written by Sheila G. Miller
I grew up in Oregon, but I didn’t learn to love good wine here. That happened in Sonoma, California, where one of my dear college friends grew up and continues to live. She spoke of her hometown in reverent tones that evoked visions of a “chicken-in-every-pot” and a very expensive bottle of wine with every meal. I had to see it. I first traveled there shortly after I turned 21, and we visited a lot more dive bars than wineries.
Over the years I returned again and again, learning the lingo and figuring out the difference between wine in a box and the beautiful bottles being poured at some of the finest wineries in the world. But while I visited Sonoma and Napa dozens of times, I never made it to the wineries of the Willamette Valley, minutes from my parents’ home, to try our local flavors.
That changed last fall, when I picked my mom up in Portland and headed for Oregon’s wine country.
Oregon Wine Country: Day 1
Our first stop was in Dundee, for a quick sparkling tasting at Argyle and lunch at the Dundee Bistro. Argyle’s sparkling wines are, to my mind, the best Oregon has to offer, and the tasting room’s modern look is open and airy, much different than most wineries in the area.
At Dundee Bistro, my mother ordered a pizza, and I indulged in a mid-afternoon burger (it’s always good to have a solid base of meat, cheese and bread when planning to wine taste the day away).
We were traveling with an Airstream trailer in tow, so we stayed at the Olde Stone Village RV Park. It was more than comfortable, but I admit I coveted the fluffy beds of The Allison Inn & Spa as we drove nearby.
On the plus side, the RV park is next door to the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum and the adjacent Wings & Waves Waterpark, and has a footpath that leads from the park to the museum. Both are perfect spots when you simply can’t drink any more wine (I’ve never reached that point, but I’m sure it happens).
After setting up the Airstream, we headed to The Eyrie Vineyards’ tasting room. Tucked away on a little side street in McMinnville, the tasting room is unassuming and minimalist, adorned by the most important ingredient—wine. Eyrie is one of the original Oregon wineries, started in 1965, so our expectations were great. Eyrie wines were so well balanced that we each bought a bottles to take home for the holidays.
With a bit of time until our dinner reservation, we swung over to the R. Stuart & Co. wine bar on Third Street in the heart of downtown. We had a cheese plate and a flight of lovely Oregon pinot noirs. We were excited to see that R. Stuart & Co serves wines from a variety of vineyards. We closed our eyes and tasted the differences between wineries and winemakers.
We had dinner at The Barlow Room in Dayton, the sister restaurant of the Palmer House with interior brick walls, wood-plank floors and country simplicity. When we arrived, The Barlow Room was quiet, but it quickly picked up as locals streamed in for steaks and Northwest cuisine. Mom had the mango chicken, and I went with steak frites. Both hit the spot.
Oregon Wine Country: Day 2
We started the next morning early with a 10:30 a.m. stop at Sokol Blosser in the hills above Highway 99. This winery is another of the old guard, with the family first planting vines in 1971. The family’s stewardship of its vineyards over the past forty-seven years shows in its impeccable wines. In the beautiful new tasting room wrapped in a modern façade of blonde wood, we looked out floor-to-ceiling windows as fog lifted off the hills.
In this slice of the Willamette Valley, the most prominent names in Oregon winemaking abound—Stoller, Erath, Dobbes, Ann Amie and Domaine Drouhin. One of the incredible things about wine tasting, particularly in Oregon, is how you can drive a few minutes and find a stunning variety of wines and wineries. Domaine Drouhin has a simple French country appearance that complements its French roots in Beaune, the heart of the Burgundy-producing region 130 miles southeast of Paris. Domaine Drouhin’s large deck with expansive views of its vineyard opened the space and, with its delicate pinot noirs, transported us to the famous cellars of Burgundy. After another delightful flight of wines, we uprooted for Domaine Serene, a beautiful Spanish Mission-style tasting room reminiscent of Napa Valley wineries. Mom and I shared a charcuterie plate and a flight of wine while people-watching those who were dressed to be seen.
After many tastings, we retired for a few hours to the Airstream to recharge before our dinner at The Barberry. McMinnville and the surrounding towns have so many excellent restaurants including Thistle, a farm-to-fork haven; The Painted Lady, a romantic Victorian house with a menu of gourmet Northwest cuisine; the downtown soup, salad and sandwich eatery, Sage Restaurant; WildWood Cafe, a breakfast mecca; the French cuisine cottage, Bistro Maison and The Barberry, a global menu with Northwest ingredients. With wind and rain whipping outside, mom and I sat near a huge fireplace and delighted in our hearty entrees of steak and potatoes and a perfectly cooked pork chop over sautéed greens. The marathon of the day’s wine flights behind me, I convinced myself I’d earned a crème brûlée.
Oregon Wine Country: Day 3
Sunday morning, it was time to put my Airstream skills to the test once again in preparing to get back on the road. We decided we had one tasting left in us. Since we’d have the 25 feet of Flying Cloud behind us, we decided to research flat and large parking areas on our way home, and discovered Dobbes Family Estate just off Highway 99 in Dundee. I parked on the street with space to spare, and we headed in. The Dobbes pourer dove deeply into the background of our pinot noir, the cherry and cranberry aromas with the earthiness of the soil enriched by the last ice age Missoula Floods that washed down the Columbia and into the Willamette Valley. We bought more bottles, with hopes of saving them for the holidays.
While driving home, my dreams of another Sonoma trip were supplanted by the dozens of wineries I still needed to detour from Highway 99 to check out.