The northern portion of Oregon’s Willamette Valley is only an hour’s drive from Portland, the state’s largest city, but the 5,200 square mile swatch of wine country seems a world apart in its unhurried, scenic way.
The Willamette Valley offers a great deal more than wine, boasting acres of commercial cereal grain and grass seed crops, orchards and vegetable gardens. It’s common for travelers to encounter roadside stands offering fresh fruits and vegetables for sale as well as u-pick berry patches.
The Willamette Valley AVA is a V-shaped region along the Willamette River, stretching from the Columbia River in the north to south of Eugene, home of the University of Oregon.
About 400 wineries produce an average of 4,600 12-bottle cases in the Willamette Valley each year. Experts say the best wines are rarely seen outside Oregon, which means you have to visit to find them. The industry is still so young (the region officially became an AVA in 1984) that it’s not uncommon to find the owners working at their wineries.
However, the Willamette Valley’s wines, in particular its Pinot Noir, have been lauded as among the top 100 wines in the world. The region’s cool, mild climate produces wines layered with flavors, florals, fruit and fragrances.
In keeping with Oregon’s penchant for environmental sustainability, some wineries are solar-powered, while many vineyards produce organic wine. Can’t Miss Wineries
One of Oregon’s oldest winemakers, The Eyrie Vineyards in Dundee is responsible for the state’s first Pinot Noir and the United States’ first Pinot Gris.
Established in 1971 before Oregon had its own AVA, Adelsheim Vineyard is a family owned and operated winery known for combining traditional and modern methods to produce complex Pinot Noir and white wines. Visitors are invited to make appointments for in depth winery tours, as well as to visit the tasting room with patio seating.
Located in Dayton, Stoller Vineyards boasts the nation’s first LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold Certified winery. It employs gravity-flow winemaking techniques, energy-efficient heating and cooling and wastewater reclamation to reduce negative environmental impact.
Dayton’s second-generation, family-run Sokol Blosser winery is certified organic. One of the state’s pioneering wineries, it produces Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and proprietary blends Evolution White and Evolution Red, among other wines.
Further south in the Willamette Valley, Eugene is home to two unique wineries – Territorial Vineyards and Wine Company and King Estate. Territorial Vineyards and Wine Company touts its offerings as being “built with viticultural grooviness and oenological prowess.” Its tasting room often remains open into the evening, occasionally featuring live music. King Estate owns the largest contiguous certified organic vineyard in the world. Its Acrobat Pinot Gris was named one of Wine Enthusiast’s Top 100 Wines of 2010.
With its foothills and valleys, pastures and rivers, the Willamette Valley’s scenery serves as the ideal backdrop for wine tours.
Tour companies offer a number of packages to guide you through the region, including ecologically friendly tours in vans and buses powered by 100 percent biodiesel, to bicycling wine tours and traditional limousine tours.
In keeping with its rural, boutique atmosphere, the Willamette Valley features a wide selection of bed and breakfasts. The Dundee Manor Bed and Breakfast and McMinnville’s Joseph Mattey House are among those frequently recommended.
Those seeking accommodations on a grander scale might consider The Allison Inn & Spa in Newberg, the first resort in Oregon wine country. Built with wood and stone to convey a Pacific Northwest feel, the resort features 65 large guestrooms, a concierge, window seats and balconies with views of orchards and the town, a highly touted restaurant, Jory, and a living roof (a roof covered in plants to reduce runoff).
Combining lodging with wine, Dundee’s Black Walnut Inn offers nine luxury suites as well as 13 acres of Pinot Noir vines. The inn was built in the style of a Mediterranean villa.
The Willamette Valley dining experience often means local, farm-to-table fare including seafood harvested from the nearby Oregon coast, beef, seasonal game and produce, and desserts made with local berries, all paired with regional wines.
Favorite restaurants in the area include Salem’s DaVinci, the Gathering Together Farm in Corvallis, Eugene’s Red Agave and Albany’s Sybaris. Celebrated newcomer Paulée, located in Dundee grows its own produce.
Other Fun Options
Hot Air Balloon Rides - For an aerial view of Oregon’s wine country, consider a hot air balloon ride. The Willamette Valley is home to a number of companies offering just that. Rides range from an hour to several hours.
Evergreen Aviation Museum - Home to Howard Hughes’ famous all-wood Spruce Goose, the Evergreen Aviation Museum in McMinnville features an impressive collection of vintage aircraft, an IMAX theater and a water park.
Truffle Hunting - Each winter, the Oregon Truffle Festival is held in and around Eugene. Considered one of nature’s delicacies, the wild truffle grows well beneath the Willamette Valley’s Douglas fir forests. Oregon has two types – the Oregon white truffle and the Oregon black truffle. The festival draws chefs, foragers and fans of the truffle to gather in celebration of the underground mushroom.
Want to learn more?
Visit willamettewines.com, oregonwinecountry.org or traveloregon.com.