July 06, 2012

More From The Dalles, with Jan-Marc

Destination Mt. Hood, in search of mushrooms
As it would happen, I paid another visit to The Dalles in recent weeks. First, it was to meet Scott and Stephanie from The Grande Dalles. This time it was a long overdue visit with fellow PDX Urban Wineries member Jan-Marc Baker of Jan-Marc Cellars (that's John Mark, if you're wondering how to say it).

Jan-Marc and I made wine in the same Portland facility in 2009, and I took an immediate liking to this skier turned chef turned winemaker, who also likes to forage for wild mushrooms. We'd long talked about his mushrooming adventures on the slopes of Mt. Hood, and he was kind enough to invite me along some time.

Jan-Marc and his wife Barbara also have some land in The Dalles, near some vineyards where they source grapes for their Portland-based winery. I thought it might be nice to tie in a little visit to the vines after mushrooming, and a few weeks back we finally managed to make it all happen. What a great day, even if we pretty much struck out on the foraging.

Bear evidence

Having never gone mushrooming myself, I imagined I'd be required to wear a blindfold and/or swear to secrecy about where we went. Neither was true, though I'll maintain professional discretion and say only that we were at some elevation on the eastern flank of Hood, in tall trees with a mostly clean forest floor, naturally clean. This wasn't recently logged or otherwise fussed with land.

JMB's porcini haul two weeks later

Did we find anything? Yes, lots of various, inedible but beautiful fungi, and a few morels of varying maturity and one young porcini sporting claw and/or bite marks from the lucky animal who ate some and left the rest for our amusement. That is, we found enough to show this was appropriate ground to search, but not enough to really do anything with. And not nearly what Jan-Marc found a couple weeks later when he returned and took home several nice porcini. Call it a bit late for the morels and a bit early for the porcini.

We did manage to find some bear shit. One thing I love about Oregon is how quickly you can go from city comfort to not just a nice hiking trail on a Saturday morning but honest wilderness. Bears equaling "wilderness" to me, city boy.

Old barn

Mushrooming attempts done, we made our way down several roads toward The Dalles, in search of tacos (asada, nice) and Mexican coke. Along the way we found an abandoned barn on the edge of a green wheat field, Mt. Hood striking in the distance. And we saw beautiful vineyards like Kortge, McDuffy and Hillside, all sources for Jan-Marc Cellars wine.

Sonoma county? Central Texas? Nope, The Dalles

Then we headed back up Mill Creek Road to Jan Marc's place, past some of the oldest vines in the Northwest, Lonnie Wright's The Pines zinfandel planted back in the late 1800s. This isn't just newfangled wine country, though most vines around here date back to the 1980s at the oldest. We didn't stop and walk through the old vines, but I'm hoping to at some point.

Jan-Marc in his element

Instead we drove up to Jan-Marc and Barbara's little cabin for a quick rest and then hiked around and then up the hill adjacent to their property. The reward? Stunning views from the top of Lonnie's Volcano Ridge Vineyard, a site planted in recent years that's steep and easy to see from the Baker's cabin.

From the top of Volcano Ridge Vineyard

What did I take away from this beautiful day? One, I love mushrooms and I've already gone foraging again. I won't be deterred by not finding much of anything. Yet. Two, The Dalles has some fascinating vineyard sites that are nothing like the nearby Willamette Valley. This is bigger red country, cabernet, zinfandel, tempranillo, perhaps even mourvedre? And three, Jan-Marc is a total bro. Always good hanging out with him, just soaking in a good vibe and an intuitive sense of where to be at all time. The guy always seems to have a smile on his face. I'm easy going, but I still have a lot to learn to that end.

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