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Reigning Pinot Noir at The Joel Palmer House: A Once in a Lifetime Cellar Raid

Surrounded by hundreds of bottles of Pinot Noir, some dating back to the years when the ground breaking pioneers of the Oregon wine industry bottled their first vintages, I had to pinch myself more than once.  Floor to ceiling, earthquake-proof, custom-made wine racks, stocked with some of Oregon’s finest and rarest wines, I had just received clear instructions from Chef/Owner, Chris Czarnecki: “pick a bottle…any bottle.”  Pinch.  Dust covered bottles of early vintage Ken Wright Cellars Pinot Noirs ( from the 1980s and 90s, and some even signed) filled the slots on one side.  The other side boasted a variety of vintages from powerhouse Pinot producers like Beaux Freres, Bergström, Domaine Serene, Elk Cove, Archery Summit, Lange Estate, Eyrie Vineyards and many, many more.  In front of me, countless wooden wine boxes labeled with Domaine Drouhin and Laurène lined a wall - an Oregon wine enthusiast’s dream for those who know Laurène is the flagship estate grown Pinot Noir produced by the quintessential Domaine Drouhin - named after owner/winemaker, Veronique Drouhin’s, eldest daughter.  My mind was spinning, my heart was racing - I was standing in one of Oregon’s most famous wine cellars, carefully pulling dust covered bottles from their slots, one by one, in an effort to find the one Pinot Noir that would fulfill this once in a lifetime opportunity.    

Magnum sized bottles from some of Oregon’s most well-known Pinot Noir producers lgrace one of the custom-made racks in the cellar

Full of excitement, deciding on which bottle to pull from the shelves was not an easy decision.

Peeking through the magnums to get a glimpse of what’s beyond.

Wooden boxes of Domaine Drouhin’s beloved Laurene  Pinot Noir

The Joel Palmer House, located in the heart of Oregon’s Willamette Valley wine country, is not only one of Oregon’s most famous wine country restaurants, it is one of Oregon’s finest historic homes.  It’s on the Oregon Historic Register; as well as, the National Register of Historic Places.  Joel Palmer, one of Oregon’s renowned pioneers, made his way west in 1845 and co-founded the town of Dayton in 1848.  In 1857. he built the now-famous Joel Palmer House.


Signed private label bottles of the retired JPH PinotNoir. Priceless? Yes.

A dust covered 2005 Ken Wright Cellars Pinot Noir tempted me, but the stunning ‘99 I had in my glass pushed me towards another popular brand for diversity purposes.

Surrounded by bottles of Pinot Noir from a myriad of vintages and heralded producers was like being in an epic dream.

How was it that I happened to be surrounded by a massively impressive collection of Oregon Pinot Noir, each bottle and every vintage holding a story of Oregon’s history in wine held captive only by a single cork?  Well, luck was on my side; in fact, Chris Czarnecki was on my left side for the majority of the day as we shared panel member duties of judging select wines that were submitted for the SIP! McMinnville Food & Wine Classic wine competition.  It didn’t take long for us to realize that our palates were similar; more often than not, we were silently cheering for the same wines to achieve award-winning status.  

The walls of the steep stairway that descends into the cellar is plastered with hundreds of labels from Oregon wineries.

One side of the stairwell is covered in labels, while the other boasts written sentiments

When the wine competition was over, volunteers and staff had an after-party planned for the judges, but the fully reserved Joel Palmer House needed its head chef.  Not wanting to miss out on the festivities, Chris announced to the judges and competition coordinators that all were invited to an “after-the-after-party” at The Joel Palmer House.  And that’s how I ended up in a Pinot Noir enthusiasts’s dream, where Pinot Noir reigns king  - pinching myself as I sipped a 1999 Ken Wright Cellars McCrone Vineyard Pinot Noir that was handed to me upon arrival.  So, what wine did I end up dusting off and discovering the story of its vintage and terroir? A vintage 2005 Trisaetum J&A Frey Vineyards Pinot Noir. 

Sara mesmerized by the hundreds upon hundreds of Oregon Pinot Noir labels affixed to the wall of the stairwell to the wine cellar

“There will never be anywhere like this,’ wrote someone from WKE -Willakenzie Estate - (probably the winemaker at the time, the founder’s name is Burgundian-born Bernard Lacroute

The bottle I ended up choosing for so many reasons: Trisaetum 2005 J&A Frey Vineyards Pinot Noir.

Follow me over to therealwinejulia.com to find out why the 2005 Trisaetum Pinot Noir that I chose plays a significent role in my decision to dive head first into the Oregon wine industry.  Also, discover how well this wine has stood the test of time and how well it paired with the delicious mushroom-centric tapas that Chris spoiled us with during our visit.  Also, get a close-up view of the 2017 Solar Eclipse from the heart of the totality path.  Why is this relevant to the Joel Palmer House?  It is the other once in a lifetime experience I had while spending time there - it’s an amazing place where even more amazing things take place.  

-Julia Crowley

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