SPRINGFIELD, Ore. — Pamela Frye and her Iris Vineyards project, led by Aaron Lieberman, have earned a reputation beyond the Willamette Valley for award-winning wines.
Now, they are creating a stir in the Eugene suburb of Springfield with the Iris Vineyards Wine Bar & Cocktails, which also tempts guests with wine-based cocktails.
Imagine a supple Manhattan or crisp Kentucky Mule created as a wine-based beverage that emulates the revered spirit-inspired cocktails.
Frye, Lieberman, general manager David Cordtz and their team achieved their goals with the new space they opened in 2022. They wanted to provide a more social and relaxing bar vibe while offering these special cocktails that would also broaden the menu beyond glasses of wine. And Lieberman skillfully uses crisp, unoaked Chardonnay as the canvas for his delicious emulations of bourbon and gin.
“We infuse it with oak and caramel for ‘the bourbon’ and juniper and other botanicals for ‘the gin,’ ” Cordtz says. “Aaron is a very passionate mixologist outside of the wine business, and I love branching out and making different beverages. We both wanted something unique for the new urban location.”
These hand-crafted drinks are paired with savory antipasto plates, featuring salted almonds, Italian olives, baguette slices, Italian olive oil and balsamic, cheeses, cured meats and other charcuterie delicacies. They can be sipped while seated inside the bar or across a charming outdoor patio.
It began in 1992 when Frye and her partner — hospitality executive Richard Boyle — purchased their 870-acre estate west of Eugene near the Lorane Valley. In a fascinating move, they quickly began by planting 500 acres of Douglas Fir trees.
Then in 1996, they began working on their dream winery with 36 acres of Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay vines sunk into Jory, Bellpine and Dupee series soils. That vision received early acclaim — led by their Hill Hill 2002 Pinot Gris being voted as the No. 1 wine of Wine Press Northwest’s 2004 Platinum Judging.
Lieberman joined Frye’s cellar as the winemaker in 2008, and the talent that the Oregon State grad acquired by working at storied brands such as Amity Vineyards, DePonte Cellars and Owen Roe has helped Iris Vineyards and the reserve label Areté earn acclaim at competitions across the country.
In 2018, the winery led all Pacific Northwest entrants at the New Orleans International Wine Awards with four gold medals — a double gold for its Chalice Estate Rosé of Pinot Noir, golds for two expressions of Chardonnay and a gold for the 2015 Areté Pinot Noir.
In 2022, I judged the McMinnville Wine Competition where Iris Vineyards won best of show for its 2020 Pinot Gris. And Lieberman has earned five Platinum Awards in the past three years from Great Northwest Wine, the competition I judge each October that requires a gold medal in order to enter. Last year, the Areté 2018 Chardonnay and remarkably priced 2019 House Call Red Blend ($19.99) each went Double Platinum. That House Call qualified via a gold medal at the prestigious 2022 Sunset International.
“Our wine bar puts a face to the Iris Vineyards brand, and we are proud to have it be a smiling one in Springfield,” Cordtz says.
Here are three recent releases that I enjoyed during my visit to the Iris Vineyards Wine Bar:
Areté 2019 Brut Blanc de Noirs, Willamette Valley, $34: This complex sparkling wine bursts with tropical notes on the nose and expands on the palate with red cherries, raspberry pastry, hints of citrus and a touch of spice. The mousse is elegant, leading to a finish that is lively and lingering.
Areté 2019 Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley, $35: Wildly aromatic stone fruit aromas are heaven-sent. The palate coats the mouth with layers of lemongrass, blanched almonds, white peaches and underlying hints of vanilla. It is brilliantly balanced and pure all the way through.
Iris Vineyards 2021 C Block Estate Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, $40: Forest floor and dark fruit aromas take the breath away. Deep and bright with beautiful layers of black cherries, the savory notes, strawberry/ rhubarb sauce and hints of anise lead to a mouthwatering finish.
Springfield wine bar translates to wine club signups
Thanks to the support, wine bar manager Lauren Giacobine and her engaging team will soon have some new versions by Lieberman and additional recipes by Cordtz to serve.
“We have been warmly welcomed by the Springfield community, especially the people and businesses on Main Street,” Cordtz says, “and the many regular visitors living in nearby Springfield neighborhoods have become new wine club members.”
Manhattan, $13: This elixir that uses wine to emulate bourbon is spicy and supple, with aromas of toasted campfire marshmallows adding to flavors of dry and sweet vermouth, subtle black licorice and aromatic Angostura bitters.
Old Fashioned, $13: Also crafted using wine to emulate bourbon, this gem shows off flavors of orange zest, caramel, hints of toast, allspice and a whisper of molasses.
Kentucky Mule, $13: Ginger beer and the bourbon-inspired wine product make this cocktail savory and fully flavored, bringing hints of brown sugar toffee sauce and bright citrusy accents.
Negroni, $14: Developed using gin-inspired wine and sweet vermouth, this delectable aperitif presents mellow cherry notes, dried herbs, Angostura orange bitters, cardamom and a hint of smokiness.
Gin and Tonic, $13: Here is an energetic and refreshing quaff that I find simply delicious. It is reminiscent of a classic Gin and Tonic cocktail with its juniper, tonic water and twist of lime flavors.
Purple Sunset, $13: The newest cocktail — one I have yet to try — uses cherry juice to take the Gin and Tonic to another level. It’s also available as a mocktail.
- The Iris Vineyards Wine Bar, 322 Main St., Springfield, Ore., is open Thursday through Sunday from 12:30 to 8 p.m. Learn more at IrisVineyards.com.