On a crisp, freezing winter day last week, I took a trip out to Washington County and made some surprisingly cool finds. Usually, heading out that way means wine tasting with a group of friends. But these discoveries gave me ideas of some nice things to do either on your own (to get out of the city into some fresh air), or when your group needs a change of pace.
My first stop was a different kind of tasting — at Stash Tea in Tigard. This place has what seems like an endless selection of tea types. Green, white, herbal, scented, fruited, boxed, bagged … it’s really an impressive store. And they’ve always got three teas hot and ready for you to sample — for free. They also have an extensive array of teapots, strainers, and accessories, so you can bring that soothing stuff back to work with you and drink it at the office (while dreaming of more peaceful surroundings … ).
Then it was off to the good stuff — Ponzi winery. Ponzi’s been around pretty much since the first plantings of Pinot noir in Oregon, and continues to make well respected wine. In fact, one of Ponzi’s whites was poured at an inauguration dinner in January (the ’07 Arneis, if you must know). Ponzi’s tasting room walls display menus from other White House dinners that have featured its wines in the past. It’s neat to taste wine at Ponzi because you also absorb some of the history of wine making in Oregon, since Dick Ponzi was one of its pioneers. Plus, Ponzi’s so widely sold that when you find something you like, you’ll have no problem finding it back home.
Speaking of pioneers, you have to check out Cooper Mountain. Dr. Robert Gross started using biodynamics (a natural farming method that goes beyond organics) in his vineyard to produce award-winning wine. This style of wine making and Dr. Gross’ interest in health pushed Cooper Mountain to produce a sulfite-free Pinot noir. Amazing!
What I love the most at Cooper Mountain, though, is not even the wine, it’s the vinegar. Yep, in yet another experiment driven by passion, Dr. Gross set out to make ultra-concentrated, balsamic-style vinegar out of Oregon Pinot noir grapes. And he’s succeeded, beautifully. “Apicio” as they call it, is delicious, and precious — aged for at least six years, it comes in a tiny bottle, meant for drizzling (it’s said to be incredible over Parmigiano-Reggiano, strawberries or vanilla ice cream). A “tasting” consists of licking a drop of it off of the palm of your hand. I’m not kidding — that’s the Italian way! And this stuff is the real deal, aged in a series of wood barrels imported from Italy, each imparting an important flavor to the rich liquid.
After two wineries, I was feeling a little toasty — a perfect time to get a hit of fresh air. Just down the road from Cooper Mountain is the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge. I must say, this place is beautiful — and so unexpected. Right off of busy Highway 99W are acres and acres of wetlands, full of birds and native wildlife. Gravel paths let you stroll through grassland or forest. Since it was 35 degrees outside, I only stayed on the path for about 15 minutes before ducking inside the new visitor’s center. Modern design and educational exhibits (as well as a little gift shop), make this place a real pleasure to visit.
It was a really nice way to spend a winter’s day — very relaxing. I love it when a trip to the country just outside Portland feels like a mini-vacation.