December 16th, 2019

Tasty Idea: Discovering Wine Country’s Cellar Season

There’s a nip in the air as I walk across the parking lot toward the Stoller Family Estate tasting room. Thin fog places a soft filter over what is usually a stunning view of the vineyards. The patio, a popular sit-and-sip destination in summer, is dominated by a large, white party tent. Space heaters are at the ready.

Once inside the building, however, thoughts of this gray day dissipate. It may be cold outside, but Stoller tasting room manager Victor Panichkul says the weather doesn’t seem to discourage people looking to make some wine discoveries.

Cellar Season in Oregon Wine Country; Image Courtesy Stoller Family Estate

This is Cellar Season, that time of year when the vines are dormant, and the world of wine moves indoors. I wondered what life is like inside local tasting rooms these days. Victor surprised me when he said business remains brisk.

“We still get quite a few guests,” he said. “We’ll get a couple hundred guests on weekend days through the winter.”

I wanted to find a second source to confirm this news, so I stopped by Elizabeth Chambers Cellar in downtown McMinnville. There I spotted Barry Risberg standing behind the bar. He echoed Victor’s report.

Both Barry and Victor emphasized cellar season is actually a great time to go wine tasting. Here are some reasons why.

Learn About Wine – Like most wineries, “high season,” as Victor calls it, starts in June when the weather turns dry and continues through September before slowly tampering off. “Then I think the (visitor) demographic changes a little bit,” he says. “We see quite a few people who are more educated, more serious wine drinkers.”

The less knowledgeable should not be deterred. Cellar season is a great time to learn more about wine. Tasting room staffs have the time and desire to talk at length with you, answer each and every question and help get you up to speed on all things viticultural.

Like Victor, Barry thinks winter wine tasting is a great way to make your way around Oregon varietals.

“For me, it’s a perfect opportunity to really expand on people’s education,” he says. “We can help them better understand why they like what they do.”

Make a New Friend – Barry has help, too. It’s not unusual, he says, for guests at the bar to linger and talk it all over.

“I have regulars who come in for a glass of wine and if they’re standing here at the bar while I’m working with a patron, they will speak up and say ‘this is the wine I really like.’ That encourages people (to share opinions) and now they’re having a fuller experience.”

Visit the Wine Cellar – While I admit that not every winery has a cellar, they should have wine barrels stacked somewhere nearby. Call ahead and ask if your favorite winery is conducting question-and-answer tours. There’s a good chance the answer will be yes.  

Wine Club Members Unite – This is a special time for anyone belonging to (or thinking about joining) a wine club. Wineries like to take care of their own. Check with your winery to see when special winter club events are scheduled.

Dan Shryock writes each month about McMinnville and Yamhill County. He’s starting to compile a list of wineries he wants to visit in 2020.