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Why Oregon’s Willamette Valley Offers The Ultimate West Coast Wine Trip

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Willamette Valley Winerie
By Ashley Hetrick. This post originally appeared on Fit Girl In Flight.

When people think about a trip to wine country, Napa is typcially the first place that comes to mind. 

Which makes sense.

I mean, it boasts some of the top wine producers in the world, unparalleled restaurants and charming boutique hotels.

That being said, there can be downsides, especially when it comes to price and crowds.

Here’s a suggestion:

For your next West Coast vacation, skip Napa and plan a trip to the Willamette Valley — just an hour south of Portland — Oregon instead.

Below, I share my reasoning, based on a trip my partner and I took to the region.

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The Willamette Valley in Oregon offers an incredible West Coast wine trip. In this travel guide, we make a case got why you may want to choose it over Napa! * * * #wine #travel #oregon #pdx #WillametteValley

Willamette Valley Wine Tours

If you’d like to leave the driving to someone else (recommended!) and get an in-depth education on the region, there are several excellent wine tour options, including:

➡️ Click here for a full list of Oregon wine tours.

1. You’ll save big on travel costs

Flights to San Francisco, hiring or renting a car for the drive north, paying for parking, and booking a hotel will all run you top dollar in Napa. 

By contrast, you can often find great flight deals into Portland. 

Rental car rates are also lower because the demand is comparably lower, as are the rates at leading hotels. 

You can click here to easily compare car rental options and get the best deal.

Our flights on Southwest were less than $200 per person, and our 1 bedroom Airbnb with a full kitchen was only $185 a night…

…and it was one of the most expensive in town!

By the way, if you’ve never used Airbnb you can save $40 on your first booking. Click here to create your profile and get the credit

Delicious white wine

2.  You’ll save on tasting fees

Tasting fees in many Napa wineries will run you $30-45 each.

Additionally, winery staff are known to closely monitor the size of the three-to-four pours on each tasting.

In the Willamette Valley, $15-20 tastings were much more common, including four-to-seven wines.

The more expensive the tasting, typically the more wines on that tasting or the more rare those bottles are.

For every $20, expect to get roughly the same amount of wine as one glass. 

Your tasting fees are often refunded with a purchase of a certain size.

Pro tip:

To ensure your luggage stays stain-free, you can use this wine sleeve.

Black grapes in vineyard

3.  You can bring the kids

Many wineries allow outdoor picnics.

This provides a great opportunity to bring the kids along and let them play on the vineyard grounds while you sip your tasting.

By law, minors are allowed in Oregon wineries and wine bars until 9pm. 

A few suggestions:

My partner and I thought we might get some stares for bringing our four month old along; but more often than not, winery staff came around the bar to play with her. 

She even was given a toy to take home from the owner of Natalie’s Estate Winery!

Friends drinking wine

4.  You’ll enhance your palate (and impress your friends)

In Napa, you might be tasting a chardonnay alongside a cabernet followed up by a merlot, and finished with a dessert wine. 

The focus of the tasting can become which varietal you prefer, rather than what type of cabernet you enjoy most. 

In the Willamette Valley, though, pinot noir is king. 

You’ll be given opportunities to taste different pinots from warm and cool years, aged in different ways, from different parts of the valley and taught the nuances that imparts on the wine. 

We left knowing we prefer cooler growing seasons for a more earthy flavor than the deep berry notes that come from warmer seasons.

5.  The people are incredible

Many Napa wineries are owned by large corporations and staff their tasting rooms with industry professionals who have relocated for the job. 

This is not the case at most Willamette wineries, which tend to be owned by locals who still work the property themselves and are staffed by people who grew up in the region. Many are passionate about the environment too, with plenty of Oregon’s top Biodynamic wineries residing here.

Stop by Beaux Frères Vineyards & Winery— you’ll see me mention this unforgettable winery a few times — to meet Mike and his two sons.

Then, pop down the road to Natalie’s and have a glass with Boyd while snacking on bites that Cassandra, his wife, has cooked up in her kitchen.

Or join a tasting at White Rose Estate Winery and Vineyard, where people who grew up mere miles away will talk you through Neo-Classical wine making.

Basically, the people you meet you will be just as memorable as the delicious wine you drink! 

man pouring wine

6. You’ll avoid the crowds

Except for a few larger wineries, Willamette Valley tasting rooms are rarely crowded. 

In fact, we went on a holiday weekend and were surprised to find ourselves in a tasting room alone more than once. 

The experience:

Never waiting in line, getting to ask whatever questions you want of the person pouring, picking your favorite seat to cozy up in, and indulging in a little photo shoot among the vines without people cluttering the background.

7.  Everything operates at a more relaxed pace

Pro tip: When visiting the Willamette Valley, only set up one appointment per day. This way, you can enjoy your remaining time at your own pace. 

If you love a vineyard, grab a glass — or a second tasting, as some offer multiple options — and head out to the grass. 

Bring a picnic and enjoy the sunshine. 

Or just take your time with the tasting you’re on. 

There are very few wine tours or shuttle buses pushing you to swap wineries at specific points. It definitely shifts the dynamic of the trip!

Why Oregon’s Willamette Valley Offers The Ultimate West Coast Wine Trip

8.  There’s a lot more to do nearby

Yes, Napa has San Francisco a few hours away; but that limits your options if you want something else to do midday. 

In the Willamette Valley, take a midday break for some berry picking, hike the many trails, visit a museum, or stroll through one of several local farmers markets.  

These are all great options if you’ve brought the kids along, too.

Wine touring in the Willamette Valley was an unforgettable experience. We loved it, and really think you will, too.

Have you visited the Willamette Valley wineries?

*Featured image via Freestock.org/Pexels

*This post contains affiliate links, which means that if a purchase is made we make a small commission, at no extra charge to you. Thank you for supporting Epicure & Culture!

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The Willamette Valley, Oregon offers one of the USA's top wine travel vacations. If you want to explore the best West Coast wineries out there, here's what you should do. * * * #wineries #winetravel #culinarytravel #travelguide #vino

Jessie Festa

Jessica Festa is the editor of Epicure & Culture as well as Jessie on a Journey. She enjoys getting lost in new cities and having experiences you don’t read about in guidebooks. Some of her favorite travel experiences have been teaching English in Thailand, trekking her way through South America, backpacking Europe solo, road tripping through Australia, agritouring through Tuscany, and volunteering in Ghana.

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