The smallest AVA in Oregon is Ribbon Ridge. The AVA. consists of about 5.25 miles with approximately 500 acres of vineyards located on the northeast side of the Chehalem Mountains. It is contained within the Chehalem Mountains AVA. and consists of 34 vineyards and ten wineries. Ribbon Ridge earned its designation in 2005. The most commonly planted varieties are Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir. One winery plays a vital role in elevating the merits of Ribbon Ridge within the Willamette Valley. That winery is Utopia Vineyards.
Dan Warnshuis’ Dreams
Dan Warnshuis had a successful career in the technology sector in Silicon Valley. During that time, he lived in Napa Valley, where he discovered his love of wine. During a business trip to the Willamette Valley, he found the beauty of the area and Pinot Noir. His visit sparked something inside, encouraging him to pursue a dream that had not existed before. In 1998 Dan started his search for property in the Willamette Valley. He discovered a horse farm that ultimately became Utopia Winery in 2000. In 2006 Dan produced his first commercial vintage. By 2007 Dan and his family moved to the property off of Ribbon Ridge Road.
A Family Affair
Utopia would not be complete if it were not a family affair. Dan as owner and winemaker keeps very busy, but without his wife, Kathy, Dan’s dream would not have occurred. Dan and Kathy’s eldest daughter, Erin, has also joined the family business. After a stint in the corporate world, she realized she was destined to follow into the family business. She now manages marketing, the tasting room, and the wine club. Keeping it in the family, Andrew Roberts, who is married to Dan, and Kathy’s other daughter is Director of Sales.
Life at Utopia would not be a family without the social ambassadors’ Duke and Duchess, two English Springer Spaniels, who help make you right at home.
Utopia The Name
Utopia is defined by “The Perfect Place. And no place.” For Dan, it is the perfect place to grow grapes. It is a dream come true. That dream encompasses Dan’s philosophy. “You live on your vineyard and work on it. You do things right by farming organically and not using chemical inputs. Finally, you preserve the land for those who come after you.”
For Dan, this means taking a minimalist approach through sustainable winemaking. Utopia is LIVE certified, and the Ribbon Ridge vineyard is dry-farmed.
Utopia Ribbon Ridge Vineyard
The vineyard sits on 18.9 acres at an elevation of 500 feet. Utopia’s southeast-facing slopes are surrounded by the Chehalem Mountains. The microclimate is ideal for growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Like most of the Ribbon Ridge AVA, the soils are marine sedimentary and rich in minerals and fossils, sandy and volcanic.
Dan planted the vineyards in three stages starting in 2002, 2005, and 2010. Twelve clones of Pinot Noir include Dijon 115, 667, and 777, Pommard, Wadensville, and Swan. In Chardonnay, there are three low-yielding Dijon clones.
In 2018 Dan purchased another 36.5 acres in another section of the Ribbon Ridge AVA. The existing building on the property will become his winery. He will plant 15 more acres with Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Gamay, and Pinot Meunièr. Dan plans to make Gamay, Gamay Beaujolais, Gamay Pinot blend, and a still and sparkling version of Pinot Meunièr in addition to the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
The Ribbon Ridge Cabin
One can enjoy their stay at Utopia with a stay in the Vineyard Log Cabin. Situated on the property Dan purchased in 2018, the cabin is a delight to stay in because it has all the modern conveniences, including a fully equipped kitchen.
Currently, Dan produces a Rosé of Pinot Noir, Pinot Noir Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and a Late Harvest Riesling.
Pinot Noir Blanc 2018: With only one barrel produced, it was a treat to taste this wine. The Pinot Noir for this wine comes from the west side of Utopia’s vineyards because it is the coolest site. The wine ages in both tank and neutral oak. I found a bright refreshing wine with citrus, peach, and tropical flavor.
Estate Chardonnay 2015: Composed of three Dijon clones, the wine ages eleven months, with a portion aged in new oak while the rest aged in neutral oak. The Chardonnay delivers elegance with bright acidity and rounded by creamy textures that focus mostly on citrus flavors. I found everything I like about an Oregon Chardonnay.
We did a vertical tasting of 2013, 2014, and 2015 Pinot Noir during my visit to Utopia. Each vintage aged 40% new French oak and 60% neutral French oak for 12 – 15 months.
2013 Pinot Noir: This wine displayed brooding nuances with more texture and layers.
2014 Pinot Noir: Utilizing the twelve clones planted on the vineyard, I found this wine to be bright, ripe, and rich with nice acidity and flavors of cherry.
2015 Pinot Noir: This wine showcases the 777 Dijon clone, delivering a bright, inviting Pinot Noir with flavors of black cherry accented with spices.
Utopia Eden 2015: This Pinot Noir consists of 100% Pommard that sees whole cluster fermentation and aged in 100 % new French oak. Strawberry flavors dominate.
Utopia Paradise 2016: Paradise Pinot Noir is the result of choosing the best barrels of Wadensville, Pommard, and 777 clones each year. The wine sees whole cluster fermentation and aged in 40% new French oak. The wine displays aromas of cherry and other berries that open to similar flavors on the palette. I found a silky and elegant wine.
Pulling out something special to end our tasting, Dan surprised us with his 2016 Late Harvest Riesling. Apricot flavors dominate this dessert wine. Interestingly, while atypical, this wine sees no oak in the aging process.
Utopia’s plans for the future will bring more notoriety to the Ribbon Ridge AVA, especially when the Gamay wine becomes a reality. I know I cannot wait to experience these future wines.
Note: Common to the wine industry, this writer received a hosted visit to the winery. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure.