Domaine Serene Winery Review
Address: 6555 NE Hilltop Lane Dayton,Oregon 97114.
Phone Number: 503-864-4600
Tasting Hours: 11:00-4:00
Region: Willamette Valley AVA, Dundee Hills AVA, Oregon
Reviewer: Rob Boss
Review Date: 7/2/2014
Reviewer: Rob Boss
(Photos by Jai Soots)
What wine would you produce if you could build a dream facility? What wine would you drink if cost were no object? Do awards, accolades, and magazine rankings make the winery? These are questions Domaine Serene attempts to answer, and with some success.
Sprawling and spectacular, on 140 manicured, over-the-top acres, the winery oozes opulence. There’s some go to the show: within the replica “Italian Villa,” Ken and Grace Evenstad have arguably the most technically sophisticated gravity flow winery in the world. The prices are steep. The Classic Flight of four wines is $20, while the Estate Flight at $40 offers two more tastes (plus an interesting “Sensory Evaluation Plate” of dried blueberries, chocolate and cheese), of wines ranging from $35-90.
The smartly dressed tasting room staff was the essence of professionalism. Expensive as the tasting fee might have been, even though it was the end of the day, the tasting room was busy and people were lined up at the bar. In that crush of visitors, one of the ladies abruptly excused herself from a customer in order to move quickly across the room to pour for another, overly vocal one. That fire extinguished, she re-approached the first customer and gave them extra time, smoothing things over. Everyone in customer service juggles attention back and forth, but the best ones are in tune with their audience, and they let them know that no matter how busy it gets, they’re important. It was an absolutely correct, proper, and graceful recovery, which the customer clearly appreciated.
The same associate came to me later and said, “I notice that you’re taking tasting notes, so what would you like me to tell you about?” She answered every question I had, without wasting my time telling me everything she knew. (“How much whole cluster?” The answer was none.) I didn’t need to hear about the soil, elevation or face of the slope because I already knew about it. In the time I was there, I never heard, “I don’t know.” They’re good.
My tasting began with the Bandol-inspired “r” Rose ($35). The nose offered decadent cherry and rose notes, followed by raspberries, pink grapefruits and really luscious strawberries on the palette. It’s gorgeous.
We moved to Chardonnays next, and the tasting room attendant switched to a fresh glassa nice touchfor the 2011 Etoile Chardonnay (a single vineyard wine of 100 cases, for $75). There was a buttery nose with crème broulee and vanilla notes, followed by a mouthful of well-defined ripe, white peaches and nectarines, and plenty of food friendly acid. Next, the 2012 Evenstad Reserve showed a softer, less focused presentation of peaches, nectarines and green apples ($55).
We changed glassware again for the reds. Up first was the 2011 Yamhill CuveeYamhill as in Yamhill County, not Yamhill-Carlton AVAtheir entry level Pinot Noir ($45) with an engaging, briary nose. The bright acid and tart red fruit make for a good fooder, but it’s still soft enough for a cocktail wine.
Things ramped right up when she poured the 2011 Evenstad Reserve ($65). The nose was a mouthwatering combination of dill, briars and cherry pie. It’s an elegant, refined wine, full of cherry, raspberry pie fruit flavors. Wrapping it up was the 2011 Two Barns Vineyard. Nutty flavors were followed by cherries, blackberries and raspberries ($90).
Except that I got a bonusand what a bonus! The 2003 Monogram is Ken Evenstad’s personal project. It’s powerful and intense, and dark. Really, really dark, with cassis, currant and cocoa notes. This is the select of the select, the reserve of the reserve, “from only the finest barrels each vintage.” ($275) It’s a fascinating wine that will set the twilight reeling for Pinot Noir aficionados who seek elegance, finesse, and delicacy. It offers all these, but it has force. It’s a fascinating wine.
Awards are prominently displayed, and current accolades noted on the menu after the tasting notes, in case you need confirmation that the wine is good. Serene (along with Broadley and Evening Land) was awarded Wine Spectator’s highest score for an Oregon wine (97; definitely something to brag about). The staff is one of the best in the industry, with the unique confidence that comes from the press having your backnothing like it, really. But you can’t buy class, and every person on this staff owned it.
And yet and yet. While the staff blew me away, the wine did not. There. I’ve said it. If you’re a fan of Serene’s wine, good on you. Their quality is unimpeachable, but the value is not, and it’s possible to visit three wineries for as much as you’d spend at Domaine Serene. But you won’t find a full on, high end, top drawer experience like this anywhere else in the Willamette Valley. They’ve definitely raised the bar in that department, and it’s a sight to behold.