Wandering The Willamette Valley
Oregon’s Promised Land of Pinot noir lies a mere 35 miles from hipster Portland, with more than 300 wineries, historic B&Bs, and eclectic eateries.
The Willamette Valley
Quaint inns and B&Bs tuck wine country visitors into this bucolic landscape, proffering dreamy bedroom views of the vineyards at harvest. A brother-and-sister team run the Wine Country Farm, a farmhouse and 1870s historic barn perched atop a hilly 13-acre estate with nine rooms, vineyards, Arabian horses, friendly dogs, and fetching views of the Cascade Mountains. In the early eve, guests enjoy a complimentary tasting of the family’s Armonéa wines, while morning calls for stuffed French toast with blueberry compôte, crispy bacon, and fluffy scrambled eggs, welcome fodder before an indulgent day of wine tasting. The Leed Gold-certified Allison Inn & Spa, the only modern luxury digs in the region, effortlessly wins over guests with its capacious rooms, styled with craft furnishings, fireplaces, deep sunken tubs, balconies, and bay window seats with pastoral views. A stunning spa, vanishing-edge pool, abundant art, and sprawling gardens add to the panache. Short on time? Day-trippers can stay in Portland and take a one-hour limo ride to Willamette.
Pinot noir is the name of the vino game in Willamette Valley. With humble beginnings in the 1970s, the region has grown into an internationally recognized, premier producer of this noble grape with some of Oregon’s finest overshadowing France’s traditional Pinot noirs from Burgundy. With more than 300 wineries to choose from, spread over 100 miles, take time to pre-plan, aided by a Willamette Valley Wineries Association map. If traveling by horseback sounds appealing, check out Equestrian Wine Tours (which commences at Wine Country Inn) for a ride through the Red Hills of Dundee on Tennessee Walking horses. Hitching posts await at nearby wineries like Vista Hills, where you can sample Dave Petterson’s Pinot noir and Pinot gris in their rustic “treehouse” tasting room, where spinning vinyl albums and striking valley views set the tone. Next door, Ken and Grace Evenstad’s grandiose Tuscan-style estate, Domaine Serene, is a rarefied 150-acre retreat with three vineyards, manicured gardens, and a posh tasting room to sip their elegant Pinot noirs, like the Evenstad Reserve or Two Barns. Splurge on the reserve tasting and private tour. The only way to visit Soter, the hilltop estate vineyard of Napa alum and biodynamic forerunner Tony Soter, is by appointment, and it’s worth the effort. The low-fi country tasting room sits in the open-air house where guests can enjoy the easy sipper, Planet Oregon, and the North Valley Pinot Noir, a classic WV wine that exquisitely showcases the terroir with notes of black cherry, earth, and spice. At Alexana, the façade of the tasting room’s bar showcases the many soils of the valley, as this vineyard boasts 18 different kinds across 80 acres and 10 distinct Pinot noir clones that produce a variety of exciting wines. Its latest venture, a Reserve Chardonnay, is beautifully balanced with medium toasted oak, while the exceptional 2011 Revana Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir reminds you why you’ve come to Willamette Valley. Head to the deck of Winderlea, where you’ll be simultaneously elevated by its evocative Pinots and humbled by majesty of snow-capped Mount Jefferson. End the day at the certified organic estate, Sokol Blosser, whose new tasting room is an architectural gem with skylights, striated wood, geometric patterns, and stunning framing of the wine country landscape. Picnic out back or enjoy wine flights and butcher boards of charcuterie and cheese on the front porch.
Savor Chef Eric Bechard’s “nose-to-tail” locavore cuisine at Thistle, whose homey vibe feels like a friend’s candlelit house. Seek out notable chef Jesse Kincheloe’s talents at Walnut City Kitchen for chickpea fritters or braised pork belly with peach jalapeño chutney. Fourth-generation chef/owner Christopher Czarnecki’s freestyle cooking revolves around foraged mushrooms and truffles paired with Oregon’s finest wines at The Joel Palmer House. At JORY, watch executive chef Sunny Jin (The French Laundry and El Bullì alum) make magic in his exhibition kitchen using ingredients from his onsite garden and greenhouse at The Allison Inn & Spa. Dishes like paella or Wagyu tartare with quail egg are expertly paired with wines from the award-winning 800-label list. Or stop by the Red Hills Market for Stumptown coffee, craft sandwiches, and gourmet picnic treats to complement your wine-tasting adventures.