WILLAMETTE VALLEY, OREGON
TASTE OF THE PLACE: PINOTS - GRIS AND NOIR - ALONG WITH LOCAVORE RESTAURANTS
DIG IN: Less than an hour from downtown Portland and stretching another 100 or so miles south, Oregon’s Willamette Valley has boomed in the past decade and is now home to more than 200 wineries. Most specialize in delicate pinot varietals that appreciate the ocean-moderated temperatures. While many are small, garagiste vintners, some of the biggest are newly expanding. One of the Willamette Valley’s founding wineries, Sokol Blosser, just opened a new, modernist tasting room from Portland-based architect Brad Cloepfil in time for fall harvest-season travel. The new facility includes terraces carved into the Dundee Hills with a main bar, kitchen, and library. Down the road in the town of Dundee, Evening Land Vineyards, which makes wines in Oregon as well as California, opened a tasting room this summer. And Ponzi Vineyard recently opened its third tasting room in Sherwood facing the Chehalem Mountains and features two outdoor bocce ball courts and an indoor fireplace for cooler days.
HOW TO GO: You’ll need ground transportation to get from winery to winery. Lean on Backroads Wine Tours as your dedicated guide and designated driver. The company specializes in seeking out boutique wineries and exclusives with winemakers. Or take the reins in your own hands and ride a Tennessee walking horse from Equestrian Wine Tours to several Dundee Hill vineyards where riders can tie up to taste.
MARK THE DATE: The annual Wine Country Thanksgiving event — this year November 29 through December 1 — features a massive open house of more than 150 wineries, large and small, on one of the biggest travel weekends in the region.
CAN'T MISS MEALS: Before it was a wine region, the Willamette was and remains farm country, filled with hazelnut orchards and small dairies. Chefs also draw from the bounty of the nearby coast for seafood, resulting in highly local but tremendously varied menus. In McMinnville, executive chef Eric Bechard at Thistle leads the locavore pack in a valley now brimming with culinary appeal. In Newberg, chef/owner Allen Routt runs The Painted Lady in a Victorian bungalow, serving five- and seven-course tasting menus comprised of local products from venison carpaccio to slow-roasted steelhead salmon. The Dundee Bistro takes a casual approach to market fare, from hand-tossed goat cheese and mushroom pizzas to grass-fed burgers and Oregon king salmon.
SHACK UP: The valley’s only true full-service resort, the Allison Inn & Spa in Newberg houses its own highly regarded restaurant, Jory, and will release its first vintage this fall made by legendary winemaker David Adelsheim from grapes grown on property. The lavish spa offers “Pinotherapy” using grape seeds and oils.