Just a stone’s throw from Portland’s vibrant heartbeat, Amaterra Winery is a sanctuary nestled in the city’s picturesque West Hills. From the tasting room perch, one can look down at the sprawling 12-acre vineyard, with neat rows of grapevines and stunning valley views. The winemaking team crafts 10,000 cases of wine each year, with a focus on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay varietals.
We spoke with winemaker Matt Vuylsteke and chef Jami Flatt to discuss the unique qualities of Amaterra, including their groundbreaking winemaking process and, of course, their delicious wine and food.
Creating an extraordinary experience
“Amaterra Winery is unique, as it is a truly blended wine and food experience,” says chef Jami Flatt. “This concept combines the bucolic estate winery experience you would find in wine country with a thoughtful chef-driven restaurant concept.” The founders of the winery envisioned a space where guests could fully immerse themselves in the winemaking environment while enjoying exceptional wines alongside a delightful meal. This vision has remained intact throughout the Amaterra’s development.
Differentiating the brands
Amaterra Winery proudly offers two distinct brands: Amaterra and 51Weeks. “These are sibling brands with the same pursuit of quality,” says winemaker Matt Vuylsteke. “Under Amaterra, we make Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with traditional methods. We grow both varieties at our estate site, but also source from eight other vineyards from various sub-AVAs within the Willamette Valley. This allows our guests to experience the nuance of various locations of the region with just one tasting stop.”
The winery’s other brand has a different ethic. “51Weeks makes wines from varieties other than Pinot Noir,” Vuylsteke says. “Most of this fruit is sourced from the Walla Walla and Horse Heaven Hills AVAs. You will find Rosé, Petit Verdot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and some other unique blends. The winemaking spirit with 51Weeks is experimental and non-traditional, and we use various techniques such as submerged cap fermentation, high skin-to-juice ratio, extended macerations, and more to tease specific nuances from these excellent vineyard sites.”
Innovative winemaking techniques and pending patents
Amaterra Winery takes pride in its winery and equipment design. As an example, Vuylsteke highlights their gravity-flow winemaking approach. “By utilizing two levels and bridge cranes, we have adapted winemaking equipment to bring the grapes, juice or wine between levels without using pumps.” This unique process allows for gentle handling of the grapes and preserves the integrity of the fruit. The winery’s second patent involves a ballasted punch-down device, which aids in the fermentation process. These innovations reflect the winery’s commitment to excellence and its constant pursuit of quality.
The perfect summer Chardonnay
“I love citrus-driven Chardonnay with minerality and restrained oak as a style,” says Vuylsteke. The Chardonnay at Amaterra Winery is carefully crafted to exhibit these characteristics. Whole-cluster pressing and oxidative handling techniques contribute to the wine’s unique flavor profile. Matt suggests pairing the 2021 Amaterra Willamette Valley Chardonnay with an earthy beet-and-berry salad. This pairing brings out the nuanced flavors of the wine and complements its vibrant citrus notes.
Sensational sunsets, light and shade
The most striking thing about Amaterra’s sprawling tasting room is how seamlessly it blends into the greenery and the great outdoors, with massive windows and a bird’s eye view of waterfalls and vineyards. The sunsets here, accompanied by a glass of Pinot Noir, are the stuff that memories are made of.
“The biggest difference over the course of the year is how the light changes in the tasting room,” says Vuylsteke. “The space has a lot of high windows that allow a lot of natural light, and during the winter the sun sets directly off our view angle. Besides sunsets, Amaterra is also a dramatic place to watch the winter storms roll in from the west. During the summer, the sun sets behind the treeline just to our west. The light has a different feel from this angle, and the shelter of the trees makes the outdoor spaces comfortable and in the shade.”