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Helicopter pilot does driving for tastings in Willamette Valley



TRIBUNE PHOTO: JENNIFER ANDERSON - Catch a ride on a helicopter wine tour and leave the driving, er, flying to somebody else.There’s not much that can make Oregon wine tasting this spring any more blissful.

Except, perhaps, a stunning view of wine country from 1,000 feet up.

And being able to get from one winery to the next in 5 to 7 minutes, rather than 20 to 30.

Enter the helicopter wine tour, a popular concept in other wine regions of the United States that’s now gaining steam in Oregon, as tour operators look for ways to create authentic, intimate experiences for wine country novices and experts alike.

“We call it a seven-mountain day,” our Precision Helicopter Tours pilot Tyler Sturdevant, explained at liftoff one recent picture-perfect morning with this reporter and other passengers along for the ride.

The turbine-operated A-star helicopter, which Precision likes to call the BMW of helicopters, took off from a small field next to Red Hills Market in Dundee, 50 minutes outside of Portland, where the tours start and end.

“You can see the southern mountains to the Cascades: Rainier, St. Helens, Adams, Hood, and on the side over there, Jefferson and Three Sisters,” Sturdevant narrated through the headsets we wore.

Once we realized there would be no turbulence at all — more like a graceful magic carpet ride — we relaxed and drank up the view: lush valleys and creeks, slopes and ridges, orchards and evergreens and peaks in the distance.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JENNIFER ANDERSON - The new Tour DeVine by Heli provides a panoramic view of the North Willamette Valley.Along with me on the Tour DeVine by Heli tour were Marcus Mason, tasting room manager at Stoller Family Estate, and two oenophiles and producers from Best Bottle, an Oregon company that’s currently working on filming a reality TV series between winemakers in the Willamette Valley and Sonoma, Calif.

Tour coordinator Matt Alvitre launched the helicopter tour last fall after noticing that similar tours in the area were too expensive to be accessible to most.

He partnered with Newberg-based Precision Helicopter Tours and established relationships with a dozen wineries in six local winegrowing regions (known as American Viticultural Areas, or AVAs).

Alvitre found a way to bring the price down to $399 per person for a 4-hour tour, which includes 90-minute stops at two different wineries as well as morning champagne and snacks and a boxed picnic lunch by Red Hills Market.

Tours can be customized if guests have a preference; current winery partners include: Alexana Winery in Newberg; Domaine Roy et Fils in Dundee; Stoller Vineyards in Dayton; Domaine Serene in Dayton; Fairsing Vineyard in Yamhill; Penner-Ash Wine Cellars in Newberg; Soléna Estate in Yamhill; WillaKenzie Estate in Yamhill; Colene Clemens Vineyards in Newberg; Trisaetum Winery in Newberg; Hawks View Cellars in Sherwood; and Ponzi Winery in Sherwood.

COURTESY: LIZ PENNER-ASH - The tour begins at Red Hills Market and includes multiple winery stops, including at Penner-Ash, co-owned by Liz Penner-Ash .On this day, our tour first touched down at Penner-Ash, where co-owner Lynn Penner-Ash came out to greet us herself before handing us over to her general manager, Patrick Connelly.

With glasses of Willamette Valley riesling in hand, Connelly gave us a behind-the-scenes tour of the fermentation process, the giant French oak barrels, the shiny tanks and area where wine club members convene for tastings.

“It’s like a ballet,” Connelly said of the winemaking process at peak season. “This year we were actually bottling the same day the grapes came in.”

He and others spoke about the spirit of the Oregon wine community, where winemakers freely share details about their process that others — particularly from a winemaking state to the south — would keep under lock and key.

Penner-Ash joined us again in the tasting room, where she talked about the popularity of the 2014 Viognier in China.

Apparently, it was paired with lobster last summer at a White House dinner for the Chinese president, who loved it.

Ever since, “Michelle Obama loves it,” Penner-Ash says. “She stocks it at Camp David for her girlfriends.”

After a leisurely flight of tastings at Penner-Ash we stretched our legs, soaked up another 360-degree view just beyond the tasting room, then hopped onboard the A-star when it came to whisk us away to our next stop.

Fairsing Vineyards, a sustainable vineyard established by Mary Ann and Mike McNally in 2005, was just under seven minutes away. The 40 acres of sustainable vineyards were immediately visible by their signature Gaelic spirit circle adjacent to the tasting room.

“We purposely made the (tasting) room small,” Mary Ann McNally told us as she handed us the first in our flight, a crisp chardonnay.

Mike was part of another Tour DeVine by Heli tasting tour that day.

We took our tasting outside to a covered picnic table overlooking the valley, enjoyed a flight alongside sandwiches by Red Hills Market chef Jody Kropf as well as a few other treats, including a pinot noir lollipop by Portland’s Quin candy and Union Wine Co.

Pinot noir and chardonnay are the star here, produced for Fairsing in McMinnville by renowned winemaker Robert Brittan.

The McNallys partnered with Brittan in 2012 to make their wines from Willamette Valley grapes.

Alvitre says he’s proud to offer the new tour as a new type of experience for special occasions for wine enthusiasts that’s more refined than a party bus.

“As you can imagine, when people hop from one winery to another via car or luxury vehicle, by the end of the day some people may have had way too much to drink,” he says.

With his helicopter tours, “the consumer will be busy receiving extra special attention,” because the winery’s top goal is to be memorable — and, of course, selling a few bottles on the way out doesn’t hurt.

Check it out

To book a helicopter wine tour, visit www.TourDeVinebyHeli.com, call 503-537-0108 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

To make it a weekend, visit:

• The Allison Inn & Spa

• Chehalem Ridge

• Youngberg Hill

• Le Puy

• Brookside Inn

• Wine Country Farm B&B

Quench your thirst:

For a cold beverage before or after wine tasting, gourmet sandwiches, wood-fired pizzas, craft beer and wine, visit

Red Hills Market, 155 S.W. 7th St., Dundee

@jenmomanderson

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