.
Anyone still hungry for dinner? Would there be wine? Well then yes of course. The celebrated Painted Lady restaurant is a foodie temple, a wine country mecca in a tiny house near Dundee in Newberg, Oregon. Relaxing around the dining table, the group feasted on the chef’s artfully-fresh, tasting menu skillfully balanced with local and international wines by their sommelier. It was an evening to remember.
We are winding down our wine trip by day three. But not on the wine aspect, as we were off to taste more wine. Estate Domaine Drouhin originates by way of a family of Burgundian pinot noir winemakers, who, over three decades ago recognized the opportunity that the Willamette Valley presented to a grape farmer and winemaker. You have to realize that this valley is the same latitude and offers similar growing conditions as Burgundy; the founder of Domaine Drouhin in the Willamette Valley, Robert Drouhin certainly did. Today, his children Philippe Drouhin and Veronique Boss-Drouhin continue the family legacy by making vibrant, accessible Pinot Noir and balanced Chardonnay wines in Oregon. During the tour, we learned to appreciate this family winery with roots and wine pedigree that are elegantly French, but who speak through their wines with a forthright Oregonian palate. Try the Laurene Pinot Noir to taste the perfect marriage of Burgundian winemaking technique with Oregon terroir and grapes.
What’s next? Definitely more wine of course. We toddled off to Stoller Family Estate “floating” just a bit, and also a little hungry. Sitting on the expansive outdoor patio with views that stretched to the top of the hill, Stoller presented a flight of wines to accompany our box lunch by Hunt & Gather. This is not the usual “box lunch,” but like everything else on this trip, a finely considered, hand-crafted experience that happens to be delivered to you in a box (bamboo and recyclable of course). The lunch bites enhanced the flavor profiles of the wines, and the box was full of beautiful gems of food like the mini jars of Duck Rillette and crostini. The Mopsy’s Best sheep cheese was a standout with one of the slightly acidic, fruit forward Stoller Chardonnays.
Too soon, as with oenophiles who discover wines together and form easy friendships along the journey, goodbyes had to be said. Wines like the excellent 2015 Stoller Reserve Chardonnay were bundled up to fit in our wine-stuffed suitcases, and promises of meeting each other again were given. And why not? All we have to do is go to United MileagePlus Exclusives online and bid with our cache of miles on another perfect adventure. The offerings are always changing and they range from insider sports tickets and parties, intimate concerts with legendary singers, Michelin-star dining experiences, Broadway shows, and exclusive sporting event experiences. And like this wine experience, they are worth it.