Plan a tour through abundant Willamette Valley waterfalls and wineries with an active and boozy day trip
written by Corinne Whiting | featured photos courtesy of Evergreen Escapes
Adventure served with a splash of indulgence; is there any better way to spend a Pacific Northwest day? Though some may choose to tackle this itinerary on their own, others let a friendly expert lead the way. Eco-conscious, luxury adventure company Evergreen Escapes offers an impressive lineup of excursions around the Pacific Northwest and beyond, among them the new Small Group Willamette Valley Wine & Waterfalls Tour, which launched this past January. Categorized under the company’s “ActiVino!” department, this full-day tour runs twice a week, includes a maximum of 10 participants and combines “soft adventure” with delicious delights in the heart of Oregon wine country.
Knowledgeable and fun-loving naturalists, typically driving an uber-comfortable Mercedes Sprinter van, do passenger pick-ups and drop-offs in downtown Portland. This particular adventure, explained Portland General Manager and Lead Escape Artist Jeff Pietka, “doesn’t overdo it on the wine.” Referencing other regional tours that may visit five-plus wineries, he continued, “It’s not feasible. Your palate can’t handle that many flavors in one day.” Instead, Evergreen offers an alfresco morning activity, followed by a leisurely afternoon of tastings.
The day begins with a drive toward eastern Willamette Valley, the section not defined by wineries. The route passes dairy, nursery and hop farms, giving guides the perfect opportunity to talk about the region’s agricultural, geological and historical background (chatting about settlers who arrived via the Oregon Trail, for example).
Around 9:30 a.m., the group arrives at Silver Falls State Park, appropriately referred to as the “crown jewel” of the Oregon state parks system. Though an 8-plus-mile loop trail can take hikers to ten separate falls, the tour stops at North and South Falls, two sensational sites at which you can walk behind the cascading falls. To fuel up for these short nature walks, guides dole out treats like banana bread, freshly-brewed tea and French-pressed coffee.
Afternoon means wine time, as the tour veers toward the western side of the pinot noir-rich Willamette Valley, home to nearly 500 wineries and declared the 2016 Wine Region of the Year by Wine Enthusiast. Although the three boutique wineries in Evergreen’s lineup can vary slightly by the day, the tour always stops in charming Amity (“a bit off the beaten path”) at Coelho Winery, owned by a Portuguese family who produces unique finds like a Port and traditional Portuguese-style blends. It’s here—in a beautiful banquet hall, on an enormous wooden table—that lunch is served, provided by Portland food cart Savor Soup House (think soups, artisan sandwiches and sides like lentil-quinoa-kale salad).
Other stops might include Winter’s Hill and Brooks; each winery offers four to six pours, letting tasters sip the riches of the region. As they look out on the Valley’s rolling hillsides, visitors learn how the terroir of the land influences the wine in their glasses. (Pietka mentions that the last stop always wins when it comes to wine sales.) On the drive back to town, the happily-buzzed crew enjoys locally-baked cookies and DRY Sodas (“less sugar, softer flavors,’ Pietka said), before calling it a day.
When asked what makes Evergreen so special, Pietka deemed this tour a “bigger experience,” offering an active morning complemented by a wine-accented afternoon. He explained that, while any tour can easily circulate the Valley’s tasting rooms, this one also gives “a thorough, holistic overview of the region” (touching on the natural surroundings, history, geology, agriculture, etc.), while also offering scenic views, exploring falls in the foothills of the Cascade Range, serving lunch and “bringing you home happy at the end of the day.” We’ll certainly cheers to that.
If exploring Oregon’s pinot-rich wine country on your own, consider extending your stay with accommodations that range from Newberg’s luxurious Allison Inn and Spa and McMinnville’s Youngberg Hill B&B to a tiny house at Salem’s Arcane Cellars and The Vintages Trailer Resort, a quirky, fun home base in Dayton.