Road Trip: Eastern Oregon

By John ~ June 27th, 2008.

As we continued our cross-country road trip, we stopped in Milton-Freewater, Oregon, at a couple of eastern Oregon wineries. What a contrast it was between the western Oregon wineries we have visited in the past and these two eastern Oregon wineries. We didn’t have to pay any tasting fees, the attitude of the winery tasting room personnel was friendly and very hospitable, and neither winery produces any Pinot Noir. In a nutshell, it was a great day in wine country, despite the dreary, rainy weather.

Our first stop was at Watermill Winery. Our bubbly hostess, Kelli, is a member of the Earl Brown extended family, owners and operators of the winery as well as a huge apple orchard operation. They have been growing grapes for others for a number of years, but 2005 was their first vintage for their own winery. They are currently producing about 3,500 cases per year and growing. Of the seven wines we tasted at Watermill, our two favorites were the 2005 Watermill Reserve Syrah and the 2005 Watermill Syrah.

Our next stop was at Zerba Cellars. The Zerbas were in the nursery business for 20 years, so they understand basic agriculture and the importance of the grape in producing good wine. They produce about 6,000 cases per year. Marilyn Zerba was our gracious hostess as we tasted seven of their wines. Our favorite Zerba wine was their 2006 Zerba Malbec, although it was a bit pricey. Close in quality and better in value in our opinion were the 2005 Zerba Merlot and the 2005 Zerba Syrah (Port style).

The wineries in this area are located very close to the Washington state line and are in the Walla Walla Valley AVA.

Here’s a breakdown of the Eastern Oregon wines that we tasted. Under each Quality heading, the wine name will be listed along with price and QPR rating. Wines in bold type received a QPR rating of 5 bangs for your buck (out of 5).

Quality: 4 stars (out of 5)
2005 Watermill Reserve Syrah, $35, QPR: 4
2005 Watermill Syrah, $28, QPR: 4

Quality: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
2005 Watermill Cabernet Sauvignon, $24, QPR: 5
2005 Zerba Merlot, $28, QPR: 4
2005 Zerba Syrah (Port style), $28, QPR: 4
2006 Watermill Viognier, $14, QPR: 3
2006 Zerba Malbec, $38, QPR: 1

Quality: 3 stars (out of 5)
2005 Zerba Cabernet Sauvignon, $30, QPR: 4
2005 Watermill Estate Midnight Red (Bordeaux blend), $30, QPR: 2
2006 Watermill Sauvignon Blanc, $16, QPR: 2
2005 Zerba Syrah, $28, QPR: 2
2006 Zerba Estate Rose (Sangiovese), $18, QPR: 2

Quality: 2.5 stars (out of 5)
2005 Watermill Chances R (Merlot/Cab), $18, QPR: NR
2006 Zerba Viognier, $18, QPR: NR

Have you ever visited Eastern Oregon wineries? If so, what was your experience there?

Filed under: American Wine, Cabernet Sauvignon, Dessert Wine, Five-Bangs For Your Buck Wines, Malbec, Merlot, Oregon Wine, Port, Red Wine, Sangiovese, Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz/Syrah, Viognier, White Wine, Wine Travel, Wines NOT To Buy (1 & 2 Star), Wines Over $25, Wines Under $15, Wines Under $20, Wines Under $25

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