DUNDEE, Ore. -- On a Tuesday morning, one hour before the tasting room opens, Domaine Serene’s parking lot is nearly full.
The Clubhouse, the winery's soon-to-open event space, sits at the end of Hilltop Lane in the Dundee Hills, stately and almost Tuscan. Yellow stucco and clay shingles make the Oregon cold seem like a façade, but in true local fashion, oaks line the side of the parking lot. Oak trees often offer shade to Willamette Valley vines, to help the grapes ripen into quintessential Oregon cool-climate pinot. These oaks have little vineyard utility, but Domaine Serene doesn't mind; whatever the vineyard is doing, it's doing it right.
Domaine Serene is the luxury estate behind some of Oregon’s top-scoring wines, including Wine Spectator’s best white wine of 2016 and best pinot noir of 2013. The label’s current bottles boast 91+ ratings from Wine Enthusiast, Wine Spectator and critic James Suckling. Domaine Serene often makes Editor’s Pick lists and Top 10s, with several kind words from legendary critic Robert Parker and accolades from Wine & Spirits magazine. Even celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse calls himself a Domaine Serene wine club member.
Lagasse will arrive Friday, May 19, for the invite-only gala celebrating The Clubhouse at Domaine Serene, the winery’s new luxury tasting room, club member lounge, wine cave and kitchen. The next day, the estate will host wine club members, and the building opens to the public on Sunday, May 21. Until then, the estate whirs in preparation. Construction equipment still litters the edges of the parking lot. A small compactor rolls back and forth in front of the clubhouse’s glass doors.Tucked away from the commotion down a flight of stairs, the gravity-flow winery building is quiet. The winery's tasting space soon will retire. Outside, an iron mammoth sculpture guards the grapes, where Carmine Campione, a hospitality associate and tasting guide, greets guests with glasses of rosé. Inside, he'll pour the Evenstad Reserve wines, the Wine Spectator darlings, named for the founders.
The birth of a world-class winery
In 1989, pharmaceutical entrepreneurs Ken and Grace Evenstad bought a logged Dundee Hills property, with interest in growing Burgundy-style wines in the region. Campione says the couple had tried Oregon pinot on a trip to Alaska, fell in love and decided to plant pinot noir and chardonnay in the Willamette Valley. The two focused on French clones, like most winemakers in the area, and left most of the business to experts. They named the winery for their daughter, Serene, and released the first Domaine Serene wine in 1990. Robert Parker gave the bottle 90 points.
Since then, the two have purchased 730 acres in the Willamette Valley, as well as Burgundy estate Château de la Crée. In the tasting room, Campione pours wines from both labels, comparing 2014 pinot from both estates in comparative tastings. Now, the Evenstads winter in Florida, visiting Oregon in the summers for wine tasting and special events.
The Clubhouse is half New England vacation home, half French manor, with gold embroidered chairs and hand-engraved fireplaces. It spans 34,000 square feet, with three stories, private event spaces and multiple members-only lounges.
A grand hall is overshadowed by windows beholding acres of vineyard grapes and an inviting patio. To the left, a dining area is still in progress; once completed, chef Jason Kupper will host food-pairing events and wine dinners, starting later this summer.
"For now, we'll have whole cheese and charcuterie," says marketing and brand manager Matthew Thompson. "The menu will always be driven by the wines that are on the flight."
Kupper is far from new to wine-country cuisine. The chef has worked with Thomas Keller's famous restaurant group and served as the chef de cuisine of The Thomas in Napa. For now, he's a one-man team, but he plans to launch a wine-centric, European-inspired culinary program soon.
"Oregon-French is kind of my style," Kupper says, pausing his culinary prep for an upcoming meeting. He's left open jars of dijon in an expansive, impeccably clean kitchen. "I want to use the bounty of Oregon, but with the Château de la Crée connection, I love to add those European twists."
Kupper is developing the menu and is excited to plan events: everything from pig roasts to cave dinners. He's looking to recruit a team of chefs, but he's taking his time.
"We're not in a rush," he says. "Contrary to restaurants, where you're under the gun to open, we're taking lots of care and attention to do it right."
Domaine Serene will host its grand opening event from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, May 21, and will host a Memorial Day Weekend open house 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, May 27-28. The Clubhouse and winery are at 6555 NE Hilltop Lane in Dayton. For more information, call 503-864-4600.
© 2017 KGW-TV