We first visited High Pass Winery in the late spring of 2009. Their wines impressed us, particularly the whites and the 2008 Rosé of Pinot Noir (one of the two best we’ve ever had) and we left with a mixed case, including four bottles of the Rosé. I should have bought more, because it was all sold by the time I returned in August.
High Pass is the creation of Dieter Boehm, who escaped from East Germany in the early 1980s and found his way to Oregon. He started his vineyard in 1985 and spent ten years selling grapes to other area wineries before his own winery became operational in 1995.
In addition to the typical varieties found in most Oregon vineyards, Boehm has planted a couple of unusual German grapes, Huxelrebe and Scheurebe. Both were created by German viticulturalist Georg Scheu in the early 20th century. Huxelrebe is a crossing of Chasselas and Muscat, while Scheurebe is a crossing of Riesling and a now unknown wild grape.
Our most recent visit was on May 22, 2010. Eight wines were available for tasting, poured by a friendly, personable hostess named Carolyn. We were keen to try the 2009 Rosé of Pinot Noir ($10), so she poured this one first. It had aromas of melon and strawberry and good acid balance, but was not quite as fruity as the previous year’s vintage. Despite this, it’s the best 2009 Oregon/Washington Rosé I’ve sampled to date, the others being the Territorial, Syncline and Evesham Wood, and sweetens the deal by costing less than any of these ($13, $15.95 and $13.50 respectively).
Next was the 2008 Riesling ($12). A crisp, balanced wine, it has a typical Riesling nose of flowers, honey and a hint of diesel fuel. This last shows up in a lot of Rieslings (the 2008 Territorial has it as well), and is not considered a flaw by many Riesling fans (from the Wikipedia article on Riesling: “While an integral part of the aroma profile of mature Riesling and sought after by many experienced drinkers, it may be off-putting to those unaccustomed to it…”). I will admit that it’s something to which I’ve never been able to embrace, but that’s just me.
The 2008 Pinot Gris ($13) features peach and apple aromas and a tangy presence on the palate. The 2008 Scheurebe ($14) has a Riesling like nose, adding a bit of melon and subtracting the diesel fuel, and is likewise a crisp, refreshing wine.
We next sampled a trio of Pinot Noir bottlings. The 2006 Zauberberg Vineyard ($30; Boehm’s own vineyard) is a big wine with a black cherry nose, medium-full body, good acid balance and peppery tannins on the finish. The 2005 Walnut Ridge ($19) had a nose of red cherry and red licorice and a polished mouth feel. The 2003 Walnut Ridge ($15) was similar, with a somewhat more intense nose and richer body. Both are good choices for current drinking and are outstanding values.
Last but not least was the 2003 Late Harvest Scheurebe ($20 for a 375ml bottle). Made in the style of a German beerenauslese, this sweet, rich dessert wine is redolent with aromas and flavors of honey, currant and grapefruit (no longer available is the equally interesting 2003 Late Harvest Huxelrebe).
Not available last weekend was the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, a new varietal for High Pass. This will be introduced Memorial Day weekend, and we’re hoping to find time to go down and try it.
The winery’s web site offers directions for reaching it, but coming from Corvallis I think it's better to choose Territorial Highway (rather than 99W) at the fork in Monroe. Continue south for several miles, then right (West) on High Pass Road. After several miles take note of Lavell Road forking to the right, but stay on High Pass. After another mile Lavell rejoins High Pass and immediately off that junction (like, a dozen yards), on Lavell, is the entrance to the winery (the Google map at the winery web site places the winery several hundred yards up Lavell, which is incorrect).