Emerson Vineyards Review
Address: 11665 Airlie Rd. Monmouth,Oregon 97361.
Phone Number: 503-838-0944
Tasting Hours: 12:00-5:00 and by appt.
Region: Willamette Valley AVA, Oregon
Reviewer: Becky Parr
Review Date: 7/2/2014
Reviewer: Becky Parr
Family businesses are often passed down from generation to generation. However, in the case of Emerson Vineyards, we find the father embracing the dreams of the son, and both paying homage to their parentage as they pursue the passion of making great wine and sharing it with others. After visiting Emerson Vineyards and tasting their wines, I felt that I’d gotten a little glimpse into the life and love of the family behind it.
The Place:  Emerson Vineyards doesn’t take itself too seriously. The tasting room is housed in a large warehouse-type facility that displays everything from contest medals and certificates to wine barrels, ladders, and a fork lift. They allow the scenery outside, and the taste of the wine, to show the beauty of this winery.
The People:  Part of the fun of visiting Emerson Vineyards is the Tom Johns show. When we first came in, I had no idea who Tom was in relation to the winery I just knew that he was the really knowledgeable guy with a snarky sense of humor behind the tasting counter. During the course of the conversation, we learned that Tom’s son Elliott is the winemaker at Emerson Vineyards. Tom referred to himself as “the money,” but it’s clear he’s much more than that. It might be Elliott’s dream, but Dad has some blood and tears and soul in this too. Tom is great at explaining the wines, telling stories, and engaging customers, and it’s quite clear he loves every minute of it.
Although we didn’t get to meet Elliott, it’s quite clear that Emerson Vineyards is a family business. The name of the winery comes from the name of Tom’s grandfather, Emerson Waldo Fisher (his brother’s name was Revere Paul, in the official family of backward names!), and the premium Pinot Noir is named Avelina after Tom’s mother-in-law and Elliott’s grandmother. It’s clear that those personalities have infused themselves into the life-blood of the winery along with Tom’s and Elliott’s.
The Wines:  Tom poured us four white wines and three red wines generous pours, complete with commentary! The first was a white Pinot Noir, which made my eyebrows go up, since I’d never heard of such a thing before. It’s a white wine made from Pinot Noir grapes; it’s a rosy pink in color, which made me suspicious initially, but this is NOT a sweet wine. It’s delightful. It’s really smooth, and as I wrote in my notes, it would make just about anyone happy. It’s a great summer wine. Next came the 2013 Pinot Gris, and this was my introduction to Pacific Northwest Pinot Gris, as opposed to the Pinot Grigio I’m accustomed to tasting. Generally I don’t like Pinot Grigio, but that’s because it leans toward the green apple taste, which is not one of my favorites; this Pinot Gris has some green apple on the nose, but it’s more citrus on the palate, with less acidity than the Pinot Grigio I’m used to. I began to think that I might be rethinking my relationship with this particular grape!
Next was the Viognier; being from Texas, I’m accustomed to this varietal. This one was a little sweeter, with a floral nose and flavors of tropical fruit. Not my favorite of the lot, but I didn’t dislike it. Truly, I think everything’s good here!
My favorite story of my entire trip visiting Oregon wineries comes from when Tom came to pour the 2011 Chardonnay. My husband generally doesn’t like Chardonnay; he finds it oaky and just generally unpleasant. So he told Tom he usually didn’t care for Chardonnay and said he should just pour him a tiny bit. Tom grinned, gave him a big ol’ pour, and said, “eh, drink it!” I giggled my head off and Tom knew best! This does NOT taste like an all-too-familiar, over-oaked Chardonnay, and my husband loved it. We both kept sipping it (good thing it was a big pour) to try to figure out what it tasted like. There was a hint of oak, but not much, and a kind of creamy quality to the wine, with butter on the finish rather than throughout.
Time for the Pinot Noir! Emerson Vineyards has two Pinot Noirs; the first was good, but I found it a bit tannic. The real star is the 2011 Avelina, which I think became the favorite of everyone in the tasting room. It tastes of dark fruit and is very smooth.
Last was the Brother Red, a blend that contains Pinot Noir and several other varietals. I won’t spoil Tom’s favorite game of asking people if they can taste it and name the other grapes used. But don’t bet him money, because you won’t get the answer right.
The Experience:  This was a great visit. The wines are all remarkably different from each other, and they’re all great. Tom is a highly entertaining host and he even called ahead to the next winery down the road to tell the proprietor that we were coming. This isn’t a fancy, pretentious winery, but they know what’s important in terms of great-tasting wine and a memorable customer experience.