48 Hours In Oregon Wine Country
Where to eat, drink and stay in the Willamette Valley
Oregon’s answer to Napa and Sonoma is the Willamette Valley, a fertile grape-growing region that extends from Portland south to Eugene and is packed with more than 200 wineries. You’ll find cool-climate varietals such as chardonnay, pinot gris, pinot blanc and, most famously, pinot noir. The Willamette grows more than 90 percent of the state’s pinot noir; many are artisanal wines the winemakers are eager to share (some 70 percent of wineries make fewer than 5,000 cases).
Since their generosity runneth over, it’s quite possible to sample in excess of 20 different pinot noirs in one day.
On a recent wine touring weekend, I was impressed by the winemakers’ unsparing approach to tasting, and their accessibility — they want to educate wine enthusiasts, share their bounty and maybe sell some bottles in the process (an easy sell, believe me).
At Sineann, Peter Rosback spent more than an hour with us, talking about hockey, geology and the fickle pinot noir grape while we sipped through at least 15 different reds.
Some winemakers will let you sample directly from the barrel, or let you join in during crush in the fall.
All that good wine is balanced by locally grown food to eat in tony wine bars and restaurants. There are quaint historic towns — such as McMinnville — to explore, and bucolic vistas of vineyards, hemlock forests and hazelnut orchards to take in around every bend in the winding country roads. We could have spent the entire weekend just touring the scenic countryside, or being pampered at the spa at The Allison Inn, where we stayed. But the wine added an extra layer of complexity — and fun — to the trip.
To make the most of your Willamette wine weekend, you’ll need a good touring map or GPS, a palate primed for pinot noir and a driver willing to trade pinot for Pepsi.
Before you go, check out willamettewines.com for lodging, dining and tour suggestions, as well as event listings and a detailed wineries map. Stop in at the Willamette Valley Vineyards (WVV) Wine Center in McMinnville (300 N.E. Third Street). Though it’s operated by the WVV winery, the “wine concierges” are happy to educate you about the valley and all its wineries, hand out touring info and maps and pour you samples of regional wines.
In Newberg, The Allison Inn and Spa consistently ranks as one of the top hotels in the U.S. and is a luxurious base from which to explore the Willamette. After a day of sipping, indulge in a Divine Wine Facial, a Mimosa Massage or a Mimosa Manicure and Pinot Pedicure. The town of McMinnville, 19 kilometres southwest of Newberg, has lovely B&Bs and inns; rooms typically start north of $200 US per night.
At Sineann, winemaker Peter Rosback is happy to pour and sip with you, and pour some more. Sample a selection of whites, big reds and pinot noir, then enjoy the sweeping valley views and vineyards planted with bright purple lavender. Tucked away near Champoeg State Park, Owen Roe Winery is hard to find, but worth the effort. Call ahead and staff will treat you to a free tasting on their patio — you won’t leave empty-handed. Located at the top of the picturesque Dundee Hills, Domaine Drouhin estate and winery produces highly acclaimed pinot noir — as close to a true classic Burgundian as you’ll get in New World pinot — as well as an awardwinning chardonnay. Groups of seven or fewer can show up for a $10 US flight of three wines without calling ahead. Also near Dundee, Sokol Blosser is a family-run winery that was a pioneer in the Oregon wine industry — back in 1971, when the first vines were planted, no one had heard of Oregon wines. Stop by the tasting room, open daily, to sample mainly pinot noir and pinot gris. Sokol Blosser offers vineyard hikes in the summer, complete with catered lunch (Read more about Sokol Blosser here).
JORY restaurant at The Allison Inn is the place to dine in the valley. Executive chef Sunny Jin makes such delicious dishes as Dungeness Crab Benedict for breakfast and Alaskan halibut for dinner. Wild mushrooms are the focus at Joel Palmer House. In fact, wild fungi are used in almost every dish. The restaurant, located in an historic home in Dayton, also boasts a wine list overflowing with Oregon pinot noir.