Saturday, August 11, 2012

Girardet and the Umpqua Valley

There are over twenty wineries in the Umpqua Valley of Oregon, skirting several towns and sprawling across the country. The area supports a broad range of grapes—all the classic varietals as well as a smattering of interesting hybrids—which is remarkable given that prior to the 1960's, it was thought that Oregon could not grow grapes.

My boyfriend and I spent a few days wine tasting in the Umpqua Valley at the end of July. Our first pick was the Girardet vineyard, southwest of Roseburg. I found the name interesting, suggesting a possible French heritage, and was all the more intrigued when I read that Philippe Girardet was among the first winemakers in the area.

Philippe and Bonnie Girardet
At some point during the tasting, we were honored by the presence of the Philippe. Talking with him, we felt that we were in the presence of a master, though his demeanor was warm and personable. We were charmed by his Swiss-French accent and the playful sparkle in his eyes, framed by his straw fedora.

Philippe started his Umpqua winery in 1971. Evidently, he left his home on the French side of Switzerland, seeking a more flexible area to experiment and innovate with wine. Certainly he left his mark on the valley, introducing the Baco Noir hybrid to the area—something strict European guidelines would not allow.

Philippe explained to us that as a winemaker, one cannot force the wine to be a certain way; one must work with nature to make the most of what that grape wants to do. He said, “This is like your relationship with your wife.” Of the wines the Girardets produce, Philippe's favorite is, in the fact, the Baco Noir. Upon tasting it, we too were seduced by its magical and unique balance of complexity and smoothness.

The entire experience at the Girardet tasting room—wine and winemaker—was enchanting. As we left contentedly, we admired the wisdom of a philosophy Philippe shared with us: “A day without laughter is a day wasted.”

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