AWG Correspondent

Rob Boss

Panther Creek Cellars Photos

Panther Creek Cellars Review

Regions: Willamette Valley AVA, Dundee Hills AVA, Oregon

Reviewed: January 30, 2015 by Rob Boss
Published: April 28, 2015

(Photos by Jai Soots)

Step inside Panther Creek’s tasting room and the first glance seems stark, but the second leaves a very strong “less is more” impression. The color scheme cleverly follows their label’s black and red, with some grey thrown in for contrast. The impeccable lighting design gives a sleek, sensual impression. There’s a fun black and white photo on the wall from harvest—punch down, specifically—with a bright red boot. Beautiful, especially to anyone who’s ever worked a damp, cold Oregon harvest. (From the outside, the building looks something like a country diner: plain, set back from Highway 99 by a parking lot.) Like those trusty red boots, everything just fits. Most of that everything can be credited to Panther Creek’s chef-knife-sharp hospitality manager, Christie Shertzer. We arrived just as she was pulling up and from that point forward were treated with celebrity care, as befits her decade of experience.

The wines are similarly harmonized and integrated, although perhaps more lush than the tasting room. A wistful nose of a rainy sidewalk was the first impression of the 2013 Pinot Gris. There was plenty of fresh fruit, too, with a mouthful of peaches, white peaches, nectarines and honey. We took one home to enjoy on a summer day.

The 2011 Winemaker’s Cuvee offered up wet briar notes and ripe fruit on the nose; on the palate, ripe cherry, raspberry and red plums. Soft and really easy to drink, it’s a winner of a cocktail wine. In a more serious vein, the 2010 Shea Vineyards showed smoky, crushed fruit aromatics, with ripe, rich cherry unfolding into raspberry, black and red plum flavors. The typical Shea acidity has been balanced beautifully and with a medium-long finish, this is a wine worth pondering.

Next, we moved into the 2012 vintage with the Lazy River Pinot Noir. The nose was an intense mélange of crushed ripe fruit; intense cherry, strawberry and raspberry. Flavors were very juicy, with ripe, round black cherries, raspberries and black plums. The soil was referred to as a “Jory bench,” which a little research indicates is a flat area at the bottom of a slope. We were all in agreement that it certainly didn’t show the red fruit flavors that usually come from the red Jory soil of the Dundee Hills. Another of wine’s mysteries.

Things got even more interesting when we moved on to the 2012 Reserve. Comprised of 75% Lazy River and 25% Temperance Hill fruit, this one boasted a nose of bright, popping fruit—almost like a soda but definitely fresh fruit. There was plenty of structure, cherry, black and red plum flavors. Another eye opener, considering I’ve never been a fan of Temperance Hill’s neck-grabbing acidity (but I must admit I haven’t tasted half the wines available from this venerable vineyard). Compared to the 2004, it was downright tame…

When Christie opened the 2004 Reserve, she poured a sample, smelled it and shook her head. “Funky,” she said. Yeah, about that… Earthy was an understatement. We were all in agreement the wine was good, with no taint or flaws. The “funk” was an intense horse barn and compost smell with a dash of dill. A little time and after decanting, the “funk” went down and a spicy nose of white pepper, sage and cherry blossoms came up. Flavors included deep, dark, intense black cherry, raspberry and blackberry flavors. There was still the zing of acidity associated with Temperance Hill, but it had settled down into a remarkably delicate, elegant wine. We speculated that perhaps the 2012 had been made from younger vines in the Temperance Hill Vineyard, but there was no one to ask for sure.

With almost 30 years’ history and three different winemakers (2013 marks the fourth, Tony Rynders, who put Domaine Serene at the top of Wine Spectator’s picks), there’s a lot more to Panther Creek than meets the eye. The tasting room’s atmosphere encourages tasters to focus on the wine, then plumb the depths of the winery later. The product is opulent, even if the surroundings are not. That’s as it should be, with a surprising number of wineries getting it backwards. The folks at Panther Creek clearly have their priorities in line.

Address & Contact Information: 110 SW Hwy 99W Dundee, Oregon 97115. Telephone: 503-472-8080, email:, website: Tasting Hours: 10:00-5:00.

Overall Rating:  

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