While I eat a hot meal today in the breakfast room at the BEST WESTERN University Inn & Suites, I do a bit of research. I don’t know much about Forest Grove, but what I have seen so far intrigues me.
I discover that the school that inspired the name of the BEST WESTERN University Inn & Suites is Pacific University, a prestigious liberal arts school. Its main campus is downtown in Forest Grove. Pacific University is the oldest university in Oregon, having been founded in 1849 — ten years before Oregon became a state. The beautiful little campus educates over 3,200 students per year in undergraduate and graduate studies. It would be a very nice place to go to school, especially with its close proximity to Portland.
Forest Grove has some of the quaintness of McMinnville, but is much more of a working town. Settled in the 1840s, Forest Grove got its name in 1859. The village started out as a farming settlement, but over the years became much more of a business and trade center. As Forest Grove has grown, it has retained a mix of the urban and rural characters that marked its early years. Portland is just 30 miles away, and many Forest Grove residents commute for employment at one of the major businesses nearby, like Nike and Intel.
Oregon’s wine industry is also clustered near Forest Grove. Over a dozen wineries in the area feature tasting rooms and direct wine sales. Oregon has become known for its Pinot Noir in recent years, with stature rivaling the wines of California.
A word on wine tasting, if you’ve never tried it. As you travel from winery to winery, you’ll wind up drinking more wine than you realize, so it’s highly recommended that you assign a member of your party as a non-sampling designated driver. If you’re on a motorcycle, you’re out of luck — no sampling for you. Luckily, there are several local services available for hire as wine tour guides. Some operate year-round, others operate only during peak seasons. Whatever you do, don’t drink and drive or ride on a round of tastings. Even if you only sip, it’s a bad idea.
Sometimes it’s good to be a moto journalist. Teri Koerner, the Executive Director of Forest Grove’s Chamber of Commerce, has offered to drive me around Forest Grove, and will escort me on a tour of a few local wineries. Teri is a recent transplant to Forest Grove, and she has immersed herself in the local business and social scene. Everywhere we go, she is hailed as a favorite visitor, and I get to bask in her reflected popularity. She’s a born booster, and a great advocate for Forest Grove.
The first stop on our winery tour is David Hill Vineyard and Winery, one of the oldest wineries in the state. The location is a designated historical landmark on the Washington County, Oregon register. David Hill’s setting is absolutely gorgeous, with a lovely old farmhouse in the middle of a 140 acre estate. 45 of the estate’s acres are planted with grapes, including Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Riesling and other varieties. The winery has become a popular location for weddings and other events. It’s hard to imagine a more beautiful or romantic setting.
The David Hill tasting room is simple and relaxed. Christy, the tasting room associate, asks me some questions about my knowledge of wine and my tastes. She then selects a flight of wines for me to sample, and describes what smells, tastes and feelings I can expect from each pour. I am delighted to find that the David Hill wines are bold and distinct from one another. I am tempted to buy some of the Farmhouse Red, a very reasonably priced ($11) blend of Cabernet, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Syrah that would make a great table wine. Even though Tasting Room Manager Michele assures me that I’ll have no problem transporting my wine home in my checked luggage if I wrap it properly in a wine skin bottle transport bag. I decide not to buy any wine today, because I just don’t have room on the motorcycle. I can always order some over the internet or by phone.
Our next stop is at Montinore Estate, one of Oregon’s large vineyards at over 230 acres. Montinore has wide distribution — you might even find a case in your local wine store. The Montinore tasting room is large and modern, with a commanding view of the surrounding vineyards. Tasting room associate Lynn proves to be very friendly and informative about the wines. I’m discovering that a good tasting is a two-way street. I have to tell Lynn about my likes and dislikes, and I have to be honest about my level of wine knowledge (low). That way, Lynn can select wines for me to taste that will appeal to my palate, and she can help me to identify and describe what I like (or don’t like) about particular wines. It’s fun and interesting — and that’s not just the wine talking. I discover that I like Montinore’s white wines more than I expected to. In particular, the 2009 Reserve Riesling is “an alluring dry wine layered with flavors of spice and honey,” as described in the tasting menu. All I know is, it was light and crisp, without the sweetness that I associate with many white wines. Lynn said I’d taste a hint of stainless steel, and I did. Nice.
Next up, we go to a small family winery, Plum Hill Vineyards. RJ and Juanita Lint own and operate Plum Hill, which produces about 1,200 cases of wine per year. Juanita takes me for a tour of the facility. The Lints have transformed the former dairy farm into a tidy little vineyard, with clever innovations that make its operation more efficient. Their cozy tasting room is a gathering place for other local residents, and their wines are the very definition of hand crafted. I appreciate the contrast between the large and successful Montinore and the scrappy little Plum Hill, and I believe that I can taste the difference in their wines. The character of the wine maker is definitely reflected in the wine. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Ghost, the Plum Hill Vineyard Yellow Labrador dog, who was an excellent co-host.
I am not a wine expert. I’m not even a wine connoisseur. My wife and I have been exploring red wines over the past year or so, and have discovered that we both really like Cabernet Sauvignon, a wine that California vineyards do very well. I’ve been to a few wine tastings, and I know that they can be stuffy and intimidating in the wrong setting. My experience in Oregon has been the exact opposite — relaxed and welcoming at every front.
Teri saves a surprise for me at the end of our tour. We roll back into the town of Forest Grove, and pull up into a small industrial park. We’re at the home of Momokawa Oregon Craft Sake. Momokawa’s parent company, SakeOne, has partnered with Japan’s Murai family of sake brewers, and produces premium sake for the American market. I’m a big fan of Japanese cuisine and I love sake, so I’m thrilled to get a chance to experience premium ake in the Momokawa tasting room. Charlotte, our tasting room associate, knows everything about sake and is an enthusiastic advocate for the beverage. She tells me that Forest Grove was selected as the site for the Momokawa brewery because of the quality of the local water, and access to great rice. Charlotte pours samples of sake varieties, as she explains that yeast and koji-jin are the ingredients that turn rice and and water into sake. Koji-jin is a simple mold that converts rice starch into sugar, which is then fermented by the yeast. I taste the range of sake from Genshu to Nigori, and even sample the plum-infused sake. I feel like I know sake better now, and I’m eager for my next Japanese meal.
Teri drops me off back at the BEST WESTERN University Inn & Suites. I’m very glad that I didn’t drive today, and I’m especially glad that I a great guide like Teri to show me around.
After a quick power nap and a few cups of coffee, I’m ready to take the short ride over to historic downtown Forest Grove, just a mile and a half away from the hotel. I’m meeting my friend and fellow auto writer Jeff Zurschmiede and his daughter Katie for dinner at Stecchino Bistro, the premier Italian restaurant in town. Stecchino Bistro’s chef is a proponent of the Slow Food movement, so the restaurant specializes in local ingredients in all of its dishes. The food was great, the company even better — so the meal lived up to Bandon Bill’s credo.
I make the quick ride back to the BEST WESTERN, and hit the hay. Tomorrow’s my last full day of riding, and I want to be well rested.
NEXT UP: DAY SEVEN: FOREST GROVE TO SEATTLE AND HOME