I had the pleasure recently of visiting with John Miller, owner of Mahonia Vineyard, and Travis Henry, Mahonia’s vice president who handles sales and marketing, and getting a chance to learn more about their operation and their wines.
This small producer in South Salem has been growing and making wonderful wines for more than 20 years and is gaining a wide following in the Portland area, but I would venture to guess that most wine lovers in Salem have never heard of them.
Their philosophy is to grow grapes in a way that respects the environment and make hand-crafted wines that reflect their vineyard site. They’ve worked with several winemakers through the years, including Russ Raney at Evesham Wood, Aron Hess at Daedalus Cellars, and Chris Berg at Roots Winery and Vineyard.
Their wines are sold at Whole Foods Markets throughout Oregon and Washington and are served at some of Portland’s most notable restaurants, including Blossoming Lotus, Coppia, Laurelhurst Market, Le Pigeon, and Simpatica.
Mahonia’s vineyard has 30 acres, 11 of which are planted. Sixty percent is pinot noir, 20 percent chardonnay and 20 percent pinot gris.
I had the opportunity to taste several Mahonia wines, including the 2010 Chardonnay, 2009 Pinot Gris, 2011 Pinot Gris, and 2010 Pinot Noir. All of their wines are made using native-yeast fermentation and with minimal intervention, a holistic philosophy that is reflected in Miller’s broader business venture, Wildwood/Mahonia, a family of companies involved in agriculture, urban planning, development, watershed restoration, and other businesses with a common commitment to sustainability.
The 2010 Chardonnay is aged in neutral oak and has a bright citrus aroma and flavor, good acidity, glimpses of vanilla, and a nice spicy mineral finish.
The 2009 Pinot Gris, a mix of 50-percent stainless-steel fermented and 50-percent neutral-oak fermented, has wonderful floral notes, flavors of kiwi and tangerine, and a bright steely minerality with good acidity and notes of white pepper in the finish.
The 2011 Pinot Gris is 100-percent stainless-steel fermented and has wonderful honeydew melon aromas, mandarin orange flavors, and a zesty acidity.
The 2010 Pinot Noir has a deep ruby color with aromas of raspberry and notes of cinnamon, cherry flavor, and good tannin with a sweet tobacco finish.
The downside is you won’t be able to find their wines at local retailers, but the upside is their office in South Salem at the Old Pringle Schoolhouse off Keubler Boulevard at 4985 Battle Creek Road SE, Suite 200, is easily accessible, and you can buy the wines there.
It’s a shame that this Salem jewel is better known in Portland than our neck of the valley, but hopefully wine lovers in Salem will catch on. For information, call Mahonia at (503) 585-8789.
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