Winter 2015

Wineries with fireplaces take the chill out of winter tasting

Sweet Cheeks Winery

The name “Sweet Cheeks” means exactly what it sounds like it means. When Dan Smith purchased the property with its two rounded hills his father-in-law said, “You know that looks like”

This sense of fun spills into the tasting room where the atmosphere is more like a neighborhood bar.

Beginning at the entry, the arched oak door with Bacchus inspired carvings is a clue to the attention to detail that can be expected. One side of the room is dominated with a massive tasting bar and deli case full of local treats like candies from Holm Made Toffee Co.

In the corner is a cozy wood-burning stove. Multiple tables are arranged inside and out, inviting guests to bring friends and socialize.

On the covered patio is a smaller bar, yet another wood burning stove, and a “fire table” to chase the chill. The walls are glass garage doors and plastic sheeting that can both roll up depending on the weather.

One patron described the setting, “Sitting around the fire on the patio when it’s cold and rainy was so cozy. I loved sipping wine while listening to the rain and watching the fog rolling into the vines.”

Taking full advantage of this ideal setting for year round sipping, Sweet Cheeks, plans two parties every weekend. Guests are invited to pack picnics and enjoy local musicians on the patio for Mimosa Sundays and Friday’s Twilight Tastings. The basic wine tasting is always complimentary and purchases are available by the bottle or glass. Expect estate Pinot Noir, Riesling, and Pinot Gris, Because Sweet Cheeks aims to please, some fruit is purchased, allowing for surprises like Tempranillo.

Those wanting to have a true getaway can arrange lodging at either the Farmhouse or Loft, which are both steps away from the tasting room. In addition to the weekly events, a special Feast in the Cellar winemaker’s dinner is scheduled for Feb. 6. Visit sweetcheekswinery.com for more information.

Pfeiffer Vineyards

Special events and year-round tasting are held at Pfeiffer Vineyards’ aptly named Fireplace Pavilion.

A wood-burning fireplace with floor to ceiling stone surround transforms this converted barn into a wintry retreat. Overhead are twinkly fairy lights and all around are views of the vineyard and a four-tiered water garden. The fireplace is lit on chilly weekends for cozy tastings and of course gooey toasted marshmallows. In addition to estate wines, a port-style tasting is available in fancy little glasses that look like genie lamps and fit in the palm - a perfect fireside indulgence.

Guests leave the cool light of winter to enter the adjacent tasting room. Dimmed lights, the flicker of electric candles and a gold and burgundy Tuscan theme lend an Old World cave-like atmosphere. Ambient music plays. It is The Girl from Ipanema.

On one side of the room, a solid wood door, four inches thick, leads to the grotto. In this darkened room, Robin Pfeiffer leads the Pinot Clinic, a vertical tasting. Candlelight reflects the blush of Pinot noir on everyone’s faces as Robin Pfeiffer highlights the wines’ richness and textures in this unusual sensory context.

This elegant setting, with no detail overlooked, is the handiwork of Robin Pfeiffer and his wife Danuta Pfeiffer. They are a self-proclaimed “dynamic couple, unafraid of hard work and calculated risks.” The claim is supported.

Robin Pfeiffer grew up on this land farming chickens and sheep. Life wasn’t easy. The small family home burned soon after they moved in and the family had to relocate “temporarily” to the quonset they used as a chicken house. They stayed there 25 years.

The tide began to turn when a French buyer called a few times inquiring to buy the family land. Robin Pfeiffer, a curious twenty-something, wondered, “What do they know that we don’t?”

Upon discovering the interest was in growing Pinot noir, he hired a vineyard specialist to evaluate the soil and site. On a scale from 1-10 the rating was a 15. The family began planting in the late 1970s and were among the first grape growers in Lane County. Robin Pfeiffer’s Dad, Harold Pfeiffer, was not too keen on the idea of this risky grape business. For the first five years, Harold Pfeiffer looked over his shoulder reportedly making “hmmpph” sounds at the “far-fetched idea.” The first check for fruit sales was ten times their normal earnings for livestock. It was the biggest check Harold Pfeiffer had seen.

For 15 years, the family only sold fruit. Danuta Pfeiffer helped realize the dream of the winery and tasting experiences available today. The Pfeiffers now keep 10 percent estate fruit for their own special label. The wines are available at the tables of dignitaries and presidents and in the creative tasting spaces at Pfeiffer Vineyards. In addition to premium Pinot Noir, the Pfeiffers offer unusual and enticing labels such as Tango Red, a blend of Merlot and Marechal Foche, and Anna Skye, a blend of Muscat and Gewurztraminer.

Upcoming events include Sip and Create painting parties, a Sweetheart Dinner in the Fireplace Pavilion, and Valentines in the Villa - a special dinner in the Pfeiffers home. Visit pfeiffervineyards.com for more information.

This story was originally published December 14, 2015 3:38 PM.

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