Oregon’s Willamette Valley is a huge region of rolling hills covered with majestic landscapes of farms and vineyards. The first pinot noir grapes were planted there in 1965 by David Lett, the Eyrie Vineyards. According to the Willamette AVA, today there are 316 wineries in the region stretching from Portland to Eugene.
Our recent trip focused on the north region of the valley an hour south of Portland. With considerable research and advance planning we were able to visit a significant number of wineries in a select portion of the region over three days. John chose primarily small wineries that produce pinots we are unable to purchase in Sarasota.
The towns of Newberg, Dundee, Carlton and McMinnville anchor the north valley.
We toured this region 23 years ago in 1991. It has certainly blossomed! Only a handful of wineries were established then – Argyle being the newest at that time to open its doors. I saw more sheep than vineyards on that trip.
The countryside is a blend of vineyards, crop fields, and filbert orchards.
We found the area comparable to the Sonoma wine region. Tasting rooms at vineyards range from sophisticated, often sustainably designed, to rustic bare bone. People are friendly, outgoing and truly interested in introducing you to their wine.
The towns have retained much of their original building stock, and exceptional restaurants, awesome bakeries, and unique retail shops are abundant. Storefronts are being occupied by winery tasting rooms, a trend that appears to be growing everywhere.
Route 99 through the towns is reminiscent of Hwy. 29 through Napa. The traffic is heavy and often slow going. The road is the main route to Lincoln City on the Pacific Coast, adding significant weekend traffic. It is however possible to locate alternative roads to avoid some of the traffic.
Red Hills Market
We stayed in Dundee at the Inn at Red Hills. Even a month in advance it was difficult to get reservations at any of the recommended accommodations. Located right on Rt. 99, the inn is a relatively new complex, built as offices and transformed into hotel accommodations above restaurants and tasting rooms. The location is just down the street from the Red Hill Market, a gourmet grocery/restaurant offering Stumptown Coffee, exceptional pastries, breakfast, lunch, picnic foods, wine and beer…and incredible hazelnut pancakes!
Our favorite dinner was at Tina’s in Dundee. It was delicious! We had a Goat Cheese Souffle and 8-hour Short Ribs along with a bottle of 2011 Mark Ryan Wild Eyed Syrah.
David Jacobs-Strain (photo courtesy of Lange Winery’s site)
An evening picnic at Lange Winery with a concert by David Jacobs-Strain was another fun, memorable night in the valley. We shared a bottle of Lange’s Tempranillo with some of Red Hill Market’s gourmet foods. Note: If you are planning a visit to wineries take time to visit their web pages for the listing of special events you may want to catch.
Over the long weekend we visited Soter, Bergstrom, Archery Summit, Bella Vida, WillaKenzie Estate, Colene Clemens, Arterberry Maresh, Ayres, Winderlea, Lange, Purple Hands, Penner-Ash, Longplay, Le Cadeau and Evening Land. We tasted primarily 2011 – 2012 vintages. 2012 was a stand out year for the grape. As many we spoke with noted, it was an easy year to make good wine. The wine is absolutely delicious and wonderful to drink now or to lay down for years.
The most unusual wines we tried were a Pinot Meunier from WillaKenzie Estate and High-Tone from LongPlay.
While all of the wineries and tasting rooms offered a good experience, our most interesting were the tastings at Soter and Ayres, our visit at Penner-Ash, and the tasting with Todd Hansen, owner of Longplay while listening to Brian Auger’s 1974 Oblivion Express 33.3 album.
Given the rather warm time of year, we arranged to have the wineries hold the wine for future shipping when the weather cools across the country. We also utilized a wine storage facility in Vancouver, WA, not far from the Portland Airport – Cellar 55.
Here is a listing of some of the wines we selected from the Willamette Valley to ship to Sarasota:
2012 WillaKenzie Estate Pinot Meunier
2011 Longplay High-Tone
2012 Longplay Lia’s Vineyard
2011 Longplay Jory Bench Reserve
2012 Longplay Jory Slope Chardonnay
2012 Ayres Vineyard Perspective
2012 Ayres Vineyard Lewis Rogers Lane
2012 Ayres Vineyard Pioneer
2009 Soter Vineyards Mineral Springs
2011 Soter Vineyards Mineral Springs
2011 Soter Vineyards Mineral Springs Ranch
2012 Soter Vineyards North Valley
2011 Winderlea Vineyard and Winery Imprint
2012 Winderlea Vineyard and Winery Dundee Hills
2012 Winderlea Vineyard and Winery Crawford Beck
2012 Arterberry Maresh
2012 Bergstrom Silice
2012 Bergstrom Vineyard
2012 Penner-Ash Willamette Valley
2012 Le Cadeau Diversité
2011 Le Cadeau Aubichon Willamette Valley
2010 Le Cadeau Aubichon Reserve
2012 Evening Land Willamette Valley
2012 Evening Land Sonoma coast
2011 Evening Land Auxey-Duresses (Burgundy)
2010 Bella Vida Two Row Proprietor’s Cuvee
2011 Bella Vida O’Donnell
2011 Colene Clemens Vineyards Margo
2012 Colene Clemens Vineyards Margo
2013 Archery Summit Vireton Rose
2012 Lange Estate Winery Tempranillo
2012 Purple Hands Winery Le Nouveau Presitge Cuvee
2012 Purple Hands Winery Stoller Vineyard
2013 Purple Hands Winery Willamette Valley
Winery for sale in downtown Carlton – Interested?
Check back soon as we will be posting more about the individual wineries in the Willamette Valley and our fun tasting in Walla Walla, WA.
It is truly a joy to tour through wine country, meeting with the owners and winemakers and their staff who give their heart and soul to the love of wine.