By Missy Raho, Blogger at Behind The Plates
Many wine lovers traveling the US visit popular places like Napa and Sonoma; but if you’re searching for a new destination, look no further than Oregon Wine Country.
Specifically the Willamette Valley, home to a beautiful wine region not (yet) overrun with tourists, mainstream hotel and restaurant chains. Because it’s still relatively untouched, the Willamette Valley has a definite charm to it. Think bed and breakfasts, inns, and family run restaurants, most offering up hospitality paired with a glass of local red.
About The Willamette Valley
Now, before visiting for yourself 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!”
The Willamette Valley is one of the world’s leading pinot noir producers. You’ll find that almost every winery is serving up some good pinot along with a speckling of chardonnay and pinot gris.
Now that you know what you’ll be tasting, let’s dive into the specifics.
Best Travel Season: late June to end of September
Where To Stay
Budget: The Oval Door (Eugene, OR). Simply head to TripAdvisor to see the rave reviews of this place. Additionally, Eugene is close to many of the wineries. This is a bed and breakfast so they take care of your morning meal, not to mention there’s free beer, wine and cookies available. Rooms start at just $119.
Middle Range: Youngberg Hill (McMinville, OR). This was the “Inn” we stayed at during our Oregon wine visit. It is a gorgeous country home with a large wrap-around porch. The stunning mountain and valley views were what I loved most of all. The inn has seven bedrooms/suites, an on-site vineyard (with daily complimentary tastings for guests), and gourmet chef-selected breakfast included each morning. The rooms start at 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 a great option. Sweeping views, modern décor, luxe service. Rooms start at $400 a night.
Where To Eat
Budget: La Rambla. This is a 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 start at $4.
Middle Range: Bistro Maison. You’ll get a true classic French cuisine experience at this restaurant. The small dining room has a lot of character and will make you feel very at home. The traditional pates, duck confit, and moules frites 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 start 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 service in a sleek dining room and New American style fare. The dishes come out looking like artwork and are almost too perfect to eat. There is an extensive wine list with rather delicious tasting flight options; however, be prepared to pay for Jory’s 5 star treatment. Dinner dishes start at $37.
Where To Sip
Equestrian Wine Tours: Let’s talk about the fact that riding by horseback from winery to winery with nothing but grapevines in sight actually exists. Saddle up with a walking horse in the hills of Dundee and head to two-to-three wineries via horseback. It’s perfectly fine for guests of all skill levels to partake; I had never been horseback riding and managed! It was an exciting experience, not to mention all of the breathtaking views and great wines to taste.
Hills of Dundee. This would be my recommended area for Oregon wine tasting. This is because there are many fantastic wineries in a small span of area, including some of Oregon’s best Biodynamic vineyards. 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! 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 pinot noirs 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 (but don’t be fooled by the dilapidated exterior).
They do not offer tastings to the public and there are only two opportunities per 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 (ham) right from the pig leg, and get a lesson on the winemaker’s approach (including why she plants on the side of rocky hills!).
Don’t try to do more than four wineries in a day. 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. And 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 an 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 grow your appreciation.
Extra Day Trip
If you’re looking for a break from the wine, I suggest heading 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. You’ll also get an extensive lesson on the gray whales, who migrate through and live in the area during the summer.
After your tour; head to Tidal Raves Restaurant, which sits on a small cliff right on Pacific Ocean. Pan-sautéed oysters and a local craft beer while looking at the rocky shore is never a bad afternoon.
This post originally appeared on Behind The Plates
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