Monday, October 10, 2011

Gilstrap Brothers Winery Tour

Saturday, October 8, 2011  

      Back in May I ordered my first Groupon on the internet for Rick's birthday present: a wine tour and tasting for two at the Gilstrap Brothers Winery in Cove, Oregon.  I didn't know at the time that the first tasting of Gilstrap wine Rick partook was horrible.  He swore he'd never drink it again.  Couple years later Rusty encouraged him to try a glass at Crossroads and Rick thought it pretty good.  Of course, I found out all this later.  I just was a winery, it was close, it was a bargain,  and it was a good birthday present!  Wine is wine to me!
    Our Groupon expired in November, so I was starting to feel a little urgency in scheduling our visit - and we did have to schedule with an advance phone call, etc.  An enjoyable chat with one of the two owners, and we were ready to go for Saturday, the 8th of October.  We decided to combine the visit with the opportunity to also check out one of the Casita brand trailers located in La Grande. 
Casita 17' Spirit Deluxe
    So promptly at 10 am, Rick and I arrived at the rural home of Sandy and Rich Willoughby north of LaGrande along the base of Mt. Emily, their two year old Casita parked on a cement pad.  We were given a very thorough tour, which doesn't take long in a 17' trailer!  But we were able to come to some decisions based on the visit and it confirmed a change for us in which design we might be most interested in.  Casitas are well planned and structurally VERY sound in construction.  Every little space is thought out.  
    Into Island City for a quick shop at Wal-Mart and a Subway sandwich (we have to eat something BEFORE we consume wine!) and out on the Cove Highway to the winery for our noon appointment.  We find another couple from Salem area waiting with their Groupons as well!  (No, they didn't make the drive JUST for the tour - they were in the area otherwise!)
Rescue Dog label
    Gilstrap Brothers Winery is only about 8 years in the production of wine, and owner Warren concedes that the product is much better now than those first years!  He gave a little history of the winery and it's beginnings (his father planted the two acres of grapes they grow as a hobby in his retirement).  They purchase most of their grapes from other growners in the Columbia basin.  He gave the history of the Rescue Dog wine label - his brother rescued a dog in Arizona thrown off a truck and abandoned.  A portion of the proceeds of the wine sales go to a dog rescue group in the midwest.  I learned that White Merlot is not a cost effective wine to produce and because it is "unstable" they no longer make it.  :(  So sad!  The white merlot label they had was really cute with little stick figures on it!  While we were given the history, etc, Warren was pouring tastes of the 10 different wines they are currently bottling.  Only two of them were whites/blush, but I did TRY a couple of reds, including the port - that was REALLY strong even if it was on the sweeter side!    No white merlot to try.  
45 Label
    Most of the their wines are labeled with a 45 on them - indicative of the location on the wine fertile latitude of 45 degrees north - same as prime wineries in France, etc.  
    Gilstrap is a small, family run operation.  With a full wine glass in hand, we then took a tour of the wine production process.  We saw the wine barrels filled with water, ready to be emptied and filled with this year's product.  They were currently stored outside.  We saw the giant "puree" machine (ok, foot stomping time!) that separates the pulp from the vines.  The fermentation tanks hold a ton of pulp.  In the garage he showed us the machine that has a huge vinyl bladder and separates the pulp more.  Finally a filter removes any additional sediment.  
Vineyard and valley view
     Inside the main building (they are a little short on space and looking to add on) we entered the room with last year's barrels aging and the bottling machine.  Each bottle is corked with a pneumatic pressure.  With 5 people working, they can bottle and cork a 12 pack of wine in about a minute.  He invited those interested to volunteer on bottling day! Rick might talk to Rusty and go up!  (Free wine for the workers!)
In the bottling room
     The winery is located on the slopes above Cove, overlooking the Grande Ronde valley.  It is a beautiful location.  Two acres of grapes were ripe and ready in the next couple of weeks for harvest.  They are running a little behind schedule at the moment, but everywhere is late this year due to the weather!  
     We bought a couple of bottles (even with the 15% discount through Groupon, still triple what we usually pay for wine at Rite Aid!) and around 2 pm were headed home to Baker City.  We choose to travel home via Catherine Creek and Medical Springs.  It is a gorgeous fall, sunny day! 
View all winery pictures HERE
Catherine Creek Picnic Area

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