In 1985, well before the 2004 movie “Sideways” sparked widespread Pinot Noir mania, Oregon Pinots shocked the world of oenophiles at a tasting at the International Wine Center in New York when a group of wine experts was unable to distinguish between Oregon Pinot Noirs and better known, more expensive French Burgundies resulting in the panel choosing three Oregon Pinot Noirs as their favorites. The rest is history as Willamette Valley Pinot Noir have risen to their rightful place amongst the world’s most highly regarded wines.
Global Recognition of Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
Oregonians have forged an identity of pioneering spirit, scrappy individualism, and DIY know-how bound by a strong sense of community since the days of the Oregon Trail. The story of how Oregon has achieved its current reputation as producers of high-quality wine and global recognition for PInot Noirs that rival those of French Burgundies is a testament to these enduring characteristics. On my initial trip to Oregon’s Willamette Valley (I say initial because there will be more!), I was fortunate to visit and learn more about two of the valley’s founding vintners: the Ponzi family and the Adelsheims.
“The idea that we would plant a grape variety that no one knew well in a place that nobody had ever heard of was not only remarkably naïve, it was a remarkable leap of faith.” David Adelsheim, Founder
A Leap of Faith: Ponzi Vineyards and Adelsheim Vineyard
The Ponzi family entities include Ponzi Vineyards, founded in 1970, Fratelli Ponzi, Fratelli Ponzi Wine Bar and Retail Store, and The Dundee Bistro where I enjoyed an extraordinary wine pairing dinner encapsulated below. Adelsheim Vineyard was founded in 1971 by David Adelsheim, director of Adelsheim Vineyard, and Ginny Adelsheim, the artist behind Adelsheim Vineyard’s acclaimed series of label drawings and the winery’s terra-cotta ornamentation. Adelsheim Winery is certified sustainable and Salmon Safe and is a member of ¡Salud!. Since 1992, ¡Salud! has raised over $11.6 million to provide healthcare to Oregon’s seasonal vineyard workers and their families – a fine example of how the Willamette Valley community supports and takes care of their own. (More on Adelsheim Winery’s education focus and what farming practices go into being certified sustainable and biodynamic in a future article.)
Fratelli Ponzi: Bringing Italy to Oregon
Fratelli Ponzi is the import company and passion project of Michel and Rebecca Ponzi. Michel is a second generation winemaker — his parents, Dick and Nancy Ponzi, moved to the Willamette Valley in the late 1960s when Michel was 6 years old. With a spirit of adventure and a passion for making world-class Pinot Noir, The Ponzis made many research trips to Burgundy and, after an extensive search for the ideal location, they purchased 20 acres on a small farm in Sherwood just southwest of Portland, Oregon (now identified as Chehalem Mountain AVA). It was a daring risk — at the time, the Pacific Northwest was not considered to be a place to grow Pinot Noir, but Dick and Nancy realized the Northern Willamette Valley’s climate was ideal for cool climate varieties. Pinot Noir cuttings were planted, and, in 1970, Ponzi Vineyards was founded. Today, Ponzi Vineyards is operated by Michel’s two sisters: President and Director of Sales and Marketing, Anna Maria Ponzi and Winemaker Luisa Ponzi.
What happened to Michel? What started out as a summer sabbatical turned into an international move for his family when he and Rebecca fell in love with an Italian village called Torre di Palme. As former CEO of Ponzi Vineyards, Michel helped grow the family winery from a garage-based operation to its current state-of-the-art operation. In 2012, Michel stepped down from his position to make the move to Italy and pursue his passion for bringing high quality extra virgin olive oil to Oregon where he and Rebecca own and operate The Dundee Bistro and Fratelli Ponzi Fine Food & Wine in Dundee, Oregon.
“Fratelli” means “brothers” in Italian and the name Fratelli Ponzi was chosen for their venture to honor of the courage their two sons demonstrated when, at the ages of 9 and 12, they moved to a remote area in Italy. Their first Italian home, Casal Cristiana, became the family’s inspiration as they harvested olives from trees surrounding their home for olive oil. Casal Cristiana Italian Extra Virgin Olive Oil was born. Over the years, the Ponzi’s were introduced to small local family-operated business who were producing high-quality goods yet had a limited market for selling. They began working directly with these small Italian businesses from the agricultural region of Le Marche to create exceptional fine food products and bring them to Oregon.
Visit Fratelli-Ponzi in Dundee and enjoy a wine flight at the wine bar/retail store – they offer 3 wine flights daily (red, white & sparkling), 18 wines by the glass and bottles for purchase. Try a taste of the Ponzi family’s imported olive oil whilst you sip. Peruse the other Italian gourmet products: pasta, coffee, chocolate, and select wines and bask in the sunny Italian farmhouse ambiance. When you work up an appetite, amble next door to Dundee Bistro and savor delicate pasta (the very same that is sold in the store), fresh-caught seafood, and locally grown produce – all with expertly paired wines, if you choose, and why would you not?!
The Ponzi Family has been producing world-class wines since 1970. As leaders in the development of the Oregon wine region for nearly 50 years, the Ponzi’s have also been creating wine-friendly dishes for 20 years at The Dundee Bistro. Patterned on the many examples of culinary hospitality they have observed in the world’s finest wine regions, the bistro maintains a casual, friendly atmosphere that welcomes tourists, families, local residents and winemakers alike, while preparing and presenting approachable, yet sophisticated, dishes accompanied by wines and wine service of comparable excellence.
Extraordinary Wine Pairing Dinner at The Dundee Bistro
Helming the kitchen is Executive Chef Ryan Clark who serendipitously came to visit a friend working at The Dundee Bistro in 2013. Accepting an impromptu offer to work in the kitchen, Ryan proved to be a quick study and quickly advanced to sous chef, and, in 2018, was appointed executive chef. Ryan brings his love for fresh and simple ingredients to each plate. He was taught to cook with the seasons and he believes in not overcomplicating food and allowing high quality ingredients to speak for themselves. He is a local resident, born and raised in Newberg and calls Dundee his home, where he resides with his wife, Yvette, whom he met at the bistro. Love is in the air there!
The 4th course, the Skuna Bay salmon special was a given. My experience with Skuna Bay Salmon goes back several years. When you see it on a menu, go for it. Their salmon is always exceptionally fresh and sustainably farmed — raised in the only place where salmon should be raised – their natural ocean environment: the glacier-fed currents of the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Vancouver Island, sites that provide fast flowing currents, cold clear water and perfect salinity using farm to table, non-industrial techniques.
With the salmon, I was offered a side-by-side pairing of two stylish expressions of Pinot Noir: Arternerry 2017 Pinot Noir Dundee Hills and 2017 Ponzi Tavola.
Sated as I was, Christian (my server extraordinaire for the evening) wouldn’t hear of me declining dessert. And, coming from a non-sweet tooth, I bow down to pastry chef Caydee Porter. The Dark Chocolate Brownie Sundae with housemade lavender ice cream punctuated with exquisite visual and taste details was an orgasmic party in your mouth and a mainstay on their dessert menu.
I’ll stop there. When, not if, you are in the Willamette Valley experiencing the world’s finest Pinot Noirs, The Dundee Bistro is a must. And I’m not the only one that thinks so – just ask any local who appreciates fine food and drink. xoxo
The Dundee Bistro and Fratelli Ponzi Fine Food and Wine
100 SW 7th St A, Dundee, OR 97115
For reservations and more information:
Wine lovers, if you haven’t been already, add the Willamette Valley to your travel bucket list! And pin this image to your favorite Pinterest boards.