Ariel Eberle has spent more than a decade at Yamhill Valley Vineyards (YVV) in the McMinnville AVA of the mid-Willamette Valley. Her passion for winemaking turned heads immediately and after just a single harvest in Oregon, YVV owner Denis Burger nudged Eberle elsewhere to round our her training. She worked a pair of harvests in New Zealand at Palliser Estate in Martinborough and Chard Farm in Central Otago before returning stateside.

Eberle is currently the head winemaker at YVV, which specializes in Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Chardonnay. Her vast experience fits in well with YVV, among the oldest producers in the McMinnville area having launched in 1983. Eberle is also the founder and vintner for A Cheerful Note Cellars, a micro-batch label with a percentage of the proceeds going in support of a handful of Portland-based nonprofits. Here, she chats winemaker’s dinners, collaboration and “Minnesota fried chicken.”

Was there an initial moment that turned you on to wine?

I was 23 when I had my first formative experience with wine, while visiting a wine bar in NW Portland. The bartender had a knack for asking the right questions to find a wine that would satisfy his customers’ palates. I was impressed with this skill and it is something that I have worked to develop when I do tastings. He picked an off-dry Riesling from Austria, and I was in love. Later, I went to my first winemaker dinner at the same bar and fell in love with the way that geology, philosophy and environmentalism easily came into the conversations we had around wine. It was a match indeed.

What do you like best about making wine in the Willamette Valley? 

It probably sounds cliché, but the truth is the community and the views are top contenders. There are so many hardworking, driven, open, humble people that I look up to in this industry, and it amazes me how helpful, friendly and generous they are with their time and knowledge. It’s inspiring! I also can’t help but feel like we collectively have received an amazing gift from the pioneers that came before us, being a winemaker in the Willamette Valley certainly feels like being in the right place at the right time. It’s a gift to be able to celebrate that with others.

Do you have any unusual harvest traditions? 

David Hinrichs, one of the owners of Yamhill Valley Vineyards, comes from Minnesota and every year he and his partner, Gail, work all day to cook up a huge batch of “Minnesota Fried Chicken” for the crew. It’s usually a little more than half way through harvest when we have our indulging experience, so appetites are a plenty! We all look forward to this time together to celebrate the hard work we have done and have ahead of us.

What do you like to drink away from the cellar? 

When away from the cellar I fully enjoy incorporating travel with my love of wine. It is a goal to explore as many different wine regions as possible, and to stay open-minded during the discovery. I recently went on my first trip to Napa/Sonoma and enjoyed finding some beautiful Chardonnays, as well as a killer Carménère from Chalk Hill. It was nice to branch out a bit, but I seem to naturally circle back to my undeniably favorite varietal — Pinot Noir. While the trip generally grew my appreciation for Oregon Pinot Noir, I was also blown away by the Pinots at WALT.  

Photos courtesy Yamhill Valley Vineyards