Last fall’s visit to Oregon remains fresh in my mind. After spending three and a half days in the Willamette Valley, we explored the Tualatin Valley. No mention of Oregon wine would be complete without talking about Ponzi Vineyards, and that just happened to be our first stop. I had met Maria Ponzi several years before, and she graciously showed us around their spectacular property. Maria is President and Director of Sales and Marketing for the winery and her younger sister Luisa is the winemaker. Ponzi is certified sustainable and they practice LIVE, low impact viticulture and enology. Their commitment and respect for the environment is clear to see in everything they do.
Their parents, Dick and Nancy, are truly pioneers of Oregon wine and planted their first vines in 1970. After five years, the vines’ roots hit basalt and the wines became more interesting, Maria told us. They moved into their current facility in 2013 and it is truly world-class. The facility was built by Maria’s husband. She was a journalism major and said it was fun for her to pore through the family’s history, from the winery’s beginnings in a “tiny little garage” to what it has become today. She unearthed several historical items which are on display for visitors to see.
Most wineries plant clones separately in different blocks. At Ponzi, they use a method they call Clonal Massale, where 25 different clones are planted side by side. The grapes ripen at different times, “like wildflowers”, and the family has a strong sense of what will perform best. They aren’t aware of anyone else utilizing that technique. Although the focus is clearly on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, that’s not all Ponzi offers. They have stunning Riesling, Dolcetto, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and more. Ponzi’s Pinot Noir is reportedly Michelle Obama’s favorite wine.
Following our visit to Ponzi, we took the (very) short drive to Hamacher Wines. Hamacher is located in the old Ponzi Vineyards tasting room. Winemaker Eric Hamacher is married to Ponzi’s winemaker Luisa. Kaylee Brown is Hamacher’s director of sales and marketing and she made us feel welcome as we waited for Eric to come in from the vineyards. We tasted his 2016 Riesling from Elk Cove, the first made under the Hamacher label and available only in their tasting room. Eric joined us and told us about his wine journey.
He’s earned a reputation for stellar Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. He established his own space at the Carlton Winemakers Studio in 2002 and was an owner/founder. He transitioned to the current space in the fall of 2015. Eric sources his fruit throughout the valley, using mostly grapes from Chehalem and Carlton/Yamhill. He has no reservations describing heavily oaked Chardonnay. “A lot of it winds up being wood tea with fruit essence.” The 2013 Hamacher Chardonnay we tasted spent 18 months in barrel, one-third of it new. “Our wines are designed to be consumed with food.” All of his wines are held in barrel and bottle before being released.
His in-laws encouraged him to take over the old Ponzi facility. He resisted at first, and then the Carlton facility started becoming consistently full. “It’s just a natural fit. I love it.” His wines are stellar across the board and priced very reasonably. His “H” label wines are designed to be entry-level, but they are exceedingly good.
After leaving the winery, we checked into the Residence Inn in Hillsboro. Opened in 2016, it’s clean and comfortable and features every amenity. The room was spacious and the bed extremely comfortable. We enjoyed a delicious dinner at the nearby Copper River restaurant, and turned in, ready for further exploration of the Tualatin Valley.
Tom Plant launched WINEormous in 2009 and is a member of the International Food Wine and Travel Writers Association. Based in Temecula, California, he offers intimate winery tours for no more than seven people. Tour details and pricing are available at www.temecula-tours.com. WINEormous is the recipient of the Luxury Travel Guide’s Wine Tour Operator of the Year award for Temecula 2017 and 2018 and the Lux Life Mag Best Customised Wine Tour Operator Temecula for 2019 as well as Most Unique Wine Tour Operator – Southern California. Call now to book your Temecula Winery Tour at (951) 907-9701. Ask about special discounts.