When my husband and I visit our families in Portland, Oregon, we always try to escape for a day to the Willamette Valley. As you drive along the windy country roads that lead to the celebrated wine region, it almost feels like you’re going back in time. The suburbs give way to gently rolling hills dotted with silos, slightly leaning barns, and of course, wineries. The climate and the cold weather Pinot Noirs and steely Chardonnays remind us of our favorite wine region, Burgundy, but it has its own flair. Small towns like Carlton, Dundee
These are my favorite wineries to visit in the Willamette Valley:
Soter Vineyard’s dreamy hilltop tasting room is where you’re most likely to find the cool kids from Portland. Reminiscent of a modern farmhouse, the lofty space has an open kitchen (where the winery’s chef makes snacks like focaccia bread for purchase and small bites to pair with wine) and large glass doors that open onto a patio. Staff typically greet you at the door with a glass of the winery’s excellent rosé before escorting you to your tasting. It might be located in the main building, on the terrace or just down the hill at a small cabin with impressive views of the valley.
Classic tastings cost $30 a person while the Provisions Tasting including food and wine pairings is $100. All tastings at Soter should be booked in advance. When you’re looking for Soter, follow the signs for Mineral Springs Ranch. 10880 NE Mineral Springs Rd., Carlton OR., 97111, 503-662-5600
For my husband and I, the wines made by Beaux Frères are the best Oregon has to offer. Elegant and nuanced, they remind us of red Burgundy, but they also reflect the Willamette Valley’s unique terroir. I love the Hyland Vinyard Pinot Noir made from some of the oldest vines in the valley. It’s possible to visit by appointment. Private vineyard tours and tastings cost $75 while a classic wine tasting of four current releases is $25. The tasting room feels like a real working winery. You’ll probably see the owner’s dogs roaming around and staff hard at work. Note that bottles here are pricey, but these are bottles to hold on to. 15155 NE North Valley Road, Newberg, OR 97132, 503-537-1137
Just down the road from Beaux Frères, Patricia Green produces a wide variety of Pinot Noir from the mineral and earthy 2016 Estate Vineyard Old Vine Pinot Noir to raspberry and rose petal laden 2016 Freedom Hill Vineyard, Pommard Clone Pinot. The tasting room is humble, but with more individual bottlings of Pinot then any other winery in America, it’s an excellent place to dive into figuring what you do and don’t like. Tastings are offered by appointment only and cost $35 a person. 15225 NE North Valley Road, Newberg, OR 97132, 503-554-0821
Penner-Ash Wine Cellars
Penner-Ash Wine Cellars offers excellent wines and an impressive rustic yet modern winery nestled into a hillside. Designed by WaterLeaf Architecture, the winery celebrates the Northwest with local, natural materials and clean, simple lines. Wrap-around windows reveal views of both Mount Hood and Mount Jefferson on a clear day. Visitors enter the winery through handcrafted doors that lead to a large tasting room on the top floor. The tasting room is open seven days a week from 11am-5pm. Reservations are only required for parties of six or more. The Penner-Ash flight ($25) includes five current release wines (waved with the purchase of a Single Vineyard Designate Pinot Noire or equivalent) while the Seated Tasting ($50) includes a table reservation and a curated flight of Penner-Ash wines. It’s worth noting that Penner-Ash allows picnics in its outdoor spaces. 15771 NE Ribbon Ridge Rd., Newberg, OR 97132, 503-554-5545
Perhaps no other Willamette Valley winery has such deep ties to Burgundy as Domaine Drouhin, a wine estate near Dundee. Joseph Drouhin founded a winery in the hallowed French wine region in the 1880s. Recognizing it’s potential, his descendants purchased land in the Dundee Hills in the late 1980s. The Drouhin siblings including fourth-generation French winemaker Véronique Drouhin-Boss, Vineyards Manager Philippe Drouhin, US Ambassador Laurent Drouhin and President of the Company Frédéric Drouhin still owns and operates both wineries. Véronique uses biodynamic and organic winemaking practices to create elegant Burgundian style wines in Oregon. The tasting room is open daily from 11am-4pm. Reservations are not required. 6750 NE Breyman Orchards Rd., Dayton, OR 97114, 503-864-2700
Where to Eat
The Dundee Bistro is our go-to lunch spot in the Willamette Valley. It serves seasonal bistro fare (think hand cut fries with truffle oil, duck confit salad with delicata squash and a grass-fed hamburger with heirloom tomatoes) in a casually elegant space in the heart of Dundee. If you visit during the summer, make sure to reserve a spot on the patio. 100-A SW Seventh Street, Dundee, OR 97115, 503-554-1650
Red Hills Market
Just across the street from the Dundee Bistro, Red Hills Market is a good option for breakfast or lunch. The market serves espresso and pastries like gooey cinnamon rolls in the morning and wood-fired pizzas and sandwiches for lunch. It’s also a good spot to pick up picnic provisions and local wines to take home. 155 SW 7th St., Dundee OR 97115, 971-832-8414
Once named restaurant of the year by the Oregonian, this highly acclaimed restaurant has given foodies a real reason to venture out the Willamette Valley. Thistle only uses ingredients sourced from within 30 miles. The intimate restaurant seats just twenty people, so plan on arriving early or waiting for a table. 228 NE Evans. St, McMinnville, OR 97128, 503-472-9623
The European-inspired Carlton Bakery churns outside excellent bread, pastries
Where to Sleep
The Allison Inn & Spa
The Allison Inn & Spa is the most luxurious option in the Willamette Valley. Surrounded by vineyards. You enter at the top level and the hotel cascades down the hillside, meaning you may take an elevator down to your room. Each guestroom has a balcony or terrace, gas fireplace
Silo Suites Bed & Breakfast
Located on a working farm, the charming Silo Suites Bed and Breakfast offers accommodations in three converted grain silos. The five wine-themed suites, each with their own sitting area, have jacuzzi tubs, high thread count sheets and heated floors. One of the biggest draws is the delicious breakfast that includes eggs from the farm’s hens and homemade pastries. 10501 NE Abbey Road, Carlton, OR 97111, 503-687-3100
3rd Street Flats
These uniquely decorated apartments offer a slightly more cosmopolitan experience in downtown McMinnville. The 3rd Street Flat’s 11 apartment are located in two buildings: the 19th century McMinnville Bank (219 NE Cowls, McMinnville, OR 97128, 503-857-6248) and the Odd Fellows Lodge (555 NE Third St., McMinnville, OR 97128) built for an international fraternal society in 1909. Each flat sports its own look and feel from the Parisian inspired Pied-à-Terre to the mid-century style Aquarius. McMinnville is home to independent wineries, craft breweries
Have any favorite wineries in the Willamette Valley? Let me know in the comments below.
Planning to visit Portland? Check out my top ten favorite things to do in the city here.