Day 1: Began when 18 WSET students landed in McMinnville at Hotel Oregon. Located in the heart of the Willamette Valley, Hotel Oregon is an authentic styled tavern and inn (circa wild wild west) that feels more like a guest house than a hotel. After a quick sip of house-made brew, we headed out for our first winery visit at one of the area’s oldest wineries, Eyrie Vineyards. Founded by the late (and great) David Lett, the Eyrie tasting room and winery is situated right in the center of town making it an easy first stop for anyone staying in McMinnville. The tasting room had lots of historic photos, each adding to the rich Lett story which began 40 years ago. Best yet, a platter containing three tight bunches of very ripe grapes – Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc – was on display for all to see, touch and taste. A pinoneer at heart, David Lett was dedicated to growing Pinot Noir (along with its various mutations) and was the first winemaker to grow Pinot Gris in the region. After a quick taste of the 2007 Pinot Blanc (light weight, crisp acidity with bright citus and appley fruit), we walked into the barrel room for an intimate lesson on Eyrie by winemaker Jason Lett.
The barrel room was designed to create the perfect environment for barrel maturation – temperature controlled, no windows and cement walls and floors. Once we settled in, it did not take long to notice the mold on the walls which Jason quickly told us is part of the natural environment helping to keep “bad” bugs away from the wine.
While he shared many stories and interesting winemaking techniques with us, my favorite take was a line Jason quoted from a friend. “When the grapes come into the winery, you start with 100 points and you can only lose points after that.” This sentence sums up the Lett philosophy.