Wine Close to Home with Kontos Cellar

by Robert LeCompte

Chris and Cameron Kontos were born into the Walla Walla wine industry. With maternal roots in the valley as far…


By the time you read this, I will have already embarked upon a rather fantastic voyage, joining over 50 sommeliers and wine buyers on a road trip across Washington. For those visiting from other parts of the country, it’s a chance to learn more about a region that might only rarely show up on their radar, while, for the more local folks like myself, it can be a chance to more fully understand the unique geography and geology that makes the region special.

Summer might be winding down but don’t put your hiking shoes, paddle boards or U-Pick farm baskets away just yet. There’s plenty more time to explore the beautiful Pacific Northwest, with winding trails, colorful fall foliage, rivers for fishing and even more to sip on. Because the only better way to enjoy the great outdoors this fall is with a glass in hand at some of the best wineries around.

The Willamette Valley is replete with the stuff that wine and foodie dreams are made of. When the stars come out and a soft pillow calls your name, what could be more welcoming than a neighborhood of vintage trailers authentic enough to make you pinch yourself?
The Vintages opened in the heart of the valley in July 2014 and, in just three seasons, has grown from five to 31 retro campers.

Ever since owners Jed Glavin and Laura Hefner-Glavin first nursed it to health inside their garage, Split Rail Winery has been splitting the industry status quo right down the middle. While Jed Glavin was working as an urban planner at an engineering company, the twosome found their winemaking side-gig growing closer to a full-blown venture as the community took notice. The turning point came when the Glavins shifted focus to experimenting with Idaho fruit.

I’ve often wondered why virtually every winery I’ve been to asserts that their wines are made to age. I mean, in a cynical way I know why: it’s the kind of claim that sounds good to the person doing the buying, even if in most situations we know they’re more likely to drink the bottle in the parking lot than they are to hang onto it for a decade, storing it in optimal conditions until it reaches a glorious maturity.

Oregon’s wine industry has shifted from a mom n’pop, seat-of-the-pants type business to a region of wines internationally admired with increasing concentration, reputation and collegiality. So says David Adelsheim, president and founder of Adelsheim Vineyard, who has seen the industry and market evolve since the Chehalem Mountains winery opened in 1978 with 1,300 cases.

The heat was inescapable at Thursday’s Auction of Washington Wine picnic and barrel auction. I’m not just talking about the 90+ degree temperatures on the lawn, though those were oppressive. I’m talking about the blinking red light in the cockpit of Northwest wine, warning about an overheating engine. While the gathered winemakers put on a brave face, behind the scenes there was plenty of murmuring about record-breaking temperatures that might just be the new normal.

What makes a wine list good? How about great? It’s a surprisingly difficult question to answer and one that I’ve been discussing with my colleagues a great deal lately. For one, few restaurants are interested in having a massive list of hundreds or thousands of bottles, yet our guests still expect a dynamic experience. As the world of wine continues to grow and expand, with more and more wine being made in the Pacific Northwest, the old rules no longer seem to apply.

There’s a lot to love about going to a wine tasting room: great wines straight from the winery, a cool atmosphere, knowledgeable staffers and maybe even a sommelier. Yet one thing they’re almost always lacking is food that’s a bit more substantial than a collection of cheeses. While a smattering of terrific cheese is nothing to complain about, sometimes you just want a meal designed from start to finish to pair with the wine of your choice.

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