We are exploring the wonders of the Southern Willamette Valley.
written by Jen Stevenson
Junction City, known for its popular 57-year-old summer Scandinavian Festival, also has a robust wine-tasting scene, so take a scenic detour off the interstate, rochambeau to see who gets designated driver duty, and start sipping. Sample estate pinot noirs and pinot gris at Walnut Ridge, where the 25 acres of dry-farmed vineyards are surrounded by bucolic pasture land and forest, then continue up the road to Pfeiffer Winery, a former chicken ranch and sheep farm where you can sip small-lot pinots in the peaceful water garden. A cork’s throw away, a personable flock of Katahdin-Dorper sheep graze the vineyards at rustically charming appointment-only Antiquum Farm; book the tour and tasting a few days ahead of time. Five minutes north, find lushly landscaped Brigadoon Wine Company. Uncork a bottle of riesling, unpack your picnic and stay a while.
EAT + DRINK
In Eugene, start your day with one of the best and most beautiful brunches in town, at Airstream-trailer-bound Lion & Owl, secreted away in The Eugene Backyard Farmer parking lot. Burn off your praline-topped oat and almond pancakes with a bike ride along the Ruth Bascom Riverbank Path, then hit the Eugene Ale Trail. Don’t miss Claim 52 brewery, where the rich red raspberry gose over vanilla bean ice cream is summer in a glass. At new The Wheel Apizza Pub, pair your Haze for Daze IPA with a New Haven-style pie, then walk a block to WildCraft Cider Works for wild fermented and unpasteurized hard ciders crafted with whole Oregon fruit. If something a bit stronger is in order, sample the exceptional small batch “farm-to-flask” vodka and gin at Thinking Tree Spirits’ cozy tasting room, then explore the quietly hip Whiteaker neighborhood. Come in for an afternoon pick-me-up and stay for a chat at personable roaster-owner Okon Udosenata’s Equiano Coffee Company. Order scoops of paleo-friendly maple dark chocolate ice cream at Vanilla Jill’s, and catch happy hour at laidback Izakaya Meiji. If curious about Eugene’s food cart scene, dig into the crispy fried chicken and waffles topped with fresh blackberries, mint and marionberry syrup at Buck Buck, or a bowl of piping hot pork and chicken turmeric noodle soup at Da Nang Vietnamese Eatery. Head over to the 5th Street Public Market to browse the boutiques (don’t miss the Will Leather Goods boxcar stationed in the parking lot) and shop for edible souvenirs at the Provisions Market Hall before settling in for an elegant supper at French-inspired Marché.
If the night’s still young, walk over to Party Downtown for a nettle whiskey sour or Don’t Beet a Dead Horseradish, a bracing blend of Kachka horseradish vodka, pickled beet brine and Starvation Alley cranberry juice.
A ten-minute drive east, sleepy small-town Springfield has a few fun epicurean finds. Housed in a lovingly renovated spire-topped former stone church—glittering stained glass windows and all—the lively new PublicHouse is a taproom, food hall and beer garden rolled into one good-timey community hub. Go casual with a pint of Thursty Hills IPA and a maple-bacon tomato jam-topped burger at Plank Town Brewing Company, or get dolled up for dinner at new George and Violet’s Steakhouse, which mixes retro American steakhouse charm with contemporary eats like mussels in a smoked pork and white wine broth, grass-fed Oregon tenderloin topped with Dungeness crab butter and homemade doughnut holes with preserved cherries and shiso.
Take the winery-dotted Territorial Highway south of town, stopping at hilltop-hugging Iris Vineyards, where you might think you’ve apparated to a Mediterranean villa, before or after a few glasses of the Steelhead Syrah. At grand King Estate, winery tours are offered on the hour until 5 p.m. daily (call 541-685-5189 for reservations). Afterward, plan on lunch or dinner at the lovely onsite restaurant, which sources ingredients from the estate’s 30 acres of organic gardens and orchards. Beer buffs, check out Alesong brewery—sitting just slightly south of King Estate’s entrance, it pours barrel-aged Belgian-inspired ales like the French 75 saison and Touch of Brett: Mandarina, a 2018 Great American Beer Festival medal winner.
Homey touches abound at downtown Eugene’s luxuriously cozy Inn at the 5th, where you can order a loaner blanket from the downstairs Pendleton Woolen Mills shop to keep you company during your stay, sip local rosé and riesling at the friendly Sweet Cheeks Winery tasting room that sits approximately 10 feet from your courtyard balcony, and eat freshly baked bacon-and-potato breakfast pizza on the Provisions Market Hall patio in your slippers—all without ever leaving the property. A mile away, on the edge of the University of Oregon campus, the 14-room Excelsior Inn woos with European villa-style charm and a romantic Italian restaurant, where Naples-born chef-owner Maurizio Paparo prepares hearty homemade breakfasts and rich pasta dinners with dairy and produce from his 5-acre farm.