Diane’s note: A few ago, when I was visiting family in Oregon’s famous Willamette Valley, I decided to make a day of it with three “VIP wine tastings” … and took my brother, Rob, along to all of them. This review covers our day’s last stop, Archer Vineyard.
The Willamette (pronounced Will-AH-met) Valley is just 45 minutes southwest of Portland. The area is famously known as the “sister climate” to Burgundy, France, with plenty of winter rain, sunny summers and cool, crisp autumns. The Valley has gained countless accolades, awards and fame these last few years as one of the world’s best producers of Pinot Noir. Today, more than 500 wineries dot its hills and valleys. 500!
Each year, my brother and I try two or three wineries, and it’s never been anything but a fantastic experience. This time around, though, I wanted to try the real gems – perhaps well known, perhaps not as well known – and asked my brother to do some serious research in advance. As I expected, Rob came up with three incredible finds – Archery Summit, Duke’s Family Vineyards and Archer Vineyard.
Each of these vineyards opened their doors for us in a very V.I.P. way (Duke’s doesn’t even offer tastings except around high-traffic holidays), so be sure to visit their websites and call in advance should you decide to follow in our footsteps.
Here’s what I discovered.
Archer Vineyard sits between the towns of Newberg and Sherwood, just off Highway 99 West. When we arrived construction crews were completing passage between the tasting room and the “barrel hall” as Owners Saj and Pauline Jivanjee are rapidly expanding to accommodate wine lovers’ demands.
Kenyan-born Saj met his wife, Pauline, while finishing advanced degrees in architecture in England. He initially set up shop there, but the couple and their growing family was eventually invited to Kansas by her sister. A visit became a full-time residency, but the family didn’t move to Portland until 1990, when Pauline accepted a teaching job at the university. Saj re-opened his architecture firm and worked another 23 years without a thought of owning a vineyard. It was his son who discovered the charming estate outside of Portland and, in short order, the couple turned their wine appreciation into a wine business in 2005.
Originally planted by Don and Grace Archer in 1990, this particular 6.5-acre estate is devoted to Pinot Noir (Pommard, Wadenswil and Dijon) and Pinot Gris. Thanks to Saj’s upgrades and expansion, the winery is now producing 4,000 cases of each vintage, but the facility is capable of producing 20,000.
“Now that we’ve completed the ‘barrel hall,’ I feel like a kid in a candy store,” says Saj with a happy grin. “What we’ve installed here allows us to maintain the in-depth kind of quality control that produces a really memorable boutique wine.”
Archer is a truly charming, cozy sort of vineyard. General Manager Daniel Johnson and the owners, themselves, are just as charming, friendly and inviting as their vineyard. Their tasting room rambles its way to a larger great room with low-slung couches and tables. Its large windows look out over the Archer vineyard and another long porch that allows for sitting and sipping. “This is the kind of place where people can stop in after work, perhaps meet a friend, and enjoy a great glass of wine with the sunset,” says GM Daniel.
This treasure find is producing gloriously full-bodied and friendly wines as well. These are the kind of complex wines whose grapes are carefully harvested and sorted by hand; it’s a taste you notice in the tasting room, long before you see the love in action in the actual wine-making process.
Archer Vineyard Wines
The first Archer vintages, both Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir, were produced in 2011 by winemaker David Rizo. Rizo, who owns his own vineyard and consults on a number of others, solidified the Archer name and foundation, and then handed the baton to winemaker Jim Sanders, who came on board in 2014.
Rizo’s 2011 Chehalem Mountain Pinot Gris “Hopewell” is light with hints of a tropical fruit palette. It’s a great beginning to an evolution in Archer’s Pinot Gris, which happily fulfills its promise in the 2013 Estate entry.
The first three Pinot Noirs in 2011 offer three distinct tastes – one bright cherry, another a rich mix of heady baking spices, and still another proffering dried fruits and chocolate-y mocha. The next year’s Willamette Valley Pinot Noir combined the Archer grapes with Rizo’s vineyard grapes and the marriage is a beautiful success with a front of black cherry and a finish in warm cocoa.
The 2012 Archer Estate Pinot Noir, though, takes the crown with a warmth and richness that surprises – this is, after all, just the second year of production.
“The wine is telling us what to do,” says Saj. “Our job is to listen.”
Archer Vineyards‘ tasting room is open weekends, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m., March through November, and by appointment otherwise.
32230 NE Old Parrett Mtn Rd, Newberg, OR. 97132. Call (503) 702-0537.