I came to wine (and drinking in general, for that matter) late in life. In high school and all through my 20s, I was straight edge — I never touched the stuff. Somewhere in my 30s, I decided I knew and trusted myself enough not to follow in the genetic line and become an alcoholic.
FUN FACT: My first official entry into the world of drinking was a shot called a duckfart in hotel bar in Vancouver, Canada. (Go Canada!)
Because I was older when I came to drinking, I didn’t go through the requisite teenage binge drinking in an effort to figure out my limits — my limits were pretty firmly in place from the beginning. This meant that as I began imbibing, I was not only interested in finding the things that I enjoyed drinking (both taste and feel) but I was also very mindful of how, whatever I was drinking, would pair with food. This kind of mindset brought me, naturally, to wine.
Not long after my first drink, I ended up chucking it all and backpacking throughout Western Europe. I’ve spoken about that trip here before – the food, the art, the people AND of course, the wine. It was quite an education for someone just beginning to enjoy wine and I was happy to learn and taste as much as I could in my travels.
But as much as I tasted, learned and saw in those travels, I never had the pleasure of working at a winery or being involved in harvest. That is, until Penner Ash invited me and a few other bloggers down to Newberg to get an up close taste of the vine.
A Day at Penner-Ash
Penner-Ash Wine Cellars is a sustainable, gravity-flow winery surrounded by estate vineyards, overlooking the Chehalem Valley and is run by Lynn Penner-Ash and her husband, Ron. Together they produce mostly small-lot Pinot Noir.
I started my day in Portland with the Cricket Cafe‘s Painted Hills Hash (Painted Hills beef, potatoes, grilled onions, garlic, thyme, Asiago, fried crispy and topped with two poached eggs, and a perfectly sunny hollandaise) before being chauffeured out to the winery by my good buddy and fellow food blogger, Lisa Moose of Three Dogs and a Moose. Fittingly we were greeted by the Penner-Ash’s dog on a bright and gorgeously sunny day that turned out to be not too hot.
Grape Sorting for Harvest
After a quick look around, Lynn and Ron put us straight to work on the sorting line. Neither Lisa or I had ever sorted before and had no idea what to expect — turns out, we’re “naturals” at it and together (with some help from Lynn and Ron) we sorted some 7 tons of grapes that day BEFORE lunchtime!
What we learned, as we sorted side-by-side with the Penner-Ashes, is that this year’s wine grape harvests in Oregon were a boon. Which, admittedly, made the sorting job easier and a bit faster for Lisa and I. That’s because all the grapes were so heavy with ripe, perfect fruit, that it was a rare bunch that needed discarding (though we managed to be picky enough to fill several buckets full of rejects.)
Besides sorting out the grapes that can’t make the cut — the shriveled pre-raisin types, or mushy likely to mold types or the tiny green nubbins of underfertilized grapes sometimes lurking on a bunch of perfectly deletable ones — we were also charged with freeing ladybugs and purging other not-so-friendly types, like pincher bugs and wasps, as well as grape leaves or pieces of vine that may have gotten picked up in the harvest. This is important because you’ve never heard a wine snob, after a swirl, sniff and sip, say “Ah this vintage is rich with the flavor of wasp, with just a hint of subtle pincher bug.”
Lunch with the Crew
As you can imagine, by lunchtime our arms, hands and the front of my shirt, were sticky with the residue of sweet grape juice sugars and we had worked up an appetite. Lynn and Ron, treated us and the rest of their team to a crew lunch of pasta and meat sauce, spinach salad with pears and feta and of course, plenty of Penner-Ash Pinot. Lynn even dug up a Barbera from another winery, as I had mentioned in passing on the line, that Barberas were a favorite of mine.
Eating with the crew was fun, though I tried to stay mostly in the background, observing them as they interacted with one another at what, for them, was just another day during harvest. What stood out most of all about our time at Penner-Ash was the easy going demeanor of Lynn and Ron and how it all translated to a crew that felt more like family than employees. As fun as it all appears to be (and YES! sorting 7 tons of grapes can be fun, if you’re only doing it for a handful of hours), you could tell that everyone at Penner-Ash is really serious about one thing — making great wine.
If you love a good Oregon Pinot Noir, I encourage you to take the drive out to Penner-Ash and spend some time tasting and enjoying the view. If you’re lucky, maybe they’ll invite you up on the sorting line one day, too!
15771 NE Ribbon Ridge Rd, Newberg, OR 97132
Hours: Open today · 11:00 am – 5:00 pm