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Signs of spring include crocus, robins and the releases of new wines

STAFF PHOTOS: BARB RANDALL - Van Duzer Winemaker Florent 'Flo' Merlier greeted the media guests on the front entry at the winery. Notice the expansive view of the valley to the west behind him.

We are feeling it now, friends. The harsh winter winds have given way to softer gusts, and the rain falls more gently. We've got buds on the trees and tulips, and crocuses are pushing above ground. Spring is coming.

But the sign of spring I most enjoy is the call from the wineries that new releases are ready to be shared.

Van Duzer Vineyards recently hosted a media excursion to celebrate the pre-release of its highly anticipated 2013 Alchemy Pinot Noir. Media friends and guests piled onto the Big Woody party bus and headed to Dallas.

Van Duzer Vineyards is one of the first wineries built in the foothills of the Van Duzer Corridor. The corridor was named in 1939 for Henry Brooks Van Duzer, who earlier served as head of Oregon's State Highway Division.

The corridor itself is a deep gap in the Coastal Range that draws brisk marine air from the ocean into the valley. The cooling wind rises every afternoon, helping moderate the temperatures over the vineyards, guaranteeing a long, beneficial growing season year after year. The effect that the Van Duzer Corridor has on wine taste and quality has prompted area vineyard and winery owners to petition to establish the Van Duzer Corridor American Viticultural Area (AVA). The petition is still under review.

Proprietors Carl and Marilynn Thoma established the family estate in 1998, intrigued by the potential of the microclimate caused winds of the Van Duzer Corridor.

Van Duzer Vineyards was hosting a pre-release party for its 2013 Alchemy Pinot Noir at the event.

Winemaker Florent "Flo" Merlier is a native of Burgundy, France. He said Burgundy is much like the Willamette Valley, providing excellent conditions for growing grapes to make great wine. He came to the United States in 2009, and started as the cellar master at Van Duzer in 2010, becoming the winemaker in 2013. He is known for harmonizing his winemaking practices with the integrity of the vineyard, maximizing flavors in the thick-skinned grapes that persevere in the Corridor and those sources at other estate properties around the Willamette Valley.

He explained his winemaking process and how different fermentation vessels influence the taste of the wines.

Van Duzer's state-of-the-art, energy-efficient winery was completed in 2006. The facility allows for great efficiency and control of fermentation and storage temperatures. A highly reflective treatment on the roof keeps the facility cool, and fans that are used to exhaust CO2 during the day can be reversed for nighttime cooling during the summer. Superior insulation allows for highly controlled temperatures in the barrel rooms, and production wastewater is recycled for irrigation, adhering to Van Duzer's sustainable farming practices. Together these factors, plus Merlier's talents, result in the production of world class wines.

Randall enjoyed the Estate Pinot Gris as well.

The 2013 Alchemy Pinot Noir was delightful; we tasted against the 2012 and 2011 Alchemy as well. These are truly special occasion wines. I also enjoyed the 2002 Dijon Blocks Pinot Noir and the 2015 Pinot Gris.

Now that it is spring, Van Duzer Vineyards' tasting room is open daily from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Guests are invited to bring a picnic to eat under the oak trees, sample the current releases and enjoy one of the most beautiful views of the valley.

Van Duzer Vineyards is located at 11975 Smithfield Road in Dallas. Call 503-623-6420 or visit vanduzer.com for more information.

Dessert was truffles paired with a fine pinot noir.

You get two spring recipes this week. The peas are my favorite spring salad. Add the spinach and feta tart, and you have a grand spring picnic to take along to Van Duzer. I'd suggest pairing the picnic with any of the pinots or the pinot gris.

Bon Appetit! Make eating an adventure!

Peas and Pea Shoots with Spring Onions and Mint

1 pound frozen peas (4 cups)

1½ tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

3 medium spring onions sliced ¼-inch thick (3 cups)

Salt to taste

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 cups lightly packed tender pea shoots or small watercress sprigs

1/3 cup fresh mint leaves

Freshly ground black pepper

In a large saucepan of boiling, salted water, cook the peas until they are just tender, about 3 minutes. Drain.

In the same saucepan, heat the olive oil. Add the onions and a pinch of salt, cover and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the peas, cover and cook until heated through, 1 minute. Stir in the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time. Remove from the heat and stir in the pea shoots until wilted. Stir in the mint, season with salt and pepper and serve.

(Recipe courtesy of Food & Wine Magazine, foodandwine.com)

Spinach and Feta Tart

Sautéed lemon slices give this tart a beautiful presentation. A quick cook in the skillet mellows their bitter flavor and slightly caramelizes them to concentrate their lemony deliciousness.

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 bunch green onions (6) thinly sliced to make ¾ cup

1 pound fresh spinach, tough stems removed

½ of 17.3 ounce package frozen puff pastry (1 sheet) thawed

1 small lemon

2 eggs

½ cup crème fraiche

2 tablespoons snipped fresh dill

½ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

½ cup fresh mint leaves, torn if large

¼ cup fresh dill sprigs

Sautéed Lemons (See recipe below.)

In a very large skillet heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat. Add the green onions, cook and stir until tender and fragrant, about 2 minutes.

Gradually add about 12 cups of the spinach, tossing with tongs until wilted, about 2 minutes. Remove and cool slightly. Drain and squeeze spinach mixture to remove as much liquid as possible. Coarsely chop the spinach mixture; set aside.

Preheat oven to 400 F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside. On a lightly floured surface roll out puff pastry sheet to a 13-inch-by-11-inch rectangle. Carefully transfer the pastry to the prepared baking sheet. Moisten the edges of the pastry with water and fold over a ½-inch border on all sides; press border lightly. Using the back of a paring knife, make evenly spaced indentations around the outside edge of the pastry (this will help the border rise evenly). Chill pastry for 15 minutes or up to 1 hour.

Meanwhile, zest and juice the lemon. In a medium bowl, whisk together 1 teaspoon lemon zest, eggs, crème fraiche, snipped dill, ½ teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoons pepper and nutmeg. Stir in chopped spinach mixture and feta. Spread over the surface of the pastry. Bake about 30 minutes or until pastry is puffed and nicely browned on the bottom and filling is set. Slide onto a wire rack; cool.

Just before serving, toss remaining spinach, mint leaves and dill sprigs with 1 tablespoon lemon juice and remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Top with Sautéed Lemons. Serve with tossed spinach and additional feta, if desired.

Sautéed Lemons: Thinly slice one small lemon. Season with salt and pepper. In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Cook slices 3 to 5 minutes or until browned, turning once. Remove. Let cool.

(Recipe from Better Homes & Gardens, bhg.com)

Randall welcomes your food questions and research suggestions. She can be reached by calling 503-636-1281 ext. 100 or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Follow her on Twitter @barbrandallfood.

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