Are you a wine lover, enthusiast, aspiring aficionado? Have you been to Napa and Sonoma already and need a new wine destination? Do you want something a little more low key (and also a tad cheaper) to kick-off your wine travels? Oregon Wine Country offers some of the world’s best wines. The best part of this region is that it is still slightly unspoiled. The Willamette Valley (Oregon Wine Country) area is not (yet…) overrun with tourists and mainstream hotel and restaurant chains. That’s a big win in my personal book.
My latest trip was six days split between Oregon and Washington State and some of their wine regions. (My Washington guide will be coming next week….check back Thursday!) Because they are still relatively unspoiled, these regions have a charm about them with bed and breakfasts, inns, and family run restaurants still dominating the hospitality industry there. I’m excited to share the most noteworthy portions my personal experience with all of you in addition to some recommendations for all levels of travelers.
My travels in Oregon wine country were focused in the Willamette Valley and first things first; you’ll need to learn the correct pronunciation so you don’t sound out of place. Here’s the statement someone shared with me that made it stick, ‘It’s Willamette, Dammit!” Willamette Valley is one of the world’s leading Pinot Noir producers. You’ll find that almost every winery is serving up some damn good Pinot Noir. You’ll find a speckling of Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, etc but Pinot Noir is the star of the show in this region.
Now that you know what you’ll be tasting, I’ll finally get into the specifics.
Best Travel Season: late June to end of September
Where to stay
Budget: The Oval Door– I have not stayed here but, it has great reviews. It’s also is in Eugene, OR which is rather close to many of the wineries. This is a bed and breakfast so they take care of your morning meal! The rooms start at just $119. Or check AirBnB for rentals! Use my code for $40 off your first stay! DISCOUNT CODE
Middle Range: Youngberg Hill (McMinville, OR)- This was the “Inn” we stayed at during our Oregon wine visit. It is a gorgeous, country style, home with a large wraparound porch. The stunning mountain and valley views was what I loved most of all. The inn has 7 bedrooms/suites, an on-site vineyard (with daily complimentary tastings for guests), and gourmet chef-selected breakfast included each morning. The rooms start around $200.
Splurge: The Allison Inn & Spa (Newberg, OR)- We visited the especially noteworthy Allison Inn and Spa for dinner but, we got a good sense of the Inn because the restaurant was inside of it. If you’re looking for the luxury, hotel-like experience this is most likely the best option as your spot. Sweeping views, modern décor, luxe service. Rooms start at $400 a night.
Where to Eat:
Budget: La Rambla– Spanish Tapas style restaurant in downtown McMinville. Mix and match your meal with small plates or, for the hungrier diners, pick from their paella list. They have an extensive wine list and a full bar for those looking to take a break from Pinot! Small plates from $4
Middle Range: Bistro Maison– You’ll get a true classic French cuisine experience at this restaurant. The small house hosted dining room has a lot of character and will literally make you feel at home. The traditional pates, duck confit, and moules frites will transport you to Paris for the night. In addition to your meal, pick the featured Oregon wine of the night for a cheap bottle pairing for the evening. Dishes starting at $21
Splurge: Jory, Allison Inn and Spa- This one is just as much about the experience as it is about the food. You’ll have white glove style service in a sleek dining room and New American style fare. The dishes come out looking like artwork and are almost (almost) too perfect to eat. There is an ostentatious wine list with rather delicious tasting flight options. However, be prepared to pay for Jory’s 5 star treatment. Because of the luxury I explained above-Dinner dishes start at $37.
Where to Sip:
Equestrian Wine tours – Lets talk about that fact that riding by horseback from winery to winery with nothing but grapevines in sight actually exists. Yes, this is really a thing in the Willamette Valley! Saddle up with a walking horse in the hills of Dundee and head to 2-3 wineries via horseback. It’s perfectly fine for guests of all skill levels to partake (I had never been and managed!). It was an exciting experience, not to mention all of the breathtaking views and great wines to taste. With all of that said, this is a definite activity for your agendas if you can swing it!
Hills of Dundee- This would be my recommended area for Oregon wine tasting. This is because there are a lot of fantastic wineries in a small span of area. They all have great views of Mount Hood and even better Pinot Noirs. My personal picks on the hills are:
- Domaine Droughin – This is one of the original area vineyards. Stunning views, an outdoor tasting patio, and great wines (We brought some home!)
- Durant Vineyards – This winery has a great antipasto platter if you need lunch! As a tip-not many wineries serve food. So, take advantage where you can. Durante has an onsite Olive oil tasting room as well. If you get the antipasto platter, you’ll get a taste of the olive oil.
- Archery Summit – They have a cave tour if you call in advance. If not, their small tasting room serves up some of the best Pinots in the area.
- Vista Hills Vineyard– We stopped here on the equestrian tour but if you skip that, don’t skip this vineyard. Vista Hills is a great spot for an afternoon with a large patio, lawn games and a relaxed atmosphere.
A Truly Unique Tasting Experience- If you want something different than the typical vineyard tour and tasting, set up an appointment at Antica Terra. The tasting room is housed in an old warehouse (and somewhat dilapidated from the outside). They do not offer tastings to the public and there is only 2 opportunities a day to come to the property. The morning tasting is an hour (that’s what we selected) and the afternoon is a longer (more expensive) opportunity. You’ll sip on distinctive wines, taste Jamon right from the pig leg, and get a lesson on the winemaker’s approach and interesting growing for her grapes (She plants on the side of rocky hills!).
- Don’t try to do more than 4 wineries in a day. Believe me, you’ll regret it. You want to enjoy the wine, not get sick from it!
- Ask for a shipping box. Airlines allow you to check a case of wine on your flight (If you’re on Alaska Airlines they waive the checked bag fee!). We collected 12 of our favorite bottles along the trip and brought them back with us!
- Ask questions and don’t feel silly if you’re not a wine expert! I’ve learned so much from these trips and I am by no means and expert or wine snob. I like what I like, and I’m fine with that. But, it’s great to learn more and the vineyards are always happy to share. It helps you grow your appreciation.
Extra Day Trip
If you’re looking for a break from the wine, I suggest you head about an hour and fifteen minutes west to the Oregon coastal town of Depoe Bay. Book a tour with Whale Research EcoExcursions for Whale Watching and to get an extensive lesson on the Gray Whales. (They migrate through and live in the area during the summer!). After your tour; head to Tidal Raves Restaurant that sits on a small cliff right on Pacific. Pan sautéed oysters and a local craft beer while looking at the rocky shore is never a bad afternoon.
…all for the love of the dish