October 28th, 2019

Tiny Travels: The Wine Country Detective investigates why Stoller keeps winning all of these awards

Right on the heels of a case I had closed like Forever 21 I got a hot tip about a place out northeast of McMinnville that has tongue’s wagging and wine lovers up in a tizzy. They call it Stoller Family Estate. I’ve read in the local rags that it’s been raining awards over there. Best Tasting Room in the Country. One of the Best Family-friendly Wineries. First winery in the world to achieve LEED Gold certification.

I don’t like to be rated. I like to get out in front. Get a little lead, take a little breather in the backstretch, and then come home free. But there’s one thing that I can’t figure out. What makes Stoller run. The wine country detective is on the case.

Like a painter repainting the same canvas all over again, I follow a series of clues that can only add up to a full picture.

It’s the drive in.

You might call it a long and winding road. I might call it deliverance. The drive in might have enough curves to soften the most hard-boiled of detectives. Farm country bucolic with a finish in a parking lot pointed towards Mt. Hood. She doesn’t always show up though, that femme fatale. As a wise friend once said, when you’re an ancient mountain, you do what you want.

It’s the place.

You might find it funny. Look at a mountain in the parking lot, gaze at the hills once you’re in the place. But here, the eyes are on the prize. Rows of grapes planted on a family farm that’s been around since 1943. I’ve heard it’s founder Bill Stoller’s favorite view. I stopped liking things in 1997 but if I know people, I’ll say you’ll like it, too. You can’t tell just by looking at it, but that’s planted 70% with Pinot noir, 25% with Chardonnay, 5-8% with 10 other varieties going about their business in plain sight.

It’s the people.

Inside, I turn my attention to the staff. They’ve got their stories straight. It’s a tale of a farm where 700,000 turkeys once lived, transformed in 1993 to a family estate vineyard. First vintage in 2001. A new net-zero building. LEED certification. B-Corp status. By all accounts, Stoller’s one of the good guys. I tease out more and find they are helpful sources. They’ve learned on the job. They know the wines. They don’t hold back. I hear them send tasters to friends at other wineries down the road like it isn’t a dog-eat-dog world we’re living in.

It’s the wine.

I try a flight and end with a 2015 Reserve Pinot noir. I remember that summer. Hotter than a July blacktop. The nose is perfume. Aromatics of black cherry, cedar and licorice. It’s tannin on the tongue. Hints of ripe red fruits. I’m a tough guy. I’ve been sapped twice, choked, beaten silly, shot in the arm until I’m crazy as a couple of waltzing mice. But now I’m going to do something really tough not ask for another.

It’s the Adirondack chairs.

This is one mystery where the clues add up. I take a seat on one of the rows of white Adirondack chairs pointed towards the hill. Down below, a tire swing hangs from an old oak. A family plays frisbee golf on the lawn. Pooches curl around their owners legs as they sip. Cloud tendrils float across the sky. Did I just say “tendrils?” A man’s in danger of getting a little sentimental. It’s a done deal. In the case of Stoller, it’s not one thing. It’s all the things.

Emily Grosvenor is the editor of Oregon Home magazine and the voice behind Tiny Travels. Follow her on Instagram @emilygrosvenor.