Photo Credit: DeAnna Taylor
From Copters To Teslas: Exploring Oregon Wine Country With A Black Sommelier
Whether it’s ‘hip hop, wine, and chill,‘ or ‘rose and slay,’ Willamette Valley aka Oregon wine country is the place to do that and more. And, we know what you’re thinking, ‘Oregon has a wine country?’ Yes, there are over 800 wineries/vineyards, and it is one of the Pinot Noir capital’s of the world.
While the wines across the state are delicious, the best part of the experience— especially for Black and brown travelers— is being able to tour with one of the state’s Black sommeliers. Chevonne Ball, founder of Dirty Radish, is a woman whose wine knowledge goes deep beyond the vines of Oregon.
After working in a French restaurant in the state, Ball moved to Lyon, France in 2009 where she studied food and wine and ultimately decided this was what she wanted to do for a career. She brought that knowledge back to the States and began sharing it with those who were interested to learn more.
In 2017, she created Dirty Radish to provide a wine experience to people not just in Oregon, but also in France. And let us just say, not only does she know her wines, but she makes you want to learn more too.
What to expect with a Dirty Radish experience
Ball can curate experiences to your taste and wants. The other great thing is, Oregon Wine Country has several over-the-top offerings that she can build into your day of touring too.
A typical day with Chevonne would include private transportation (likely a luxury vehicle, and sometimes a Tesla) for you and your group, tastings at multiple vineyards in the area, as well as a picnic lunch that you will stop and eat at a park. You will also have her there to explain the wines, what notes you should smell and taste, as well as the nuances of how certain varietals are grown.
For those who really want to go all out, there is an option in the area to go from vineyard to vineyard in a helicopter. But, this option may limit the spots you can visit since not all the vineyards have the space for a helicopter to land, but the option is definitely available.
In addition to her tours, Ball also consults and curates wine-focused events. She also takes groups to France to do this exact same thing. You can check out her website to see when she will begin relaunching tours there, as the pandemic postponed a lot of her French offerings.
Other notable Black Oregon Wine Country professionals
Chevonne Ball is not the only Black person pushing Oregon’s wine scene forward. We previously wrote about Bertony Faustin, Oregon’s first Black winemaker and vineyard owner. He recently opened a second location of his Abbey Creek Winery in downtown Portland. This new tasting room brings the same vibes as the OG Crick, just in a smaller space.
Tiquette Bramley recently took over as President of Vidon Vineyards. She is the first Black woman to step into this role in the United States. Jarod Sleet, is another Black male winemaker in the area, and currently works at ROCO Vineyards. Jarrod Williams is currently head of marketing for Ruby Vineyard, and he has also contributed to making some of the area’s many bottles of Pinot.
If you prefer to make your time in Willamette Valley a multi-day thing, there are several accommodations in the area. For smaller groups, solo travelers, or couples, the Willamette Bed & Breakfast is a great option. In addition to the cozy farmhouse decor, the owners prepare a filling 4-course breakfast for guests each morning.
It is super close to vineyards, and only a short 40-minute drive from the city of Portland.