Wine. It’s a tradition as old as Oregon. The first grapes were planted by settlers in the Willamette Valley in the mid-19th century. The industry as it exists now began in 1961 when Richard Sommer established HillCrest Vineyard in Roseberg, Oregon.
Today oenophiles will find a lot to love in Oregon, from traditional Pinot noirs in the Willamette Valley to Chardonnays and Rieslings in Southern Oregon. There are even vineyards on Oregon’s eastern border with Idaho. With so much variety, most travelers prefer to plan a winetasting trip carefully. That said, it is nearly impossible to go wrong by picking a region on the map and heading off blindly. Such is the wealth of Oregon’s wine industry.
If Pinot noir is your fancy, head to Dundee, Oregon. Located less than an hour from Portland in the northern Willamette Valley, Dundee is considered by many to be the heart of Oregon’s Pinot noir tradition. The area surrounding Dundee has some of Oregon’s most famous vineyards. Eleven miles southwest in McMinnville sits Eyrie Vineyards, home of the first Pinot noir in the Willamette Valley. After a day of tasting Eyrie’s exemplary Pinot gris (a grape Eyrie introduced to America at its Oregon vineyard), stay at 3rd Street Flats in downtown McMinnville, a hybrid of bed and breakfest hospitality and vacation rental convenience. The next day you can check out the Carlton Wine Studio in nearby Carlton. The studio is home to eleven vintners, all of whom have come together under one roof to create some of the best small-batch wines you’ll ever taste. The building’s modern highlights echoes Oregon’s chic wine bars.
Four miles north of Dundee lies Newberg and the Bergström Winery, which, along with de Lancellotti Family Vineyards, is one of the many outstanding small artisanal producers in the region. Small vineyards like Bergström and de Lancellotti, with their cozy tasting rooms, highlight one of the joys of the Oregon wine experience – the intimate and personal interaction between vintner and consumer. Many Oregon vineyards only sell their wines in on-site tasting rooms and through small buying clubs. Some even offer farm-to-plate meals at tastings, evidence of the deep connection between Oregon vineyards and Oregon farms.
One cannot mention wine travel in Oregon without bringing up the Pinot gris from King Estate Vineyard outside of Eugene. Head south from Newberg on 1-5 for just over two hours to the heart of the Willamette Valley. Eugene, notable most for bieng home to the University of Oregon, also plays home to the King Estate Vineyard, producers of one of the nation’s top rated Pinot gris. Head to a tasting at King Estate, located in the hills south of the city, and be wowed by the crisp, fruity Pinot. If you feel peckish while you’re there, the restaurant at King Estate makes a burger with foie gras that has to be tried to be believed.
If Rieslings and Chardonnays are more up your alley, head south for three hours on I-5 to the Applegate Valley AVA and the heart of Southern Oregon’s wineries. Try Bridgeview Vineyards in Cave Junction for their famous Riesling. Foris Vineyards, also in Cave Junction, took home an award in the 2012 Pacific Coast Oyster Wine Competition for their Pinot blanc. Just over an hour northeast of Cave Junction is the sleepy hamlet of Jacksonville, home to Valley View Winery, a restoration of one of Oregon’s original vineyards started by wine pioneer Peter Britt. Valley View’s warm, dry climate allows for delicious Cabernets and Syrahs. Combine your trip with a stay at the beautiful Elan Guest Suites in Jacksonville and relax in their luxurious suites and in-house art gallery. A mere forty-five minutes from Valley View is Troon Vineyard in Grants Pass, where tasters can try their famous Zinfandels.
Under an hour east of Portland along the Columbia River lies the beautiful town of Hood River, home to world-class watersports, breathtaking views of Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams and the fantastic up-and-coming Phelps Creek Vineyards. Phelps Creek produces a well-balanced variety of both reds and whites, taking full advantage of the wet-to-dry climate in the Gorge. The tasting room at Phelps Creek provides visitors with fantastic views of Mt. Hood. What could be better than sipping a Chardonnay and looking at the northern face of Oregon’s highest peak?
Leaving the Columbia River Gorge and heading east will bring adventurers seeking a taste to the Walla Walla Valley in the northeast corner of the state. Here wineries like Don Carlo Vineyards produce wines from warm-weather grapes such as Cabernet, Syrah, and Merlot. These reds are generally more accessible than the bold Pinot noirs of the Willamette Valley. A trip to the Walla Walla Valley is the jewel in the crown of an Oregon wine vacation.
What if you’re not interested in driving far for your winery visits? Perhaps you want to stay close to Portland but still want to taste world-class wines? Luckily there exists the PDX Urban Wineries, a collective of wineries that produce and sell their products within Portland’s city limits. On the cutting edge of these wineries is Grochau Cellars, which began kegging its wine for table service at select Portland restaurants.
Wherever you go for your Oregon wine, whether you’re on an Oregon wine vacation or merely hankering for some vino while on vacation in the state, you’re sure to find something that sates you. Variety, innovation, and tradition – Oregon wines have it all.