Chef Pascal Chureau’s expertly prepared six to seven-course Dinners in the Field events, which are held in vineyards and farm fields throughout northwest Oregon, are something to look forward to all year. I always enjoy his hearty yet delicately flavored offerings paired with local wines. I savor each bite of his locally sourced cuisine. But this time, something was different. The charming alpacas stole the show!
July Evening in the Countryside
As we drove from Portland, past historic Oregon City, the roads got smaller and the vistas more grand. We were in the fertile Willamette Valley headed for an alpaca ranch. The warm sun was welcome after a rainy spring. Crops were thriving in the fields and berry picking had already begun.
After passing the second berry stand we had to pull in and buy some freshly picked berries… blueberries for him and raspberries for me. By the time I got back to the car, I had sampled a handful of red raspberries. I was hungry and was looking forward to another Field and Vine Dinners in the Field.
Alpacas at Marquam Hill Ranch
We drove down the long dirt road toward a barn and shop and were directed to park near a lovely home at the end of the road. The owners of this ranch had a modern home surrounded by lovely gardens.
We parked and started walking toward the gathering at the barn but then we stopped. A group of newly shorn, and very cute alpacas had attracted a crowd of people, wine glasses in hand, snapping photos. When an alpaca is sheared, the hair on the head is left long, making for a humorous and cute appearance. And, all of these animals were young and full of spunk.
The Offerings of Alexeli Vineyards
We walked up to the barn and shop and checked in. As our names were marked off the list, we were handed a lovely golden white blend. Alexeli’s 2014 Cascade Blend was fruity and refreshing and a hit with the diners. The blend was very German… 50% Muller-Thurgau, 35% Riesling and 15% Gewurztraminer.
Next door to the Alpaca Ranch, was this family-run vineyard. They are small and the family is involved and hands on from picking, to pressing, to pouring. They take pride in raising healthy, LIVE certified fruit for their handcrafted estate wines.
As we dined that evening we enjoyed their 2015 Chardonnay, 2012 Pinot Noir and 2012 Nuages (Cabernet Franc and Merlot). All were excellent and we vowed to make another trip just to visit the winery.
Alpacas Steal the Show
Usually when I attend a Dinners in the Field event, I stroll the grounds with a glass of wine and visit with the chefs to see what they are preparing. This time I was held captive by Jennifer Cameron’s stories and the alpacas themselves.
Jennifer and Bill didn’t come to alpaca ranching through their families, they jumped into breeding alpacas quite on a whim. Ten years ago, Jennifer will tell you, “I saw a huggable white baby alpaca in the newspaper advertising an alpaca show that weekend. My husband and I went and learned that people made a living breeding and selling these cute animals.” A year after that they started with an old berry farm and five females.
Alpacas at Marquam Hill Ranch is now a beautiful 18 acre ranch on Hwy 213 in Molalla, Oregon. They have 85+ huacaya alpacas (depending on whether animals are out for breeding). Alpacas are in the same family as camels and llamas.
The Camerons give tours and explain the business while visitors get up close and personal with the endearing animals. They breed for the fineness, a soft hand and solid density in their fiber. They want their yarns and fibers to feel as much like cashmere as possible.
You can touch the soft wool in the rugs and yarns sold in their lovely shop. I thought an alpaca wrap or sweater would be heavenly in winter. But the real fun is in visiting with the animals.
While the chefs prepared dinner (it was dinner that we were there for, right?) we hung out with 7 week old alpacas, saw a newborn and mom and noticed the variety of colors of the animal’s fleece. I found out alpaca fleece can be varied… 22 colors.
As Bill Cameron brought out the newest member of the flock and held the animal in his arms, I could understand how this couple fell in love with the idea of owning and breeding the animals.
Dinners in the Field
After tearing us away from the alpacas, we were seated at tables in the open pasture. While the tables were set with china, cloth napkins and bouquets of flowers as decorations, the sun reminded us that we were out in the open. Floppy straw hats were a plus at this dinner.
Our dinner began with a Gruyere chees focaccia and excellent warm spinach salad. Crushed Yukon potatoes with brown butter, campfire salt and chives (always a favorite) accompanied the tender and fresh Oregon ling cod (dressed in fennel, shallots, mint, verjus.)
All courses are served family style and there is plenty for a hungry family to enjoy. After the fish, the cheerful wait staff brought grilled brocollini and then, my favorite for the evening, the Cascade Farms beef short ribs with white corn, shishito peppers and cilantro… very tender and flavorful.
We enjoyed the Alexeli Vineyards wines which, by the way, flowed freely and chatted with the people around us. A young couple was in town from San Diego for an adventure-filled weekend. They had planned kayaking and hiking. But this evening they relaxed with us in an alpaca pasture. I have to note that, yes, we were in an animal pasture but there was no hint of odor or flies.
As our last course was served… individual buttermilk panna cotta in glass jars with raspberry tarragon confiture, and toasted almonds, the sun began to set.
We communed with the alpacas once again, took a few more photos and drove down the driveway and along highway 213 with a view of Mt. Hood off to the east.
When You Go
Alpacas at Marquam Hill Ranch is located at 35835 Oregon 213, Molalla, OR. If you go for a visit, look for a Groupon to save a bit on the tour. The scenic drive from Portland is less than an hour.
Field and Vine offers interesting Dinners in the Field through December. I like to choose early in the year and find an unusual venue. I enjoyed a tented dinner on a rainy night at the Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm and a family farm dinner at Douglas Farm on Sauvie Island near Portland.
Alexeli Vineyards offers tours and tasting flights. Their tasting room is open Saturdays and Sundays from 12 noon – 5 p.m. (April – November). They are also open Labor Day and Memorial Day.
Find out about more area attractions on the Mt. Hood Territory website
Note: As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with a meal for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.